Tribes of Africa: The San Bushmen (Basarwa) from Kalahari Desert, Namibia and Botswana.

The San or (Barsawa) people of the Kahalari are more commonly known as the Bushmen. The Kalahari is a vast desert that stretches over South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Living is one of the most inhospitable terrains in the world, the San survived by hunting wild game and gathering roots and tubers. Many people outside of Southern Africa were introduced to the San culture and their “Click” Language through the South African made movie “The Gods must be crazy”

The History of the San People.

Image Credit: Travel by XO Africa

The San are considered to be the oldest culture in the world dating back over a hundred thousand years. Beautiful San rock art can be seen throughout Southern Africa where the San lived as hunter-gatherers. In the past 2000 years the San were slowly pushed to live in the arid sands of the Kalahari Desert by Bantu tribes and white farmers who took the more fertile land for their crops and livestock



Traditional  San Culture

An 18th century drawing of the Khoikhoi (San people) worshiping the mon Image Credit: South Africa Tours and Travel

There are only about 3000 San that still follow a totally traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering (out of a population of 95,000). Groups (or bands) usually number 10 to 15 individuals move around frequently to find new foods to gather, water resources and to follow migrating game. Shelter is temporary and made of branches tied together in a semi-circle with grass tufts on top. Groups are made up of family members and there is no official leader or chief. The San men traditionally hunt and the women are responsible for gathering. Hunting is a collaborative exercise and the meat is always shared among the group. The San are expert hunters with bows and arrows tipped with poison. Gathering has less social significance but generally provides up to 80% of the food.

Sann Family in the Kalahari desert
Image credit: South African Tourism




The San In This Era

Like many hunter-gatherer tribes all over the world, the San are finding it very difficult to maintain their traditional culture and lifestyle. Land that the San used to hunt on is increasingly being used for grazing cattle.

Fences are put up to protect the cattle which means that the wildlife the San depend upon for their hunting is changing their migrating patterns. Farmers in the area have notoriously abused the San workers yet many San have become dependent on them for survival. The San’s hunting and tracking skills have made them popular with armies who have used them to track guerrillas and even map out mine fields. Farmers also use the San to track down poachers.

Governments have forced the San to relocate to permanent locations usually with the intention of ‘civilizing’ them and providing schooling, running water and other modern amenities. Unfortunately rounding up hunter-gatherers and forcing them to live in settlements has been tried in many countries and has not been very successful.

Having no concept of private ownership, the San struggle to prove that land belongs to them. Having no traditional tribal leader makes it difficult to present their grievances with one strong voice. And as with many hunter-gatherers  all over the world, their neighbors consider them ‘savages’ hence the derogatory name of ‘Bushmen’.

Watch out for many more interesting articles on “Tribes of Africa”.

Sourced from: goafrica travels and tours.

image credit: Corbis, South African Tourism, South Africa Travel and Tours


VAST – something of very great size or proportions; huge; enormous

ARID – having little or no rain; too dry or barren to support vegetation.

GUERRILLA – a member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces.

POACHERS – a person who hunts or catches game or fish illegally.

GRIEVANCES – a feeling of resentment over something believed to be wrong or unfair.

SAVAGE – a member of a people regarded as primitive and uncivilized.

DEROGATORY – insulting or disrespectful.







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