!Khwa ttu

20 Sep

The Animals Follow the Moon

Dana and I have seen a lot while we have been here in South Africa but we felt we really wanted to know more about native people…the tribes that were here before the Europeans landed.  What we found was an indigenous history much like the United States with stories of  a people, nearly extinguished by European colonization, who are now rediscovering their culture.

!Khwa ttu means  “San Spirit Discovery” in one of the many San languages. The San are a tribal people who are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa.  There are two major tribes of people in the Western Cape, the San and the Khoi. The San are hunter gatherers and the Khoi are herders. Both are relatively small, light-colored natives.

!Khwa ttu

The San people speak a number of  distinct languages. For instance, the exclamation point in the title of this post represents a click in the San language. This click is made by touching your tongue on the roof of your mouth and pulling down. The sound is something like our , “Tsk, tsk.” There are a number of these different clicking sounds in San which make the language a strange kind of music when spoken.

The San began by living peacefully on the land in small villages no larger than 50 people. When the 50 person limit was reached, people would leave to start another village.

San hut and story circle

This may be the origin of the number of different languages spoken by the San with the distance between villages giving rise to new languages.

The village structure was a circle of small reed huts surrounded by a dense thorn fence.  In the center of the circle was a fire surrounded by a storytelling circle.

The men in the tribe spent their days either hunting or preparing for hunting. Women spent their days caring for children, gathering the plants that were used for medicine and food and curing hides.

Branded Elands

Unlike Native American tribes who warred with one another, the San lived in peace tribe to tribe and stayed in their own discrete territories.

Storytelling and art were critical to the life of the San. Storytelling reinforced the beliefs and values of the tribes while art celebrated their life and history.

Eland, the largest Cape antelope, was as important to the culture of the San as buffalo were to the plains Indians of the US.  Every bit of the animal was used to create the tools and food necessary for existence.

Shaping an ostrich shell bead with a horn

The ostrich was also essential to the San as hollowed out  ostrich eggs were used to carry water. And ostrich egg shells were shaped and used for ornamentation and decoration of clothing.

The resurgence of interest in San culture has led to the creation of a new cottage industry for present day San in the creation of beautiful ostrich shell jewelry.

Ostrich and Turtle Shell Belt and Necklace

Some of the designs include darker turtle shell and porcupine quills.

The history of the San is not a happy one after the coming of the white man.

First they were relocated from their native lands to farmland and told to farm. Then that land was taken away again and they were to farm for white farmers, much like indentured servants. Finally they became totally dependent on white farmers for sustenance.

Their language was eradicated by the whites as the invaders were worried the San could plot a conspiracy to overthrow them and recapture native lands. This would leave the whites without a work force.

In spite of the best efforts of the Europeans many aspects of San culture survived. One of them was the “love bow.”

A Love Bow

The right to use a love bow was earned when a boy successfully hunted his first bull eland alone, became a man and was allowed to marry. He made a small bow and arrow and shot his intended in the upper thigh under the buttock. The arrow stuck.

When the woman pulled the arrow out she could hold it over her heart meaning she accepted him. Or she could throw it on the ground and grind it under foot meaning, “No thanks.” Kind girls would hand back the arrow so he could use it again.

Colin, our San guide

Again we were extremely lucky to have a knowledgeable guide to tell us about his culture. Colin tried to teach us the clicks in the San language at which we were both hopeless.

He showed us the San village and told stories of the old culture, before the white man came.

He shared his own stories of  his culture today.

We were repeatedly struck by the similarities to the history of our own Native Americans in the U.S.

3 Responses to “!Khwa ttu”

  1. Ursula Freer September 21, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    I meant to ask about the ostrich egg shell. It seems an inch thick! More like a piece of wood.

    • Jill September 21, 2012 at 7:22 am #

      Actually it is quite thin for the size of the egg. I would estimate about 1/4 inch.

  2. Ursula Freer September 20, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    The “leave a comment” does not work, so I will put my comment in “Leave a Reply”.
    This culture seems to peaceful and harmonious. How sad that the white man tried to destroy it.

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