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Khoisan family in the Kgalagadi desert (2004)

South Africa Holiday: Khoisan (Khoe & San)

20,000 years ago, South Africa was occupied by hunter-gatherers known as San. 2,500 years ago some San in the northern parts acquired sheep and cattle and became pastoralists. Their descendants are now called Khoikhoi, "men of men," or simply Khoi.

Roughly 20,000 years ago, South Africa, still in the grip of the world's last Ice Age, was occupied by people now known as San. Remnants of San communities (sometimes called Bushmen) still survive today in the Kalahari Desert (Kgalagadi).
San (bushman) in the Kgalagadi desertThe San, who developed their society over thousands of years in isolation, speak a language that includes unique "click" consonants, have a smaller stature, and have lighter skin pigmentation than the Bantu-speaking Africans (Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, Tsonga and Venda) who later moved into southern Africa.
San obtained a livelihood from often difficult environments by gathering edible plants, berries, and shellfish; by hunting game; and by fishing.
Gathering was primarily the task of women, who provided approximately 80 percent of the foodstuffs consumed by the hunter-gatherer communities.
Men hunted, made tools and weapons from wood and stone, produced clothing from animal hides, and fashioned a remarkable array of musical instruments.
San also created vast numbers of rock paintings and rock engravings which express an extraordinary aesthetic sensibility and document San hunting techniques and religious beliefs.
The traditional Namaqua dwelling of rush mats over brushwood hoops
Approximately 2,500 years ago, some San in the northern parts of present-day Botswana acquired fat-tailed sheep and long-horned cattle, perhaps through trade with people from the north and the east, and became pastoralists.
Their descendants, called "Hottentots" by early Dutch settlers, are now more accurately termed Khoikhoi, "men of men". Some people believe that the present-day Nama people (Namaqua) are the true descendents of the Khoikhoi.
Although Europeans often considered San and Khoikhoi distinct races culturally and physically, scholars now think they are essentially the same people, distinguished only by their occupations, and today they are often referred to as Khoisan.
Because the southern Cape is fertile and well-watered, many Khoikhoi settled along the coast between the Orange River and the Great Fish River. With the greater and more regular supplies of food that they derived from their herds, Khoikhoi lived in larger settlements than those of the San, often numbering several hundred people in a single community.
KhoisanThe Khoikhoi engaged in extensive trade with other peoples in southern Africa. In exchange for their sheep and cattle, they acquired copper from the north and iron from Bantu-speaking Africans in the east and fashioned these metals into tools, weapons, and ornaments. They also acquired dagga (cannabis) from the coast of what is modern-day Mozambique, cultivated it themselves, and trading it for other goods.
By 1600 most of the Khoikhoi, numbering perhaps 50,000 people, lived along the southwest coast of the Cape. Most San, their numbers practically impossible to determine, lived in drier areas west of the 400-millimeter rainfall line (the limit for cultivation), including present-day Northern Cape province, Botswana, Namibia, and southern Angola.
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