About the !Kung / Khoisan People and Culture
Language and Cultural Identity: The Khoisan (San) is a language grouping rather than one specific tribe. Known, sometimes derogatively, as the Bushmen there are actually many diverse groups some of whom speak different variants or completely separate Khoisan languages. Within this group are the !Kung who comprise the community in the vicinity of Omatako Valley Rest Camp and who you will meet during your visit. Some !Kung refer to themselves as the Zhun/twasi, "the real people," or they refer to themselves as the ‘Ju’hoan’and are also referred to as the !Kung San.
History: More intensely studied than perhaps any other language/social group on earth the people collectively known under the umbrella name of the San traditionally lived a highly adapted hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the Kalahari and other regions of Southern Africa. The San have inhabited Southern Africa for at least 30,000 years, proof of this habitation can be found in the wealth of rock art that can be found in numerous locations throughout the region. The San hunter gatherer lifestyle has constantly come under threat and they were actively persecuted even hunted by early european colonists in Namibia. The early Boer settlers in the Cape launched an extermination campaign and killed about 200,000 people in around 200 years, to these people the San were seen as sub-human - like animals. Of the 55,000 San people who remain about 60% live in the Kalahari in Botswana, 35% in Namibia, with the rest scattered all over Southern Africa. Other culture contact has also been detrimental to the San. It is thought that when the first Bantu tribes arrived the San coexisted peacefully with them, but as the Bantu numbers swelled pressure was placed on the placid San. Many San ended up as slaves while others abandoned their traditional hunting areas and move into the drier areas (Kalahari Desert) of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Traditional Culture: Traditionally the San had no leaders or chiefs, personal decisions were made individually and group decisions were left to the group. When times were good groups could swell to over one hundred people but during droughts groups might dwindle to family units of less than 10 people. The people were nomadic, always on the move, they followed water, game and edible plants. Living in quickly constructed small dwellings they neither farmed nor kept farm animals. Each community carried everything they possessed with them and traditionally women gathered edible plants for food and sources of water, while the men hunted for wild game meat.
Rock Art: The culture also created some wonderful hunter-gatherer rock art from 28,000 to 2,000 years ago. Much of this was produced during periods of ritual when activities focused on places where water was available during dry seasons such as the spring at Twyfelfontein and as the art was probably deeply rooted in shamanic beliefs some of it is positioned in incredible and remote (secretive) locations like that at Brandberg.
Contemporary Life: Today there are approximately 27,000 San in Namibia. The !Kung community in Omatako faces many challenges as they adapt to a primarily settled and more agrarian lifestyle. Dwelling now in houses made of blankets, wood, plastic, tin and thatched with grass, people attempt to garden and farm the land whilst they still gather and use a range of wild plants for food and medicines. Unable to hunt at present (the situation is different according to the group, region and conservation laws) the Omatako community hope to be able to return to some hunting of wild animals in the future to supplement their diet and continue age old practices, propagating ancient knowledge. Helped in part with government handouts of maize meal and some local aid projects which include a church, school and medical centre, the community want to be able to help themselves survive which is what the Omatako Rest Camp is all about. However, overall, the outlook for the San groups is not hopeful although some organisations are working to preserve the culture, the last remaining areas were they could maintain the hunter gatherer lifestyle are slowly been converted to commercial farmland or mining concessions. At Omatako the community are assisted by the N#a Jaqna Conservancy which "aims to enable the local population to sustainably manage their natural resources and wildlife". The Conservancy and Community Forest covers an area of about 9,100square km. In this area an estimated 40,000 people live and it is one of only two communal areas in Namibia for the San people. Here approximately 40% of households live below the international poverty line of less than $1 per day, a third of this population have no reliable income at all (See How to Help Page). The conservancy has assisted in the creation of the Omatako Rest Camp and encourages the local controlled harvest of Devil's Claw, a medicinal root, which is marketed internationally amongst other projects. It is crucial that the community find ways to be self sufficient and the Rest Camp is part of this vision.