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African Bushmen hunting safaris and bow hunting safaris

Bushmen and Hottentots
a controversial essay by Evan Davies 

The last Hessequa were forced to settle in mission stations during the first decade of the Twentieth Century. They were a clan of the southern Khoikhoi (Hottentots), nomadic stone age shepherds. (The missions still exist as working institutions, are beautiful and worth visiting. Some are Eighteenth Century and little has changed. They are time capsules.)
At the same time, the very last of the /Xam San hunters (southern Bushmen) were wandering, broken, on white man's land, or into villages to beg. The hunting ages were over.

Collectively known as the Khoi-san, for they were really specialists in economic niches from the same biological group, their origins are obscure. However their ancesters were certainly present here 10 000 years ago, and these ancesters evolved from people in the region whose remains are as old as 100 000 years. 

We are probably all descended from early Khoi-san.

After the bulk of the Khoi-san had gone, there remained small family groups and individuals working for white landowners, speaking a pidgin Dutch, later to be known as Afrikaans. Today these people are generalised as "Coloureds" and are very numerous in the countryside of the Cape. 

Yet still you will hear old strange-sounding names of plants, places and animals. Like "Tsitsikamma" (a region), "dwyka" (a lioness), or "ghwarrie" (a type of tree). Their knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants is great, yet largely undocumented. They are good trackers. Many of the people are still illiterate, and might well remain so for another generation.

The Khoikhoi herders left little behind, but the San hunters left their rock art. Dating from between thousands and perhaps less than a hundred years ago, this art provides a near-continuous link with the Neolithic, and recent research here may well contribute to a better understanding of prehistoric rock art in the northern hemisphere.

The first thing to understand is that it is not literal in our modern sense. Where we distinguish between reason and conjecture, primitive people saw everything in a unified vision. Myth, spirit and reality are mixed up and one. The San had a shamanistic culture, in which every individual was to a greater or lesser extent a shaman. They lived in a spirit-animated world, daily, nightly, awake and asleep.

The rock art of the Karoo is typical. It presents us with an intimate vision of the hunters in daily trance. In trance they would follow the herds of game, see rain-animals gathering in distant skies, find springs in the dry land, and perhaps visit long lost relatives. The paintings show lines of dots emerging from an animal's head and rising into the sky - the spirit of a shaman inhabiting an animal's body. Men losing their legs and flying. Men with antelope heads. Fish with the faces of men. Hunters killing an animal from which rain pours.


When we discovered the rock art site on our land we also found a campsite. Pottery shards, fragments of flint and ostrich eggshell beads lie on the sand. Maybe one day it will be excavated, but in the mean while, we'll let it lie.


Rock Art

The Bushmen spent hours observing the wild animals around them until they, more than any other southern African tribe, had an intimate knowledge of the animal’s behaviour, whereabouts and movements. Fortunately the Bushmen expressed their appreciation of their environment and their beliefs and rituals in beautiful rock paintings all over South Africa. With their rock art they turned the South African countryside into one big open-air art gallery for those who came after them to enjoy!

Ancient Africa bushmen painting with bow  Buchmen rock art  Buchmen rock arts with hunters and antelope  African cave girl - labamba

Historical background

Bushmen picture with bowThe Bushmen were gradually replaced by agropastoralists whose presence dates back to little more than 2 000 years ago. The first of these groups, the KhoiKhoi (Hottentot) people, settled in the Western Cape area. The KhoiKhoi herded cattle and sheep and had a social structure completely different from that of the Bushmen. There was, however, a lot of interaction between the two groups, so much so that linguists later classed both their languages as “Khoisan”. The KhoiKhoi were later followed by the first influx of black people from the north.

Co- Existence with other Tribes

At first the Bushmen co-existed peacefully with these Ngunispeakers (the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele) who intermarried with the Bushmen and also incorporated some of the distinctive and characteristic “clicks” of the Bushmen language into their own languages. Contact with Nguni and Sotho-Tswana farmers was depicted in the Bushmen’s rock art. The artists started including representations of cattle and sheep as well as of people with shields and spears, in their paintings. The most severe threat to the Bushmen’s survival came in the form of the white settler farmers and later colonial rule. 

African buchmen archerColonialism destroyed the Bushmen's nomadic way of life, they were no longer allowed to roam freely and trophy hunters destroyed the vast herds of game that formed their principal supply of food. Both Black and White farmers built up huge herds of cattle that destroyed the veld foods that had been the Bushmen’s staple diet for centuries.

Enslavement and sometimes mass destruction of Bushmen communities, by both White and Black farmers, followed. Many became farm labourers and some joined Black groups and intermarried with them, which added to the destruction of the social identity of the San people.



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