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A lifestyle on the edge of extinction

A lifestyle on the edge of extinction

A lifestyle on the edge of extinction

The San are the only remaining Africans that still live with nature in the true sense of the word. Meno A Kwena Safari camp on the banks of the Boteti River in the Makgadikgadi Pans includes the skills of the San people from around the area to enhance our guests’ safari experience.

The brisk Kalahari morning breeze carries with it the sounds of San ‘clicking’ as the sun emerges from the long wintry night, and the human voices blend into the morning chorus of birds.

These bushmen having been walking with our guests for a year now and we are seeing excellent rewards for both people and wildlife. Our visitors see the complete picture of the magical world we live in and the importance of balance between humans and animals.

Since the emergence of modern Homo sapiens 150 000 years ago, the San people inhabited most of the southern African region. The slow migration of Bantu people southwards from north west and central Africa began about 2000 years ago.

The San people tried to stand their ground against Bantu expansion over an extended period of time, and this can be seen in numerous archeological sites depicting the evidence of San / Bantu battle grounds.

The arrival of the Europeans as early as the 1400's also had a drastic effect on the San people and it is evident that early relations were strained and often violent. The myth started that the San were a group of a "savage and lowly life style."

Large scale persecution of the San people on all levels has continued to the present day and has compressed the San into the least desirable living areas, deserts and arid landscapes, which has honed the San’s amazing proficiency at surviving in the harsh climate of the Kalahari.

The current group of San we have at Meno A Kwena are of the super group of Kung bushmen. The three dominant clans in Botswana are the Naro, Qui and Ju Hoansi. Our group are Ju Hoansi San. This translates directly to mean ‘We are the people.’ The traditional living area of this group is Xai Xai in Botswana and Tsumkwe in Namibia.

Until recent times, hunting and food gathering has been a major occupation of these people, even though many types of Bantu and western style foods have crept into their diet.  Their main source of food in these regions is the mongongo nut from the tree Schinziophyton rautennanii. Numerous varieties of other vegetable tubers and roots also feature dominantly, but in ideal mongongo seasons so much can be collected easily that they rarely focus on anything else.

Hunting strategies for meat are extremely varied with many types of animals being sought after. The larger and most prized species are the eland, kudu and giraffe. Such animals are less common in these areas today so successful hunting is not simple. The main focus now seems to be on smaller mammals such as the steenbok, duiker, porcupine, springhare and scrubhare, which form the main part of their protein intake, in addition to reptiles and tortoises. Birdlife also play an important part in the diet, particularly ostriches and their eggs.

Without the opportunity to hunt and trap, the San diet becomes very limited as all of the vegetable foods collected are seasonal. This lack of continuity forces a reliance on Bantu foodstuffs such as maize meal, sorghum, butternut and other grains, which in turn perpetuates the myth of the ‘underling’ or ‘basarwa.’

The growing tourism industry in Botswana highlights the importance of involving San culture in our safaris and conservation projects. They are an integral part of our life here on the banks of the Boteti and it is becoming more and more difficult for them to sustain themselves in their traditional manner.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide: