Along with the Congo Pygmies, the San people, commonly referred to as Bushmen, are Africa’s oldest population. For over 20,000 years they have lived in the Kalahari Desert, mainly in what is now the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and in the Pans of Botswana.
Their society is based on the community and is like a huge house of cards: everyone works for everyone else and this structure bears the weight of their entire society. For example, food is foraged and hunted individually, but is always shared with others. Famous for their hunting techniques and considered the best trackers in the world, they are able to “read” the desert the way we read street signs. Peaceful by nature, they are exceptionally tolerant towards each other and are particularly caring towards children.
They are divided into groups of thirty or forty people. Most Bushmen are monogamous, but if a hunter is especially good at procuring a lot of food, he may take a second wife. Women represent one of the two economic pillars of the San community. They are chiefly responsible for foraging fruit, plants and roots, which represent their main diet and source of water, whereas the men contribute game. The Bushmen know the nutritional value and medicinal properties of every plant, as well as their potential use as a poison or cosmetic.
The Bushmen love art and particularly music, singing and dancing. Their main musical instrument is a mouth bow, but they also play a type of four-string lyre. While dancing is often purely for personal pleasure, it can also be a form of seduction. Unfortunately, over the ages they have completely abandoned their most highly developed and distinctive art forms such as painting and engraving. San painters no longer exist, but their population resolutely survives.