The Tsodilo Hills and the San
During this trip we had the opportunity to deeper know the San, their culture and their millennial traditions.
The San still live following the lifestyle of their ancestors, a primitive life; this population is one of the last examples in the world of hunter-gatherers.
The San, also known as Bushmen, live in the harsh Kalahari basin regions and, in this hostile environment, have adapted themselves to surviving with the little that nature has to offer them.
They have ingenious ways of getting the water from the tubers and melons that the desert gives and knowing perfectly the plants that live in these lands, they exploit the healing properties.
The San are present in Botswana, Namibia and, to a minimum extent, in South Africa.
In Namibia and Botswana there are many traditional San villages, where you can visit, some are easily reachable from main roads, others are located in more remote areas and it takes a long time and a good knowledge of the sand driving to reach them.
We wanted to visit a village to get to know better this population, they are the first inhabitants of this area of Africa and live in these lands since prehistory and their lifestyle has not changed much in the last few millennia.
When we arrive at the village we observe how they light the fire, still using two sticks, dry grass and some sand to increase the friction.
Their homes are huts made of simple materials and serve more than everything just to guard the few properties of the San and to dry the flesh rather than as shelter for the night.
Their traditional clothing consists of a leather thong for men and a skirt for women; in addition, they are used to wearing some ornaments, especially during dances, made with dried bugs of some insects, these, when shaken, create a sound similar to that of the Brazilian maracas.
The life of the village revolves around the fire, in this place in fact it is divided the food procured during the day, they listen to to the stories told by the elders and tribal dances take place.
Hunting is the first occupation of the San men, these, in addition to building bow and arrows, prepare a poisonous mixture by using juice of some succulent plants, poison of snakes and other not well specified ingredients; this preparation is used to poison the arrows.
In addition to the art of hunting, perfected over the centuries, the San are famous for the numerous examples of rock art.
Before leaving Botswana, and crossing the border with Namibia, we wanted to visit a sacred place for the San, perhaps the most sacred, an archaeological site with numerous examples of rock paintings at the Tsodilo Hills.
The place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of four hills where, according to the San’s legend, man was sent to earth by the Creator God.
On these hills it is estimated that the first drawings were painted about 60,000 years ago by the San; today, they are called the "Louvre of the desert" because of the large number of drawings, in fact there are over 4,000 works on the walls of these hills.
The drawings mainly depict the animals present in this area, especially the rhinos and the elands, the latter being considered a sacred antelope by the San.
Scenes of hunting and men engaged in dance are also engraved and painted.
On the walls of the Tsodilo hills you can observe both drawings of red and white color, the first are older and are attributed to the San; while the white ones were made in the newer era by the Bantu populations, who moved here from the Great Lakes region.
At Tsodilo, the visit begins with a brief but interesting tour of the museum that tells the history of the hills and their paintings and shows objects found in this place; then a San guide shows which paths you can take and, once you have chosen the path, you will be accompanied by the guide who tells anecdotes of his population and shows the main paintings describing them.
About three kilometers from the Tsodilo Hills Park entrance there is a San village that you can visit, although it is not traditional as other villages located in other places; while, just outside the gate, there are some Hambukushu huts, a population who, like the San, considers these hills as sacred.
Another very important site for observing the rock art of the San is located in Damaraland in Namibia and it is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein.
Like the Tsodilo Hills, the archaeological site of Twyfelfontein is also easily reachable and accessible; both boast masterpieces of San rock art.
San people - Photo Credits: Living Culture Foundation