A Focus on the San Bushman Tribe

San (or Bushman or Basarwa) is a term for Khoisan-speaking nations in Southern Africa, primarily in the Kalahari Desert region of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, along with other countries such as Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. San are among the oldest cultural groups in Africa and are thought to be from which modern man has evolved.

Before I came to the United States, I had never heard of San people. Kids would make fun of me by making clicking noises at me as I walked past. Others would ask me if I made a clicking sound when I spoke. Because Africa is a large, vast continent, I didn’t even realize there were tribes that spoke with a click. In Senegal and West Africa, those dialects aren’t a part of our cultures. I had to research why kids were asking about clicking, which was my first introduction to this incredible group of people. 

Traditionally semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, most San today are not nomadic because of modern settlement. Their roots make them expert survivalists, and many San people use their knowledge to teach at cultural centers and tourist attractions.  

San live in bands of several families, ranging in size from a few dozen to about 60 members. Numbers fluctuate as people switch bands, mostly through marriage. There is frequent interaction and friendship between bands.

San people are egalitarian, which means they believe that all people are equally  important and should have the same rights and opportunity in life. Women are considered equals, and disputes are solved through discussions led by influential members. 

In addition to their survival skills, San are known for their ancient rock art, which paints a picture of what life was like for older generations. There are at least 14,000 recorded San rock art sites in Southern Africa, likely with more that have yet to be discovered

As globalization continues, many tribes are forced to become less cultural and some are going extinct. I even see the effects of globalization in my own tribe. I love talking about tribal culture and what makes each different and unique. I think it’s important to know where you came from, and to love, respect and appreciate the diverse, incredible cultures of others. The San culture, or any historical culture, shouldn’t be something that has to go extinct with the evolution of modern culture. Learning and knowing are steps toward preserving magnificent history that shouldn’t be forgotten.