The Saint | History of South Africa online (2023)

The San, the first inhabitants of South Africa

The first hunter-gatherers in southern Africa were the San. The San were also known as 'Bushmen', a term used by European settlers that is now considered derogatory. The San populated South Africa long before the arrival of Bantu-speaking nations and thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

Language, culture and religion:

The San languages, characterized by implosive consonants or 'clicks', belonged to an entirely different language family from Bantu speakers. Generally speaking, they are two different and identifiable languages, namely Khoikhoi and San. Many dialects evolved from them, including /Xam, N?¡, !Xu, Khwe, and Khomani. NÁƒmÁƒÂ¡, formerly called Hottentot, is the most populous and widespread of the Khoikhoi and San languages.

Very little is known about the different dialects of the San people of South Africa, as most of these beautiful ancient languages ​​have never been recorded. Fortunately, the /Xam dialect, which is spoken by the San, was recorded almost entirely through the work of a German linguist, Dr. WHI Bleek.

/Xam speakers originally occupied much of western South Africa, but by 1850, only a few hundred /Xam speakers lived in remote parts of the Northern Cape. Today the language no longer exists, but it survives in 12,000 pages of handwritten testimonies taken verbatim from some of the last /Xam speakers in the 1860s and 1870s. These pages record not only the /Xam language, but also its myths, beliefs and rituals . The Doctor. Bleek produced a comprehensive /Xam dictionary at this time, but it was not published until years later (DF Bleek: 1956).

The motto of South Africa, written on the coat of arms of the SA, is a phrase /Xam: !ke e: /xarra //ke, which literally means: diverse peoples united.

Archaeological evidence determines a way of life:

Archaeological evidence shows that South Africa was part of a large region, including North and East Africa, in which modern humans evolved and lived. Hundreds of thousands of generations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers populated the South African landscape for nearly two million years, but for most of that time we know nothing about their names, language, memories, beliefs, wars or alliances.

The San are the best model we have for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that saw so many generations throughout the Stone Age, and it is tempting to say that late Stone Age history is San history. This can only be done on a very broad level of generalization, but the evidence points to a 'San' story.

For example, human skeletal remains buried mostly within the last 10,000 years are very similar to those of the San people of the 1990s and 20s. Most modern San "tool kits" are similar to artifacts found and date back to later Stone Age hunters - collectors. Finally, the uniqueness and diversity of the San 'click' languages ​​suggest very ancient roots, possibly dating back to the Middle Stone Age period.

There are three types of evidence that give us clues to the development of early South African and later San hunter-gatherers. These consist of human bone fragments and art artifacts (such as beads and rock art), as well as examining the places where these people lived and the food scraps they left behind.

Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer rock art can be found in the form of paintings or engravings in almost every district of South Africa. There is not a complete list of all sites and many have not been registered, but it is estimated that there are at least 20,000 to 30,000 sites and over a million individual images. Although many are not well preserved, together they represent a remarkable record of the cultural beliefs and practices of the people who made them. Most were raised by San hunter-gatherers, but Khoikhoi herders and Iron Age farmers added to the collection.

The Khoikhoi pastoralists who brought sheep and cattle to this part of South Africa over the past 2,000 years were likely responsible for the most recent phase of painting, in which paint was applied with a finger rather than a brush. Colors are mostly monochromatic and the subject is often non-representative patterns with symbolic meaning. As the Khoikhoi settled on land formerly occupied by hunter-gatherers, the San gradually stopped painting as their numbers and cultural activities declined.

The San have a rich oral history and have passed down stories from generation to generation. The oldest cave paintings they created are in Namibia and have been radiocarbon dated at 26,000 years. San rock art gives us clues about their social and belief system.

The Saint | History of South Africa online (1)

One of the most important pieces of rock art found in South Africa was found at Linton Farm in the Eastern Cape. The panel was taken from the farm in 1917 and taken to the South African Museum in Cape Town. It is known as the Linton panel, and an image of this panel was used on the new South African coat of arms.

Eighty-three years in the museum's care, protected from the elements, have made the Linton Panel one of the best-preserved pieces of South African rock art. In 1995, the panel was presented as one of the main attractions of the international exhibition "Africa: the art of a continent".

The figure embodies the spirit of the African Renaissance. As European nations began their Renaissance, they turned to the classical era of Greece and Rome, when art and architecture reached their zenith. San rock art is one of the great archaeological wonders of the world and is a mirror reflecting the glories of Africa's past.

Our knowledge of South African San texts (especially the 12,000 pages of testimony collected by Dr. Bleek), combined with a study of the rituals and beliefs of the San people who still live in the Kalahari, allows us to understand many of Linton's paintings. panel. The panel shows people capturing a power that /Xam called !Gi. The San sought and used this power for the benefit of their community, as it allowed them to heal the sick and heal divisions within society. San rock art was believed to be rich in this special power.

A dying life form:

The carrying capacity of late Stone Age hunter-gatherers has been seriously challenged at least three times in the last 2000 years. First, this occurred with the southward migration of Khoikhoi pastoralists in the western half of the country. Although they seem to have developed a symbiotic relationship with hunter-gatherers, they turned individuals into herders and thus weakened the social cohesion of hunter-gatherers.

Secondly, hunter-gatherers were challenged in northern and eastern South Africa as Iron Age farmers (Nguni and later Sotho nations) settled in the summer rainy regions over the past 1,800 years to cultivate and tend of your cattle. They also lived with hunter-gatherers, particularly in the Drakensberg region, and developed a working relationship with them. However, they became increasingly powerful in terms of population size and land ownership. Finally, the death knell came with the arrival of European colonists whose commandos with guns and horses decimated the hunter-gatherers in two centuries. Part of this history is reflected in later Stone Age rock art.

In the 1950s, several thousand San were still hunting larger animals with poisoned arrows and gathering plant foods in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia. One group, the !Kung, lived in an area called Nyae Nyae (pronounced ny ny, rhymes with loud), close to the Namibian-Botswana border.

The !Kung were able to continue their old way of life largely because they lived in an area that was difficult to access. A stretch of land of about 200 km, without water most of the year, lies between the nearest farms and the Nyae Nyae area. Traveling through this area, even by truck, was difficult. Vehicles bogged down in sand, tires went flat, or tall, dry grass seeds clogged radiators and caused them to boil. These factors helped protect the !Kung way of life from outside influences until about thirty years ago.

In the 1960s, the Department of Nature Conservation began to occupy large sections of the traditional Kalahari San hunting land for game and nature reserves. A law passed in 1970 caused the !Kung to lose 90% of their traditional land in Nyae Nyae. Today, they have almost no land to hunt and gather.

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