The San (Saan) are the indigenous people of southern Africa and have lived here for at least 20,000 years. There are about 100,000 of them remaining in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Angola.
Once referred to as Bushmen, the term has been abandoned, given its derogatory origin. There are many different San groups, but no one collective name to describe them.
Descendants of Early Stone Age peoples, these hunter-gathers followed seasonal game migrations between mountain range and coastline, living in caves, under rocky overhangs, or in temporary shelters.
San people have an extensive knowledge of flora and fauna, passed down through generations via the spoken word. The men have a reputation as highly skilled trackers and hunters. Anthropologists have been impressed as they discover the depth of their rich cultural traditions.
The combination of colonization and the migration of agricultural tribes almost destroyed the San way life. No longer able to roam freely, they could not hunt the game—and even those numbers were significantly reduced by trophy hunters. Huge herds of cattle destroyed foods that had sustained them for thousands of years. In addition, their lack of weapons made them defenseless against horses and rifles and many were enslaved. Their numbers dropped dramatically and even now, their survival as a distinct entity is in peril.
Like first peoples around the world, the San peoples’ recent history includes poverty, alcoholism, social rejection, and a decline of cultural identity.
However, similar to other indigenous peoples, they’re resilient, developing political, economic, and social survival strategies to live in the modern world while preserving ancient practices.
For an extensive and fascinating look at the history and culture, read San.
Photo credits: Kruger National Park