Pray For the San(Bushmen)
Pray for the Bushmen is a special prayer focus on the Bushmen or the San, one of the most marginalized people groups in the world. Through this prayer initiative, we not only provide guidelines on how to pray for the Bushmen but also aim to create an awareness of their unique way of life and their needs.
The San Languages Past and Present
View the language poster here from the Hugh Brody digital Collection at UCT
The poster includes a thematic map showing "the distribution of the original !Ui-Taa languages spoken by San people in South Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries" including |Xam, Seroa, ||Kũ||e, |Uingkekwe, #Unkwe, N|u, N|uu, ||Xegwi, !Gã!ne, |'Auo, |Haasi, Sesarwa, N|usan, and !Xóõ. The poster includes a guide to the various languages and photographs of various speakers.
Africa Language Families Map From World Geo Datasets (Khoisan Languages in Red)
Where The San Used to Live
Late Stone Age
View the map here
This map, depicting the distribution of the San language groups, was created by Dorothea Bleek during the late 1930’s after extensive research was undertaken by her in Southern Africa. Her father had completed the enormous pioneering task of recording the language and folklore of the /Xam and the !Kung in the late 19th century. Dorothea continued the work of her father in recording and documenting the San languages of Southern Africa and published books and articles as a result of their combined research and work. Unfortunately, her books are out of print. Her most important work, published after her death, was A Bushman Dictionary.
This map and photographs taken during her research and travels can be viewed online in the Bleek and Lloyd Collection in the Manuscript and Archives Department at the Library of the University of Cape Town. Dorothea identified three language groups, the southern group (/Xam) which is identified in blue on the map, the central group identified in red on the map, and the northern group identified in yellow on the map. The southern group could be found in large areas of South Africa. Today they are mostly extinct apart from a remnant in the Tankwa Karoo. This remnant is referred to us as the "Karretjie People". There are still small communities of the central and northern groups left in Botswana and Namibia. Dorothea contributed significantly to an understanding of the different San language groups. Her books are still used as reference works.
There is a vast sweep of dry bush desert lying in Sout-West Africa and Western Bechuanaland, bordered in the north by Lake Ngami and the Okavango River, in the south by the Orange River, and in the west by the Damara Hills. It is the Kalahari Desert, part of a great inland table of Southern Africa that slopes west toward the sea, all low sand dunes and great plains, flat, dry and rolling one upon the other for thousands of miles, a hostile country of thirst and heat and thorns where the grass is harsh and often barbed and the stones hide scorpions." (Abstract from The Harmless People, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas,1959). This book and the map from it give an accurate description of the area where the Kalahari Bushmen used to be found in large numbers. They were referred to as, the Northern Bushman Group. Today, the remnant is staying in isolated communities throughout the Kalahari region.
During the course of his career, filmmaker John Marshall (the brother of Elizabeth Marshall), shot more than one million feet of film and video (722 hours) of the Ju/'hoansi (!Kung Bushmen) of Namibia's Kalahari Desert between 1950 and 2000. This body of work is unrivaled as a long-term visual study of a single group of people. Contained in Marshall's footage are the personal histories of individuals, documents of a now non-existent way of life, and the unfolding of massive social and economic change as experienced by one group of people over a period of fifty years. Marshall produced twenty-three films and videos and one multi-part series from his extensive footage archive. Marshall's approach to filmmaking evolved alongside changes in film and video technology, in the fields of anthropology and ethnographic and documentary film, and on a very personal level, in Marshall's relationship to the Ju/'hoansi. These films can be purchased from Documentary Educational Resources. It is an epic work and must be the most complete document available that is depicting the traditions and lifestyle of the !Kung Bushmen, and for that matter the Bushmen in general.
