A small population of the indigenous people of the Ju/’hoansi, San and Khoisan cultures remain in remote areas of Africa and Southern Africa. They live minimalistic lives, mostly unaffected by modern societal pressures or norms. This is the cultural experience that you will receive when you’re at Shamwari.
San Culture and Way of Life
To start things off, ‘culture’ can be defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a particular people or society.
The San were the first inhabitants of Southern Africa thousands of years ago and possessed a unique hunter-gatherer skill set.
The Culture of the San People
“Archaeological evidence shows that South Africa was part of a large region, including North and East Africa, in which modern humans first evolved and lived. Hundreds of thousands of generations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers populated the South African landscape for nearly two million years, yet for most of that time we know nothing of their names, language, memories beliefs, wars or alliances.” – South Africa History Online
Luckily, all of the San people’s history isn’t lost or unknown to us, with many modern descendants taking great pride in their rich heritage.
Children in the San culture grew up playing and copied the things their parents did. The boys would play with little bows and arrows while the girls learnt how to forage for food. The San also created rock paintings, some of the greatest archaeological wonders ever found. These rock artworks embody and reflect the rich symbolic life and worldview of the San people. San rock paintings are found in various sites all over Southern Africa and they are a great cultural and national treasure.
The Way of Life of the San People
The San people survived by hunting antelope by bow and arrow and gathering food. They also moved from place to place, following a nomadic way of life. The San are peaceful people who have lived in harmony with their natural environment for thousands of years. Their ancestral lands were originally populated by large herds of wildlife, such as antelope and various other species, including elephants. Some traditional San cultures still exist in small groups in various remote areas of Southern Africa today. These groups speak different languages and live in isolated locations in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Very little is known about the different dialects of South Africa’s San people, as most of these beautiful, ancient languages were never recorded. The /Xam dialect was spoken by the San people.
Ju Hoansi Culture and Way of Life
The Ju Hoansi is the last of the San people in Southern Africa who still command the full suite of hunter-gatherer skills.
The Culture of the Ju/’hoansi
Today there is only one pocket of San in the whole of Southern Africa who still have command of the full hunter-gatherer survival suite: the Ju/’hoansiof Nyae Nyae in remote north-eastern Namibia. They alone have access to wildland across the Kalahari Basin, the right to hunt using traditional methods, the right to gather bush food and a knowledge bank that stretches back – unbroken – for millennia.
The Way of Life of the Ju/’hoansi
They track and hunt with bow and poisoned arrow and the fittest amongst them engage in persistence hunting – pursuing an animal until it drops due to exhaustion. They have the extraordinary ability, passed from generation to generation for tens of thousands of years back into the mists of time, to track wildlife across almost any terrain, interpreting the animal’s behaviour intimately as they go along.
The Ju/’hoansi are unique in that they continue to occupy their ancestral lands in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. There are only a little more than a 1000 Ju/’hoansileft, scattered across 36 small villages in the region. Even today, these villages and their inhabitants continue to be largely isolated from the rest of Namibia and their traditional way of life is often neglected and undervalued.
Visit the Living Museum of the Ju/’hoansi
The Living Museum of the Ju/’hoansi-Sanis located in Namibia and is a cultural experience for guests wanting to learn more about the Ju/’hoansi people. It is an authentic open-air museum where guests can learn a lot about the San’s traditional culture and original way of living.
Find out more information about this special museum here.
Khoisan Culture and Way of Life
The Culture of the Khoisan
Many years before the first settlers arrived in South African, there were various native groups of people spread out sparsely across the land. The name ‘Khoisan’ is a blend of ‘Khoikhoi’ and ‘San’ – two groups who shared similar cultures and languages. But they were in no way related. In fact, they generally existed in isolation of each other and used different means to survive off the land.
The Way of Life of the Khoisan
The Khoikhoi were skilled in the practice of nomadic pastoral agriculture. They maintained large herds of cattle throughout the country, and evidence suggests that they migrated to South Africa from Botswana. Some moved down from the Kalahari to the Cape, while others ventured southeast towards South Africa’s high-lying lands. The Khoikhoi brought a new way of life to South Africa and to the San, who were hunter-gatherers as opposed to herders.
Khoikhoi people possessed remarkable skills and knowledge of animals in their natural surroundings. Their ability to extract nutrients from ordinary plants and to survive in generally arid conditions is unfathomable. Many have a comprehensive knowledge of the medicinal values of different plants and they use natural resources to cure ailments.
When it came to hunting, they had an unbelievable ability to tune into their surroundings. They tracked wild animals across the land and took them down using small poison-tipped arrows.
