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The Bushmen were for thousands
of years the only inhabitants of the whole of southern
About 2 000 years ago two major changes occurred which
had a profound impact on the lives of these people.
At about the beginning of the Christian era a group
of people who owned small livestock - sheep and perhaps
goats - moved into the northern and western parts and
migrated slowly southward.
These pastoralists, who resembled the Bushmen in many
ways, lived by gathering wild plants and from the products
of their flocks and herds, are called Khoikhoi or 'Hottentots'.
Coincidently in the eastern
parts of the country another migration was occurring
- the Bantu speaking peoples were moving southward bringing
with them cattle, the concept of plant domestication
and settled village life. Ultimately the 'Hottentots'
met these black-skinned farmers and obtained from them
cattle in exchange for animal-skins and other items.
Thus when the white settlers arrived in the mid-seventeenth
century the whole country was inhabited by three different
groups - the hunter gatherers (Bushmen), the pastoralists
(Khoikhoi) and the farmers (Bantu speaking peoples).
A hunting people can not live permanently alongside
a settled community and conflicts occurred. When they
fought against the Bantu they were at a huge disadvantage
not only in numbers but also in lack of arms.
With the Europeans, they were at an even greater disadvantage.
The Europeans possessed horses and fire-arms. In this
period the number of Bushmen was greatly reduced. They
fought to the death and preferred death to capture where
they would be forced into slavery.
These wars combined with murder and oppression amounting
to a massive, though unspoken genocide, reduced them
in numbers from several million to 100,000. This resulted
in the southern groups, who where closer to the European
settlements, being virtually wiped out.
Historical evidence shows that certain Bushmen communities
have always lived in the desert regions of the Kalahari.
But nearly all of the Bushmen communities in southern
Africa were eventually forced into this region. The
Kalahari Bushmen remained in poverty where their richer
neighbours denied them rights to the land. Before long,
in both Botswana and Namibia, they found their territory
The !Xun and Khwe Bushmen from Angola and Namibia had
to relocate to the Northern Cape in South Africa due
to their mostly forced involvement in the Angolan and
Namibian wars. After these wars they were forced into
Recently in Botswana the government has intensified
its campaign to drive the Gana and Gwi Bushmen off their
ancestral homeland in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
by cutting off all water supplies.
Throughout the region the
Bushmen have struggled to adapt to a westernised lifestyle.
This has lead to a state of depression, low self-esteem,
poverty, alcoholism and a need to struggle for their
During the last 30 years
some efforts have been taken to ensure their survival.
This has mostly been through churches, research and
development workers, independent non-government organisations
(for example The South African San Institute, Survival
International, WIMSA) and isolated communities.
The westernised myths regarding
the Bushmen have caused considerable damage. They portray
the Bushmen as simple, childlike and without a problem
in the world. This could not be further from the truth.
Due to absorption but mostly extinction, the Bushmen
may soon cease to exist as a separate people. Due to
this, their art works are increasing in value and meaning
daily. They may soon only be viewed in national museums
and galleries. Their traditions, beliefs and culture
may soon only be found in historical journals.
Typical art that is being produced in the art centres