Where They Live Today
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs annually provides an update on the status of Indigenous Peoples in various countries. Here is an abstract of the 2012 report:
"The indigenous peoples of Namibia represent some 8% of the national population. It is generally accepted that the San (Bushmen), who number between 32,000 and 38,000, are indigenous to the country. There are six different San groups in Namibia, each speaking their own language and with distinct customs, traditions, and histories. They include, among others, the Khwe, 4,400 people mainly in Caprivi and Kavango Regions, the Hai||om in the Etosha area of north-central Namibia (9-12,000), and the Ju|’hoansi (7,000), who live mainly in Tsumkwe District East in the Otjozondjupa and the Omaheke Regions. The San were, in the past, mainly hunter-gatherers but, today, many have diversified livelihoods, working as domestic servants or farm laborers, growing crops and raising livestock, doing odd jobs in rural and urban areas and engaging in small-scale businesses and services. Over 80% of the San have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands and resources, and today they are some of the poorest and most marginalized peoples in the country. Other indigenous peoples are the Himba, who number some 25,000 and who reside mainly in the semi-arid north-west (Kunene Region) and the Nama, a Khoe-speaking group who number some 70,000. The Himba are pastoral peoples who have close ties to the Herero, also pastoralists who live in central and eastern Namibia. The Nama include the Topnaars of the Kuiseb River valley and the Walvis Bay area in west-central Namibia, a group of some 1,800 people who live in a dozen small settlements and depend on small-scale livestock production, use of !nara melons (Acanthosicyos horrida), and tourism. Namibia voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but has no national legislation dealing directly with indigenous peoples nor are they mentioned in the Constitution. In 2010, the Namibian cabinet approved a Division for San Development under the Office of the Prime Minister, which is an important milestone in promoting the rights of indigenous peoples/ marginalized communities in Namibia."
The Ju/'hoansi Bushmen, or Kung, lives in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy surrounding Tsumkwe in Eastern Namibia The Nyae Nyae Conservancy is the traditional home of the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen. It is a large track of Kalahari wilderness and one of the last true wilderness regions in Namibia. Archeological evidence indicates that the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen has been resident in these areas for thousands of years. In 1998 the Nyae Nyae Conservancy became the first communal area in Namibia to be declared a conservancy. This gave the Ju/hoansi the rights to resume their traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering. This has been incorporated into the management of natural resources that include wildlife management and tourism. Although many traditional elements still remain, the Ju/'hoansi are integrating their traditional way of living with modern ways of natural resource management. Still, many challenges remain.
The Bushmen, also known in Botswana as the Basarwa, numbered 54000 people during 2010. As with the Bushmen in other countries they were traditional hunter-gatherers but the majority has forfeited this lifestyle for small-scale agropastoralism and informal trading. They reside in both rural and urban areas, especially in the Kalahari Desert of central Botswana and in the eastern part of the country. The Bushmen in Botswana are sub-divided into a large number of distinctive groups, most of whom speak their own mother tongue. Some of these groups include the Ju/’hoansi, Bugakhwe, //Anikhwe, Tsexakhwe, !Xoo, Naro, G/wi, G//ana, Kua, Tshwa, Deti, ‡Khomani, ‡Hoa, //’Xau‡esi, Balala, Shua, Danisi and /Xaisa. The San are some of the poorest and most underprivileged people in Botswana, with a high percentage of them living below the poverty line.
Kung-Tsumkwe of Botswana (Joshua Project People Profile)
Ethnologue: Languages of the World - Botswana
After an eight-year struggle, Botswana’s indigenous Bushmen have won the right to access borehole water in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, enabling them to resume their millennia-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle on their ancestral lands. On January 27th, 2011 the Court of Appeal, Botswana’s highest court, ruled that the government ban on their use of the borehole, in one of the driest regions in the world, amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment”. Read the full article here... See the updated blog post about the Central Kalahari Bushmen here and here
The /Xam People Of The Great Karoo
The /Xam people and their language.
Very little is known about the languages of South Africa's San people, as most of these beautiful, ancient languages were never recorded. Fortunately, the /Xam language was recorded almost in its entirety, thanks to the work of a German linguist, Dr. WHI Bleek. /Xam speakers originally occupied a large part of western South Africa. By 1850, only a few hundred /Xam speakers lived in remote parts of the Northern Cape. Today, the language has become extinct. But it survives in 12 000 pages of hand-written testimony transcribed word-for-word from some of the last /Xam speakers in the 1860s and 1870s. These pages record not just the /Xam language, but also their myths, beliefs, and rituals. A comprehensive /Xam dictionary was produced by Dr. Bleek at that time, but was only published years later. (DF Bleek, 1956. A Bushman Dictionary. New Haven, American Oriental Society).
Where do you find the /Xam people in South Africa?
The /Xam people are not as distinctive a group as the San groups in Namibia and Botswana. They live in an area known as the Tankwa Karoo. They are a nomadic group and have been referred to as the "Karretjie people". They move around by means of donkey carts through one of the most arid regions in South Africa. Very little has been documented about them.
Where to get more information about the /Xam?
