The San – Bushman of Southern Africa

The San – Bushman of Southern Africa
San – Bushman
When some 4000 years ago, nomads, calling themselves Khoi-Khoi, came into contact with the much longer established hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa, (who had occupied most parts of southern Africa for over 50 000 years.) they called them ‘San’, meaning food-gatherers. The seventeenth century Dutch colonists of the Cape of Good Hope called the hunter-gatherers who lived on the savanna or ‘boschveld’ of the Cape Interior, ‘Boschjesmannen‘. Hence the name Bushman. The Bushmen are the longest-term inhabitants of Southern Africa. They are the last survivors of a Stone Age people who were once scattered all over Eastern, Central and Southern Africa.


 Rock art    
Almost all the Europeans who first saw the rock art of southern Africa, although fascinated by its splendor and beauty believed that these were simple naïve depictions of Bushman life. Its is only nowadays that the true value and meaning of this great art is being deciphered and to some extend understood by western civilization.image Europeans and to some extend Africans could not believe (or would not) that a primitive small people were capable of complicated and intricate works of art. The works not only show actual events and things but were full of messages, complex nuances in the symbols, metaphors and religious meanings.
The earliest known rock paintings in Southern Africa are approximately 27 000 years old, found in the Apollo 11 rock shelter an burial stones.
image  In the early 1870s Wilhelm Bleek and his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd worked with Cape San in their endeavour to understand the deeper meaning of the rock art of southern Africa. This was very unusual and progressive, especially for that time. Most people at the time regarded the San as ignorant, prehistoric and more like children. With the help or better through what they learned from /Han=kass’o and //Kabbo (who lived with them in Cape Town) Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd achieved a breakthrough in the understanding of the rock art of southern Africa. For the first time the rock paintings were seen as more than just naïve drawings of Bushman life.
 From the explanations of //Kabbo and other San we know that the paintings have a deeper meaning. An Eland for instance even when he is drawn with great detail is not just a depiction of an eland but rather a symbol of potency, and sometimes even a shaman who has been completely transformed and entered the spirit world. That explains why eland are so prolific in San rock art (they are not the most hunted animal, wildebeest, and smaller animals are hunted much more often.) They are some of the most painted animal. It also explains the creatures with eland heads, or hoofed feet and the bird-like creatures. image
 ELAND    //Kabbo
image Unfortunately, due to the prevailing political situation and the insistence by Europeans that Africa is and was not capable of such works of art, this line of thought was not to become very popular. Archeologist, anthropologists and other learned people of the time overwhelmingly keep to the view that the Bushman could not be capable of intricate art.
   Reputable European and African intellectuals brought a lot of far-fetched claims and plain nonsensical arguments forth, all seem to have one aim and that is to substantiate the belief that nothing good can come out of Africa, especially not from so primitive a people as the San.
Even as recently as 1987 an African writer went so far as to suggest that the San were taught painting and even their beliefs by some Europeans that came down river by boats. Equally the myth that the ruins of Zimbabwe were built by Europeans, offers no evidence at all to substantiate these claims. Apparently they came and left without leaving any traces of their existence.(No bones, artifacts etc.) How these theories are created is unclear, but a safe assumption would be that they are created out of a racial and unfortunately mostly eurocentric view that art, and civilization only come from or through Europe. What is important is that none of the proponents of these outlandish theories has bothered to find out from the San people themselves what these painting mean, or even considered trying to come to an understanding of San beliefs.
 image enthopic vison  In the early 1970s research to establish that San rock art is mainly shamanistic was conducted. A study on hallucinations was applied to rock art. Most of the studies done on hallucinations were done in laboratory tests with drugs like LSD. It was hoped that these studies would help understand what kinds of visions were seen in an altered state of mind, like a trance. Now obviously this study had to concentrate on the most often occurring motives in the visions that the test persons had during their hallucinations.
 image The recorded visions were then compared to the various motives of the Rock art. It was found that there are certain clear similarities with the visions of people under the influence of LSD and numerous previously unexplained geometrical and abstract figures. Therefore the conclusion was arrived at that a number of rock paintings are depictions of visions that the artist- shaman had while in a state of trance. Some now argue that all rock art, not only the San-bushman rock art is essentially shamanistic. It would however be foolish to suppose that all rock art renderings are the result of a trance experience.
Individual or group  
Some paintings made by the rock artist might have been made by the artist to record the experiences of his clan or family, or just to pass time. (These would probably be in the minority). It would be interesting to know if the san rock painting are the work of different individual artist or if each set of paintings was some kind of community effort. It is clear that a lot of the painting were done over an extended period of time, now did one artist paint at a time, or were there more than one artist painting simultaneously at each time? Did the artist come back to the same shelter more than once to continue or add to his work?
The purpose of Art  

imageThe “purpose” of all visual art is essentially to communicate by visual images.

The messages communicated via the medium of art can vary greatly. Art, all forms of art are part of a universal language spoken by people in every corner of the world.

The messages that an art-piece endeavours to deliver is not understood by everybody, however a good or a real piece of art will always stir some (either positive of negative) emotion in its observer.

     Shadow in the landscape by A.Chr. Reck
   The fact that Rock art of some form or other has been found in all parts of the world at various times, and the fact that these works of art are similar in a number of respects, has to tells us humans something. It also tells us that we as a people have not changed in essence for the past 50,000 years and above all that no matter from what part of this world we are, whether we are African, European, Asian, Australian or American we are all the same. The need to influence the course of life through the creation of images is one that has persisted from the san artists of Africa to the contemporary artist creating now, in this millennium.
The Khoisan Languages

All the different San Languages are part of the Khoisan language family. The Khoekhoe (Hottentot) and San (Bushman) languages are part of this family of languages. Members of this group of languages are, the Nama; (the best known Khoekhoe language spoken by about 160,000 people) the !Kung of the northern Kalahari, the G/wi and the !Ko of central kalahari and the now extinct /Xam. Phonetically they are regarded as the most complex in the world. The clicks and curious distinctive sound of the language are most intriguing to westerners. Some of these clicks also occur in Xhosa, Zulu, and to a smaller extend in SiSwati..

The following are discription of some of these click sounds.

/ or Dental click. To achieve this click the tip of the tongue is placed against the back of the upper front teeth; in the release, it is pulled away with a fricative sound.

! or Alveolar – palatal click. For this the tip of the tongue is pressed firmly against the back of the alveolar ridge where it meets the hard palate and is very sharply snapped down on release. A loud pop results.

The Alveolar click. Press the front part of the tongue; not only the tip, against the alveolar ridge and draw sharply downwards when releasing.

// or lateral click. The tongue is placed as for the alveolar click. It is released at the sides by being drawn in from the teeth. Much like the sound, drivers of horses make to signal them to stop or go.

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