Inspirations‎ > ‎

South Africa


South Africa

 In 2004, on a family trip to South Africa, I fell in love with the art of a group   of contemporary San artists whose art was displayed extensively in the home where we stayed.     After our trip, I researched these artists and found they have a complex, and tragic history. 

What we collectively call the San or Bushmen, are groups of various native inhabitants of the Kalahari Desert region in southern Africa which have in common a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  They also have some unique cultural traits such as distinct clicks in their languages, and spiritual beliefs and rituals centering on the deity /Kaggen.  Many anthropologists believe that the San were the first humans,  and the ancestors of us all.  For over 20,000 years, the San flourished, and until a  few hundred years ago, it is thought that they numbered in the millions.  There are thousands of sites throughout southern Africa where original rock and cave paintings attributed to the ancient San can be viewed. 

In the last 2,000 years, as other native African tribes expanded, and European colonists settled southern Africa, the traditional San lifestyle has disappeared—or has been forced to disappear.  Most of the land the San depended upon for hunting has been seized by governments, and hunting outlawed.  Many tribes have been the victims of genocide.  As recently as 1936 it was legal to hunt Bushmen in some areas of southern Africa.  Today the San population in southern Africa has dwindled to around 100,000.

A nomadic lifestyle dependent on following migrating herds of wildlife was not compatible with the expanding populations of southern Africa—government and private land ownership was  an unknown concept to the San.  Many San found work on farms, often for no pay, and others in the mines, where the complete change of lifestyle and introduction to alcohol led to rampant alcoholism.  Due to their innate tracking expertise, a large number of San were forced into service  in the South African Defense Force as trackers during the Border Wars with Namibia.  After the wars, most were exiled. 

Today, the San peoples are some of the poorest and most discriminated against in the world.  A few talented San artists joined a colony called the !Xun and Khwe Art and Culture Project, which is basically a tent town in the Northern Cape.  This project provides the opportunity for the San to express their traditional culture through paintings and sculpture. 

Their vibrant art tells the rich folklore handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.  Learn about their culture, read their stories, visit the websites linked here,  enjoy their art, and support efforts to better their lives.    

Click here  to go to a slide show of their art.

Click here to go to my photos from South Africa.

Excellent links:

I highly recommend the following books if you are interested in learning more about the San Bushmen, South Africa or African history and culture: 

The Covenant  by James A. Michener

The Harmless People  by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

The Healing Land  by Rupert Isaacson

A Mantis Carol  by Laurens Van Der Post

The Lost World of the Kalahari, The Heart of the Hunter, and  A Story Like the Wind by Laurens Van Der Post

The Peopling of Africa A Geographic Interpretation by James L. Newman

The Bushmen and Their Stories  by Elizabeth S. Helfman

The Girl Who Made Stars and Other Bushman Stories  collected by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy C. Lloyd

The First Bushman’s Path  Stories, Songs and Testimonies of the /Xam of the Northern Cape  versions, with commentary, by Alan James

The Cape Herders  A History of the Khoikhoi of Southern Africa  by Emile Boonzaier, Candy Malherbe, Andy Smith and Penny Berens

Cry of the Kalahari and The Eye of the Elephant  by Delia and Mark Owens

The Zulus  by Ian Knight

The Washing of the Spears The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation  by Donald R. Morris

Cry, The Beloved Country  by Alan Paton

The Power of One  by Bryce Courtenay

Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales  edited by Marguerite Gordon and Linda Rode

How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa  by Henry M. Stanley

Things Fall Apart  by Chinua Achebe

Dark Star Safari  Overland from Cairo to Cape Town  by Paul Theroux

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight  An African Childhood  by Alexandra Fuller

Black Experience and the Empire  edited by Philip D. Morgan and Sean Hawkins

The House at Sugar Beach  by Helene Cooper

Through the Eyes of the Gods  An Aerial Vision of Africa  by Robert B. Haas

Eyes Over Africa  by Michael Poliza


Read Travel