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The Bushmen

The Bushmen (San) are the indigenous people of Namibia

The San (Bushmen) are the oldest ethnic group in Namibia. South Africa’s “home” policy forced them to settle in remote “Bushmanland”, a desert-like area between Kaudom Park and Omaheke. These friendly people still live traditional hunter-gatherer lives. The women collect wild fruits, berries and wild onions, which are rich in starch, while the men hunt.

The San have a deep understanding of nature and ecology. They are able to identify hundreds of plant species and are known as excellent animal trackers. An estimated 30,000 Bushmen live in Namibia, but only 2,000 of them still follow a traditional but slowly disappearing lifestyle.

Tsumkwe doesn’t look inviting. In 1998, however, a very interesting community project was launched south of the city. Here the Ju / ’hoansi San created the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. The game reserve (approx. 30 km x 35 km) surrounds a pan in which water is collected after heavy rains to form a lake. Nyae Nyae is very rich in wildlife, but the real attraction is that the Ju / ’hoansi let you participate in some of their traditional activities. You can go hunting for spring rabbits or elephants with the men, or watch the women collect and prepare seeds and plants. Two simple camps were set up in breathtaking locations for overnight stays by Bushmen.

The San are experienced archers, although the arches are relatively small and the range of an arrow is therefore less than 25 m. For this reason, the San have to get close to their quarry and shoot it down. an ability that requires great patience and nimble feet. If an animal is hit by an arrow, it has no chance of escaping because the tips of the reed arrows are covered with a highly toxic poison that comes from the larvae of a particular beetle. The poison, which is lethal to humans even in tiny amounts, is made according to a recipe known only to the San. Various herbal ingredients are added to enhance the effect. So far, no one has found an antidote to the San arrow poison. In the rainy season, the lowlands of Nyae Nyae fill with water, which attracts schools of pelicans and flamingos.

The San, known as great storytellers, express themselves eloquently in prose, music, mimicry and dance. Their simplest instrument is the hunter’s bow, covered with animal hair, which is played with a hollowed-out melon or an empty tin can as a sound box. Moth cocoons filled with stones or seeds are attached around the ankles to ensure the rhythm during the dance.
The San are divided into three groups: the shark || om (the traditionally inhabited Etosha) in the northern districts of Otavi, Tsumeb and Grootfontein; the Qgu (! Kung) and Ju / ’Hoansi in Bushmanland and in the Gobabis District; and the Khoé or Mbarakwengo in western Zambezi.

While a small number of these legendary people still practice their traditional nomadic lifestyle, the majority live in villages that have been influenced by western culture, economy and way of life.

The San have been adorned with beadwork for centuries. Glass beads were traded or new beads were made from ostrich eggshells. The techniques for making jewelry and other items, such as collecting animal skin bags, have changed little.

The production of such items is often shared. Pearls, for example, are carved by men and threaded by women. Most of the materials used such as seeds, porcupine segments, nuts, roots and berries are collected in the bush.

Functional items such as bags, traditionally used to collect wild fruit and berries or to store tobacco and matches, are made from soft antelope skin.
Arts and crafts made in the Omaheke region are marketed by the Omaheke San Trust, an organization that provides livelihoods for hundreds of marginalized Bushman families in the region. The G! Hunku Crafts is located next to the Nyae Nyae Conservancy office in Tsumkwe and is ideal for tourists who want to stop by on the way to Botswana or Khaudum National Park. This is a community-based craft project selling traditional San Ostrich Eggshell and Tamboti wood jewelry, among other things.

The striking Art-i-San pearl artwork and ostrich eggshell jewelry made by San communities in the Omaheke region can be purchased at the Namibia Craft Center in Windhoek.

Baraka Beads was started in 2008 as a small project to provide poor and marginalized rural San women with an alternative source of income. It combines the existing artistic skills of Ju / ’Hoansi San with modern, contemporary design.