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Bushmen/San People

Updated on August 19, 2012

This article is part of the A to Z tribes from Africa that I am sharing. With the letter A, I shared the Ababda tribe. The African tribe I want to present for the letter B is "Bushmen" but sometimes the word is associated with a negative meaning. In their respect I used both names for the benefit of spreading the name which the members of the tribe prefer to be called and that is the "San" people.

Is it possible in this occasion not to recall the phrase: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This phrase is a nursery rhyme from 1872. It is used to induce victims of verbal bullying to be tolerant or patient in the face of provocation. I wish we all could enable the ability to remember it and gain deep conscious of it's meaning.

This tribe is interesting as the whole of Africa is. In 1980 a movie written and directed by Jamie Uys titled: The Gods Must be Crazy used this tribe as the main characters. When I saw this movie, my love for Africa was getting stronger. I did not find it to be funny, even when it was rated as a comedy. The awareness of what it is to live their experiences of having their homelands invaded by cattle herding Bantu tribes from around 1,500 years ago, as well as white colonists over the last few hundred years; and knowing that this brings: jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, and violence is stronger than the laugh.

Exposing innocent people to be reached by civilization has always been an issue. If the purpose is to help, it should be welcomed. If the purpose is to interrupt their natural ways of being, it ought to be canceled.

This tribe has a long history in the artistic world. Let me mention some titles and authors where this tribe is found:

  • The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958) and The Heart of the Hunter (1961) by Sir Laurens Jan van der Post
  • N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman (1980) and The Hunters (1957) by John Marshall
  • The Incredible Human Journey and several more television documentaries by BBC
  • The Journey of Man (2003) by Spencer Well
  • Genographic Project by National Geographic
  • Documentary Journey of Man by PBS
  • Song "Eh Hee" by Dave Matthews
  • The Covenant (1980) by James A. Michener
  • The Burning Shores by Wilbur Smith

Who are the members of this tribe?

The oldest indigenous people of southern Africa. For a long period of time they have been a nomadic tribe. There are numerous subgroups of San who live in small groups among their sedentary Bantu neighbors. They are known also as: 'Basarwa' (in Botswana), Sho, Barwa, Kung and Khwe.

The name 'San' comes from the khoi word songua, meaning 'those cattle'. The name 'bushman', or in Dutch, Boschjesmans, was first used as early as 1652 by Dutch settlers to describe the hunter-gatherers they met when they first arrived at the Cape.

Where are they located?

The San people have lived in the area of the Kalahari desert for many years. Being a nomadic tribe they move about the land in search of food. Many have settled into larger groups around water sources and others into the communities of their neighbors (Tswana, Zulu, and Swazi). They are most from northern South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Angola, and Swaziland.

How do they live?

They make their own temporary homes from wood that they gather. Many members of this tribe who have been forced off their lands are now living in settlements in areas that are not suitable for hunting and not even for gathering.

The San tribe make important family and group decisions. Women are greatly respected and children have no social duties.

How do they communicate?

They speak a variety of languages, mainly Khoisan languages; all of which incorporate 'click' sounds represented in writing by symbols such as ! or /. In the video at the end you will witness this. I find it so beautifully special.

How do they survive?

The San people are hunter-gatherers, who have supported themselves in the desert. There hunting consists in various kind of antelope. Their diet has always consisted more of the fruits, nuts and roots which they seek out in the desert. Their economy is based on giving each other gifts rather than trading or purchasing goods and services.

What characteristics define their diversity?

The San tribe are very special people; the facts below talk by themselves:

  • Unique genetic traces.
  • Oldest people found on earth.
  • Domesticate cheetahs becoming close friends.
  • Spend large amounts of time with conversation, music, and sacred dances.
  • Have the longest continuing art tradition in the world.
  • Belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people.

Final Observations

The San people have been facing discrimination. Who wants this for their own life? Discrimination works in many levels as: age, race color, national origin, religion, pregnancy, sex and so many more. Can you feel what it is to suffer eviction from your ancestral homeland? Do you know what it is to sleep wondering if you will be murdered? Can you feel the feelings of oppression?

I invite you to read the links below and gain more information from our family the San people. They are in a long and profound suffering...What can you do about it?

Blessings to all!

© Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill

© 2012 Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill


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    • Lastheart profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 

      8 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      billybuc Thanks for your concern, for such encouraging comment, and for the visit. Learning about other people nourish us in so many different ways.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, there is something very wrong, because I have gotten no notifications on your hubs, and I see there are quite a few I have missed. My apologies; it is not intentional. This hub was fascinating! Since I have never traveled out of the U.S., I love to learn about the different cultures. Thank you for a mini-lesson!

    • Lastheart profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 

      8 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      hockey8mn thanks for your time. African tribes have so much to teach us as we have so much to learn from them. I love Africa!

    • hockey8mn profile image


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I look forward to reading about more of the African tribes. Very informative hub about a "primitive" group that have continued to thrive and be successful even in the face of discrimination.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 

      8 years ago from Returned to an Isla Del Sol - Puerto Rico Will Rise Strong

      Praise God--Good answer!!!

    • Lastheart profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 

      8 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Yes you will have a cheetah in their own environment when we meet the San people, as we help them in whatever they need to be done.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 

      8 years ago from Returned to an Isla Del Sol - Puerto Rico Will Rise Strong

      I think it interesting that they tame cheetahs as pets. Wouldn't that be neat. Can I have a cheetah, huh, can I?

      Great hub honey!


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