The San Tribe of Africa

The San tribe or the Bushmen as they commonly called, are the oldest tribe in Africa.

[Photo Credit: Africa Geographic]

The San tribe are the first culture of South Africa, where they have been living for over 30,000 years. They are members of khoe, Tuu, Kx’a speaking hunters who live in territories of Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa.

The term San, meaning Foragers is used to describe the tribe because they are known to be foragers and nomadic. This is used to collectively describe the Kung, Tuu, Nusan, and so on representatives.

Historically, the San are among the oldest cultures on Earth, and are thought to be descendants of the first inhabitants of what is presently Botswana and South Africa. They were nomads who migrated often based on the availability of resources such as water, animals and food.

Due to government directives on modernization, the San had to switch to farming. Regardless of the change in lifestyle, the San have provided a wealth of information in anthropology and genetics. However, they were reported to have experienced exclusion from government decision making processes as well ethnic discrimination.

In San society, the age rule and name rule is used to define what terms to use. The age rule is used to resolve conflicts or confusion that may arise, as the older of two people decides what to call the younger. Approximately 35 names per sex circulate and each child is named after the grandparent or another relative, but never the parents.

Largely, the San people venerate leisure, as the better part of their time is spent in conversation, music and sacred dances. The women of San could be leaders in the family and they are also involved in important family and group decisions. Women also own water holes and foraging areas, but they are mainly involved in food gathering and occasional hunting.

To them, water is very important and they go as far as scraping a damp area of land, inserting a long hollow grass stem into the hole to make a sip well during long droughts. After making the sip well, the use an empty ostrich egg collect water.

Traditionally, all tribe members are involved in decision making, including women. While they had chiefs, their authority is limited and decision is made unanimously. Gifts are usually exchanged regularly rather than trading or purchasing. Although they are monogamous, a hunter could take a second wife if he can afford it.

During the dry season, women of the clan gather fruit, bush onions, berries and other edibles for the clan’s sustenance. They also consume insects like grasshopper, beetles, caterpillars and so on. Men and sometimes women will hunt for meat.

Women of the tribe make use of a hide sling, a blanket, a Kaross (cloak, also used to carry babies), to carry food. They use a digging stick as tools, while the men who hunt in tracking excursions use arrows, spears, and bow as tools.

Just like every other African culture, the San have rituals and beliefs. They consider the Eland (Elk or Moose), the most spiritual animal. Usually, they celebrate a boy’s first kill and a girls’ first menstruation.

For the boy to become an adult, he must track and kill his first Eland. Once killed, the fat from the Eland’s throat and collarbone is used for a broth. To celebrate a girl’s puberty, she is isolated in a hut at the first sign of menstruation. Then the women of the tribe will perform the Eland Bull Dance where they mimic the mating behavior of the animal.

This ritual is believed to keep the girl beautiful, passive and free from hunger. As part of the marriage rites, the groom gifts the bride’s parents the Eland’s heart after which the bride is anointed with the fat.


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Written by Monsurat

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