With a population of about 80000 between Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia, the very first people of South Africa are known as Khoisan or San bushman of Africa. They are popular for their language which comprises clicking sounds, their nomadic way of life, and their closeness with nature.
Due to their “less modern” lifestyle, they are, unfortunately, targets for human exploitation and hunting. As they constitute a minority of the population of southern Africa, they are also being pushed away from their land. Presently, the survival of the San and culture is in a precarious situation, unsure of the future.
The San people were known to be nomadic hunter-gatherers all over southern Africa who survived off the land and roamed the vast tracts of the bushveld. However, these San people have been forced to small ranges as a result of a variety of reasons such as farming, the creation of national parks, and mining. Presently, they can be found in relatively small clusters around the Makgadikgadi Pan.
In the past, the Bushmen were renowned for their beauty and charm artworks (including their rock art which dates back to thousands of years and can be found all over the country in caves and rock overhangs). They were the great artists of southern Africa and made use of different pigments originating from ochres, eggs, mineral deposits, and blood to create amazing and charming paintings of both humans and animals.
These paintings, today are representations of the everyday life of these people in the past. Thanks to the paintings from caves in the Drakensberg Mountains, we know the area was once occupied by wildlife including leopards, eland, and elephants which are presently extinct in the area.
In contrast to the ideology that the paintings were a depiction of the daily lives of the bushmen, there are modern theories that connect the paintings to spiritual beings. It is believed that shamans used the caves as sacred sights to communicate with the spiritual realm.
The paintings are believed to be a door to these spiritual realms and also records of the encounters between the divine entities and the Bushmen.
However, anthropologists believe that rock art is a representation of the famous magical trance dance popular among the San people which brings together the entire community.
The magical trance dance is also known as the healing dance and is of great significance to the customs and beliefs of the Bushman.
In performing the magical trance dance, community members maintain rhythm by clapping and chanting at the same time. The healers and elders of the community, who lead the ceremony then dance around a bonfire, while stamping, clapping, and mimicking different animals.
During the dance, a powerful trance-like state is induced by an exertion which is accompanied by hyperventilation. It is in this trance that the San people can enter the spirit world. The healing dance is known for several functions ranging from the obvious being healing sickness to dispelling what “star-sickness” which causes arguments, jealousy, ill-will, and anger.
The San tribe is treated as insignificant. However, in specific areas, remnants of the San culture can be seen where they are intentionally being preserved. At numerous sites across Southern Africa, ancient San rock art is showcased on full display.