Today the Khoikhoi and San cultures struggle to maintain their traditional way of existence. Thus, many have started the transition into more modern lifestyles and have shifted to jobs in agriculture and herding. This means that many of their original skills and insights, particularly pertaining to hunting and gathering, are being lost.
Bushmen Paintings, Rock Art and Ancient Engravings
There are several locations across South Africa that showcase rock art dating back thousands of years.
It is believed that the San people created rock art using materials that were in their natural environment. Brushes were made from bird feathers stuck into thin reeds or from animal hair. It is also believed that feathers were used to make finer lines in paintings and that paint was also oftentimes applied using fingers.Materials used include ochre, blood and ash.Paints made from naturally occurring dyes were mixed with blood, fat or egg whites.
It is also believed that they used blood with red ochre, black with water and white with the thick, white juice of a plant. Some paint from ancient rock paintings has been analysed by scientists, who found traces of albumen. This could mean that they used egg whites to preserve their work, just like more modern painters from the last century.
Some San people made engravings on hard rock with other hard materials like sharp stones or spears. Engravings were made by chipping away at the rock to expose the different coloured layers beneath. Rock art played an integral part in the daily lives of the San and gives us insight into their spiritual beliefs and practices. These paintings and engravings are all protected and provide a link to the history of Southern Africa, giving insight into the lives of hunter-gatherers of the past.
Five places to see San rock art in South Africa:
- The Cederberg, Western Cape – There are 2 500 San rock art sites to be discovered in this craggy mountain range!
- Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal – There is a protected World Heritage Site with over 20 000 individual rock paintings across some 500 caves.
- Eastern Cape – The Eastern Cape Highlands showcase even more examples of San rock art as part of the scenic landscape.
- Limpopo – In this province, you’ll find San rock art, Khoekhoe paintings (made by the Khoi) and Northern Sotho paintings.
- Northern Cape – This province boasts rock art and engravings.
For more information on the Bushmen paintings in each location, click here.
Threatened Way of Life
The San are believed to be the oldest African tribe that ever lived. Their traditions and way of life is threatened by modern civilisation, however, small pockets of their tribe till exist today. The current San population is estimated to be about 90 000 people. A small group has kept to their traditional lifestyle as hunters and gatherers.
San people have been living in Southern Africa for at least 30000 years and it is believed that they have one of the oldest cultures on our planet.
Click here to read more about 7 of the oldest African tribes that still exist today and still practice their ancient traditions.
Experience the Ancient Wisdom of the Ju/’hoansiat Shamwari
Shamwari Private Game Reserve is offering an Indigenous San Tracking Experience for guests in the year 2020. During this unique experience, guests can enjoy insights into the ancient skills and wisdom of San hunter-gatherers during guided bush-walks.
Two of the very bestJu/’hoansi Master Trackers, /ui-Kxunta and /ui-G/aqo, will join Shamwari’s own skilled rangers on the first trail – limited to a maximum of six guests. Other ace trackers such as Dam Debe – who played a cameo part in The Gods must be Crazy as a child– will make their appearance on later trails.
While tracking is their extraordinary forte, these trackers will also offer demonstrations of their fire-lighting skills with firesticks, as well as bow-and-arrow demonstrations(sans poisoned tips!). Guests will be invited to try their hand at tracking, archery and rock art interpretations and be able to listen to fireside stories of the old ways in distant times.
We can imagine no better way to experience the African wilderness than on foot with these custodians of ancient wisdom and unsurpassed skills of tracking and bushcraft. This specialised adventure forms part of the Explorer Camp experience: a 2-day encounter that takes guests closer to nature than they have ever been before. Guests can only secure their San Tracking Experience by booking their stay at this one-of-a-kind camp on their preferred set dates in 2020:
- 28-30 January
- 31 January- 2 February
- 14-16 April
- 17-19 April
This once-in-a-lifetime experience is available for R 8000 per person sharing per night at Shamwari’s unique Explorer Camp. It is inclusive of accommodation, meals, beverages and the Indigenous San Tracking Experience.
This is a rare opportunity, one to be seized upon and treasured: tracking in the bush with custodians of millennia-old skills, combined with unsurpassed luxury at an Explorer Bush Camp!
Shamwari’s Explorer Camp
During South Africa’s summer season, Shamwari Private Game Reserve expands its offering even further by opening the Explorer Camp. This back to nature experience takes guests on a guided walking safari of the surrounding land, allowing you to get up close and personal with nature.
The Explorer Camp is discreetly fenced for safety reasons but still retains true explorer ambience. Tents are placed in close proximity without encroaching on each other’s privacy, while the camp is located on a plateau set among the only basalt and granite extrusions on Shamwari – a truly magical setting.