San Notes


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A view of the San circa 1951:

"The Bushmen are one of the most primitive peoples living on earth."

"Although most of their groups own some metal objects, Bushmen do not smelt or forge metal, but get it in trade from their Bantu neighbors."

. . . most of the Bushmen had never seen a European before,

Harmless People, pp. 9 & 10

Nobody knows where the Bushmen originated, from what racial stocks they came, or when they came to Africa. . . The Bushmen, together with the Hottentot peoples, are known to have lived in South "Africa long before the Bantus came. . ., the Bushmen yielded their land to the stronger newcomers, . . . most were either killed, enslaved or driven into the most remote parts."

The Harmless People, pp. 12 & 13

Bitter Melons - Ukxone, Gwi (Gikwe), !Kung, San, Ju/wasi (Zhu)

Contrast the San as they were supposed to be in the ethnographic present with the Tasaday

What is the meaning of the title, "Bitter Melons"?

We learned two reasons for the submissiveness of Bushmen. One reason is that it is not in their nature to fight, . . . Bushmen would try not to fight because they have no mechanism in their culture for dealing with disagreements other than to remove the causes of the disagreements.

The Harmless People, pp. 21 & 22

Ukwane told us how various members of his band, once a large one, had died, reducing their number to the hardy few who lived with him now. Both his father and mother had died of thirst, and his children, his young nieces and nephews, and his grandchildren had all died in an epidemic of smallpox three years before.

The Harmless People, p. 123

A Bushmen dance is an infinitely complicated pattern of voices and rhythm, an orchestra of bodies, making music that is infinitely varied and always precise.

. . . the people learn the songs and dances when they are children and work for perfection in skill and timing all their lives.

The Harmless People, p. 131

From Bitter Melons

Groups similar to Tasaday & San

Andaman Is
Australian Aborigines

like Tasaday and most commonly used to illustrate foraging society

desert environment

rapid change

scientific study from the beginning

80% diet from gathering

Bushmen of the Kalahari - The San in 1974

To Topics

Bushmen of the Kalahari - scenes

Study of the !Kung

Searching for the Hari People

The trek and repair of the well

The future?

Tasaday - San comparison

Theory of preagricultural societies

John Marshall returns to the Kalahari

Future of the San?


San Identity

Bushmen - by Dutch

San - by scholars

Ju/wasi - call themselves

!Kung, Gikwe - band names

Hari, Gautscha, //Xaru Pan - place names

Tshum!kwi - reserve

The question of San authenticity:

. . . the !Kung, and other hunting and gathering peoples, have become increasingly drawn into the World System. . . poverty, class formation, bureaucratic control, and media manipulation, not to mention militarization, anomie, and alienation, are all part of the daily lives of the !Kung in the 1990s.

Richard Lee, 1992, p 5.

Ethnographers of San-speakers assumed that these peoples were quintessential aboriginal hunters and gathers whose way of life had changed little in millennia--

The categories "Bushman," "San," "hunter-gatherer," "forager," . . . function to illuminate and legitimize Euroamerica's symbolic reconstruction of its own ontology.

Wilmsen, 1989, p. 3-4

We cannot avoid the suspicion that many of us were led to live and work among the hunters because of a feeling that the human condition was likely to be drawn more clearly here than among other kinds of societies.

Lee and DeVore 1968, p. ix

The Bushmen serve as trackers and drivers. . . they are also commandeered for hard work, to carry heavy loads, to build houses, and such.

. . . certainly among the now entirely subordinated Bushmen not only political but social organization has been lost.

Passarge 1906, p. 413

Hypotheses like those for the Tasaday:

San Chronology

1951 - Lawrence and Lorna Marshall with John and Elizabeth begin filming the !Kung

1974 - John Marshall returns

1978 - So. African army recruits

1991 - !Kung transformed from foragers to herders, farmers, and crafts people

Extended San Chronology

1000 - Indian Ocean trade goods

1400 - Zimbabwean state

1652 - Dutch settlement of Cape Town

1806 - British control of southern Africa

1838 - Great Trek - European settlement in the high veld

1850 - European merchants in interior

!Kung San Resettlement

To Topics

1970s - Tshum!kwi, fence

920 people in a rural slum of 25 sq. mi.

1983 - N!am Tchoa

60 people with 14 head of cattle trying to become farmers

1978 - Gautcha, military jobs

30 people trying to be independent

1984 - //Xaru Pan

trying to be independent in a game reserve

1986 - mixed economy

11 communities with about 500 people living on a mixed economy

acculturation processes illustrated by the San

extinction - the culture dies out

cultural loss - the old ways are lost

colonialism & imperialism - outsiders take control

assimilation - to become like the dominant culture

In his first life, David Sheukuni was a Bushman.

In his second life, the white men taught him to be a soldier. . .

Now in his early 30s, Sheukuni has embarked on his third life, as a farmer.

Bill Keller, 1993, p. A4

Children, it turns out, make good killers. They learn fast, they work cheap, and their sense of right and wrong has not outgrown their yearning to be accepted by whatever liberation group or guerrilla army has become their surrogate family.

Keller, 1994, p. A4

An approach for making comparisons between cultures and time periods.

How can contemporary cultures help us with theories of human history?

What is the situation faced by tribal peoples in the world today?

Tourists are attracted to Kagga Kamma by the "Western romantic myths of an Edenic idyll" of the San lifestyle.

White, 1993:61

"Everything was perfect before. There were no fences there, just Bushman tracks. Then the farmers arrived, and now everything is closed to us. We have no land, no water, no meat, and nowhere to rest."

San man to White 1993:62

The Bushmen's position has consequently also depended on being recognized as authentic in the popular iconic mold.

White 1993:63

San jobs

soldier, slave, migrant worker, government worker, farm laborer, herder, bandit, artisans, performers, film stars, informants.

Updated:Thursday, 30-Jan-2003 08:15:40 PST
Court Smith, Oregon State University