In the 1870s, facing cultural extinction and the death of their language, several /Xam men and women told their stories to two pioneering colonial scholars at the Cape, Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd. The narratives of these San (or Bushmen) were of the land, the rain, the history of the first people, the origin of the moon and stars. They told stories of their beliefs and their individual lives; how stories floated on the wind, and how they had come to Cape Town as prisoners of the British Crown. All these narratives were faithfully recorded and translated by Bleek and Lloyd, creating an archive of over 13 000 pages which includes drawings, notebooks, maps and photographs. Now residing in three main institutions - the University of Cape Town, the South African Museum and the National Library of South Africa - this archive has recently been entered into UNESCO's memory of the World Register. A comprehensive summary of the more than 13000 pages of narratives was compiled by Pippa Skotnes in a unique work "Claim to the Country - The Archive of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd" This book provides incredible insight into the then, ways of the /Xam people.
The remarkable digital archive includes a 280 000-word searchable index, cross-referenced and including notes and summaries for each of the stories listed. Notes in italics are direct quotes from the reports of Bleek and Lloyd in which they detailed the progress of their research.The Digital Bleek and Lloyd include scans of every page of the 110 Lucy Lloyd |xam notebooks, 17 Lloyd (mostly) !kun notebooks and 28 Wilhelm Bleek |xam notebooks.
The San (/Xam) And The South African Coat Of Arms
The figure in the South African Coat of Arms of Bushmen, comes from the Linton panel, a famous panel of rock art now housed and displayed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. In 1917, this panel was removed from the farm of Linton in the Maclear district in the Eastern Cape. The panel shows people capturing the power of the /Xam called !Gi. The San sought and used this power for the benefit of their community. It allowed for the healing of the sick and for the healing of divisions within society. San rock art was believed to be rich in this special power.
What has happened to the /Xam?
There is only a small remnant left of the /Xam people in South Africa. DNA studies by Prof Mike De Jongh of the University of South Africa have proved their relationship with the original /Xam people, although there is no historical continuity in the way they live. They are called the "Karretjie Mense" or "Karretjie People". Karretjie is an Afrikaans name, referring to a donkey cart. This is a group of people with no, or little hope of a better future for them. Towards the end of 2011, Prof De Jong's book on the Karretjie People will be published under the title: Roots and Routes: Karretjie People of the Great Karoo. The Marginalisation of a South African First People. This book can be ordered from UNISA Press.
More academic works on the Karretjie People:
* "Roots and Routes: Karretjie People of the Great Karoo. The Marginalisation of a South African First People" by Prof M De Jongh. The lives of a previously ‘invisible’ and forgotten ‘first people’ of South Africa come to the fore in this carefully researched study. The ‘Karretjie People’ (Donkey Cart People) of the Great Karoo are direct descendants of the /Xam (San/Bushmen), who were the earliest inhabitants of much of the Karoo interior. Today, as itinerant sheep-shearers, the ‘Karretjie People’ roam the arid expanses of the Karoo in their donkey carts in search of a possible shearing opportunity, sleeping over on the roadside in their make-shift overnight shelters.
This unique study is the result of several decades of original research into the lives and community of these gypsy-like wanderers and highlights the plight of this marginalized South African community, ‘poorest of the poor’. The ingenious adaptation of the ‘Karretjie People’ to particularly trying circumstances and their challenging environment is illustrated by their unique way of life. In a reader-friendly narrative, Mike de Jongh not only makes the story of the ‘Karretjie People’ accessible to the general reader but offers a deeper insight into the early history and environment of the Great Karoo. At the same time, students of human and social sciences will find material in the study appropriate to methodological and theoretical issues in this subject area. Besides offering a colorful portrait of a community neglected by both government and NGO agencies, this book contains rich sociological data, which should bear important implications for policy-makers in the spheres of education and development as well as in the domain of political decisions.
Professor Michael de Jongh is a prominent anthropologist who has extensively researched the ‘Karretjie People’. He has published widely in the fields of ethnicity, urbanization, traditional leadership, local government, methodology and human mobility. Order the publication here (Publication is in the Afrikaans Language)
How Can We Pray For The Bushmen?
There is redemption from spiritual darkness and life in abundance available to them. Pray for the restoration of the Bushmen as the spiritual gatekeepers of the continent. For them, through prayer and intercession, to bring redemption to the people of Africa. For them to discover their identity in Christ Jesus. For the restoration of their pride in their heritage.