Heritage - The San

The San, the first people in South Africa

The earliest hunter-gatherers in southern Africa were the San people. The San populated South Africa long before the arrival of the Bantu-speaking nations, and thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

San languages, characterised by implosive consonants or ‘clicks’, belonged to a totally different language family from those of the Bantu speakers. Broadly speaking, there are two different and identifiable languages, namely the Khoikhoi and San. Many dialects have evolved from these, including /Xam, N?¡, !Xu, Khwe and Khomani. Nàmá, previously called Hottentot, is the most populous and widespread of the Khoikhoi and San languages

The San have lived in these mountains for ages.  Some of the artwork dates back to over 1,500 years ago while other examples are ‘newer’ depicting ox-wagons and men with rifles and cattle that have been dated back to around 200 years ago. The largest collection of these paintings is in the Ndedema Gorge that has around 4,000 paintings alone.

San proverb “….If people don’t understand where they come from, there is a hole in the soul…”

Sadly the arrival of the Nguni cattle farmers and in later years, the white settlers, saw this tranquil co-existence being destroyed.

The 35,000 to 40,000 examples of bushmen art found in and amongst the caves of the national park tell the story of the San bushmen living peacefully and in harmony with their environment. For them all life – plant and animal had soul and they treated them with the same respect, saying a prayer for the animal before they ate it.