The culture and traditions of the San people of Africa

The culture and traditions of the San people of Africa

July 24, 2020 0 By admin

The San people are one of the oldest groups to settle in Africa where it is said they have lived there for over 20,000 years. The term San refers to a group of hunter-gatherers who have a common historical background and related linguistic ties. They are also popularly known as the ‘Bushmen’ although the name has been discouraged by culture civilization as they term it derogatory.

A lot of tourists come specifically to study their culture and interact with them as they explore nature.

Historical origin

It is believed San people are the earliest occupants of South Africa, Namibia, Angola Zimbabwe, and Botswana before the white missionaries migrated there.

Archaeologists have been studying their life and have argued they are the descendants of the original Homo sapiens sapiens who is modern-day. Their life is dated from 80000years ago and all the other people including Black Africans, Europeans, and Asians are their descendants. The main language of San people is Khoikhoi and San but other related dialects have evolved from the two such as Xa, Khwe, and Khomani.

Economic activities

The major economic activity of the San people was hunting and gathering. They believe in the division of labor where men, women, and children are allocated different roles according to their abilities.

The women focused on gathering food including melons, tubers, corms and berries, and cassava roots. The men were also involved in gathering food too, especially during the dry season. They were knowledgeable about hunting and gathering because of the excellent tracking tools which they produced to help them collect bush food.

However, today most governments in Africa have outlawed hunting and gathering which has led to most of them moving out of their ancestral land and looking for other means of survival.

Family structure

Their family is mostly organized in groups of between 25 and 60 individuals where the Father was the head of the family. They like polygamous marriages as long as a man can feed them. However, decision making is determined through influence and consensus rather than exercising authority unless on special occasions where the old men have to be consulted.


They believe in the Kung religion which they say Gui is the supernatural being who created the world and the humans. There are also other lesser gods and living spirits that serve as agents of the main creator. Their faith also says that he created many things including sickness, death, and the environment and he takes many identities like animals, praying mantis, and trees. When he is not in one of his forms he assumes his original nature as Gui.

They have three rituals that involve their god to bless them and offer protection from evils and catastrophes and include boys’ first kill, girls’ puberty, marriage. During these occasions, all the members of the community are welcomed to celebrate together.

The San today

According to statistics, there are more than 100,000 San who mostly live in Southern Africa. Most of their lifestyle is changing because of interaction with neighboring communities and government policies like curbing the hunting of wild animals which has adversely affected their daily lives. As a result, it has been made so difficult for them to continue with their culture lifestyle and have been forced to begin practicing agriculture and also educating their children to empower and prepare them for both white-collar and blue-collar jobs. The San people draw respect from all walks of life because of their former culture that was based on hunting, gathering, and unity among the family. However, with the advent of modern civilization, they are struggling to adopt new ways of living where some have taken their children to schools. Also, many have been converted into Christians, Muslims, and Hindus.

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