The san Bushmen are the earliest settlers in Botswana and the whole of southern Africa and they are believed to have been living in the country for over 20,000 years. The Bushmen in Botswana used to live where the current Central Kalahari game reserve is and there are different tribes of the san that live in Botswana and these include the Tsila, the Bakgalagadi, the Gana and the Gwi Bushmen. The san Bushmen suffered greatly during the colonial times and they greatly fought for their freedom until they are free from the rest of the colonialists. The san are also known to be one of the small tribes in Botswana that are extremely poor and live under poor conditions as compared to their counterparts who live in the country. The San Bushmen have started making beads and other locally made traditional items that you can purchase as souvenirs while on a safari to experience their unique culture and traditions.
Social life of the san Bushmen
Their lifestyle is based on hunting and wherever they go, they move with their hunting equipment although at the moment there has been a scuffle between them and the government and ever since then the Bushmen have lost their economic activity because once they find them hunting, they are either beaten up or shot. During their hunting sessions, the hours taken to hunt depend on the type of animal that is being hunted down for example if the animal is small, the hunting process takes about seven hours but when the animal is large I might take a few days before the hunting is done.
The san Bushmen are well known nomadic hunters and when they talk, they always have a clicking sound which makes them different from the rest of the tribes in the country. The word san means stranger and it was given to them by the Khoikhoi and it means a stranger and it was given to them because the san and the KhoiKhoi were all different from each other in character and their economic activities.
The Bushmen do not generally like to be called Bushmen because to them it is a degrading term. They are nomadic pastoralists and they live in temporary houses that are always constructed by the women and they are always fell when it is time for one to go to another part of the country. The huts that the san make are always made for safe keeping of their personal belongings and when it is time for sleeping, they dig up holes in the compound where they curl up with the rest of their family members and their livestock.
The rituals that are carried out by the san
They have rituals that they carry out in order for one to turn into an adult and the boys have to go for a hunting spree before they are considered to be adults whereas the girls on the other hand have to engage in the dancing festival that is known to them as the eland dance. Although they believe in one Supreme Being, they also believe in the smaller gods and their children and they also believe that the dead spirits of their loved ones are always taking care of them and that is why they respect the dead.
The first hunt for the boys is about hunting down an eland and before the hunt they are taught how to track and hunt and once the boy hunts and kills an eland, he is considered a man and for the girls the eland dance involves the elders performing it and imitating the mating of elands. The eland is used by most of the rituals by the san because it is considered to be the most potent animal and they also believe that they give the potent off to whoever eats it.
The san Bushmen do not have any chief or leader but they live in groups and these groups govern themselves and the only time that you will get to see a leader among them is when they are heading out for hunting or one who leads when it comes to healing. They live communally that is they share everything and this is how they have been able to survive in the different parts of the country where they live.
When it comes to dressing up, they barely cover themselves that is they use animal skin to cover their private parts and the ladies are always seen carrying their ones on their backs as they move around going about their daily chores. And when the girls start their menstruation they are always isolated into their huts as they are considered unclean until when they finish their periods.
The san Bushmen do not have a specific type of food that they eat due to their nomadic nature and that is why they eat anything that they come across that is they hunt down different types of animals that they eat for example antelopes, zebras, porcupines, fish, insects, snakes, animals eggs and wild fruits. The san also eat everything on an animal that is the blood, the hooves, intestines and the skin is used to make their clothes.
When we talk about the San Bushmen, we always mean looking at what you are going to learn from them and some of these include:
- The Bushmen take tourists for cultural walks commonly known as the Basarwa walks and on these walks you will be told the history of the San and how they have survived all this time in Botswana.
- The san will teach you on the basic survivals in the desert and in the wild by teaching you how to track down wild animals and the basics of hunting.
- You will also learn how to get water from underground especially if you are in the Kalahari Desert and all those areas that do not have water.
The san Bushmen live in different parts of the country and although they are apart, they have almost the same characteristics and some of the places where you can find them and interact more with them to get to know more about their culture include the following:
The san Bushmen of Tsodilo hills
The Tsodilo hills are located in the southwestern part of Botswana and it is one of the few places where the san go for worship. The san believe in a super natural being that cannot be seen and they can be seen climbing up the Tsodilo hills in order to go and worship and offer sacrifices to their god.
The san named the four hills that make up the Tsodilo that is the largest hill was named the male Tsodilo hill, the smaller one was named the child, the second largest was named the female and the hill that lurks behind all the three was considered to be the first wife of the male hill that was abandoned. The Tsodilo hill is filled with rocks that have various paintings that are believed to have been done by the san people but no one knows exactly when they were painted. The rocks have paintings of animals like antelopes, lions, leopards and of people showing how they survived before civilization set in.
There is no hunting that takes place around the Tsodilo hills especially the female side because the san believe that the all the gods reside in the female Tsodilo hill and if anyone hunts from there, they end up being cursed and bring about doom to themselves.
The san Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert
The Kalahari Desert is a huge place that covers almost the larger part of southern Africa and some of them habitate around the central Kalahari game reserve and just like the rest that live around the country, they are welcoming people who take tourists around for walks around the central Kalahari game reserve while teaching you the basics about hunting and surviving in the wild Desert.
The san Bushmen of Makgadikgadi salt pans
The Makgadikgadi salt pans might look like a large piece of empty dry land but when you get close to it, you will be rewarded with the sight of the Bushmen who have lived in the area for more than 1000 years. The Bushmen who live around the Makgadikgadi salt pans offer bush walks around the salt pans and they are known to live in the camps around for roughly two to three months before moving onto the next camp. They will take you around the pans where you will get to see some wild life that habitates within the pans and some of these include spotted hyenas, leopards, kudus, zebras as they go about their annual migration, buffalos and many more others. The san will also entertain you with their songs and dance especially in the evening which involves spiritual life and this goes on throughout the night and for all those who are brave, you can witness this wonderful dance.