Spare Another Thought for the San

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK For years, they have been admired by the world as people who have maintained their cultural heritage. Through their knowledge, traditional items such as clothes, music instruments, hunting gear, ornaments, etc., the San have expressed to the world that they are proud of whom they are. But as the world transforms, the San people’s lifestyle has slowly started to change from hunting and gathering to a more westernized one. A man who was once an expert in shooting at animals using the bow and arrow has turned to what other cultures in the country have nearly always been – at least for a long time. The San today have started cultivating land that once used to be their hunting ground. The reasons for this change of lifestyle are many. Among those known, other people are said to have invaded the hunting territories of the San in search for new fertile land, forcing the owners into the poorer desert areas. Further, old crop and animal farmers have put up fences, which in the process have threatened the hunting environment of the San people. These factors have resulted in these people living in what could be perceived by them as a non-conducive environment, making their survival a struggle. Chief John Arnold of the San people in the Omatako area acknowledged that his people have in fact realised that agriculture in this modern world is the only sustainable way of life and are slowly phasing out hunting that was once their main source of sustenance. Deputy Prime Minister Libertina Amathila saw during her various visits to different San settlements across the country last year that the situation of these people needs to be addressed. Recognizing that their environment is no longer suitable for their cultural way of life, Amathila proposed that these people be given land, a place they can call their own and where they would be able to run agricultural projects and water their gardens manually. Further, it was felt that women be involved in projects such as needlework that would enable them to earn some form of income as life nowadays demands that one has money. Though these suggestions have not really been put into practice, Evangeline Suos, a San woman in her forties supports Amathila’s proposal, indicating that in the past women in the area were involved in needlework projects. Unfortunately, there was no cooperation among them and not much was done or yielded from the little work they did. She firmly stated that should someone involve them (women) in a similar project, they would work as a team because they have realized that life has become more demanding than before. “Our lives depend(ed) mostly on meat. We believe that when God created man he provided wild animals to be the food but things have changed now and we have to try other ways of living,” she said. Chief Arnold of the Omatako area, that is inhabited by about 2 700 San people, confirmed that his people can no longer hunt for the simple reason that the hunting environment has been tempered with. “My people are naturally poor, unlike in the past where survival meant going hunting and wild fruit collection, now people have to adapt to the new ways of life.” Though things seem to be changing, Chief Arnold was quick to mention that inside their homes, culture is still taught at length. “We actually weigh what we are exposed to. We strongly teach our children about the culture – how our ancestors lived and how much we are prepared to protect that.” Apart from moving from hunter-gathering to crop farming the Chief stated that as things change in their environment, other members of society have responded quite positively to their plight by teaching them other ways of surviving. Just recently, Namibia Red Cross Society (NRCS) distributed maize and vegetable seeds to encourage these people to grow food and become self-reliant. Chief Arnold appreciated this good gesture, saying this is the only way that this marginalized group of people would be able to survive. However, there is a great need to change the mindset of the San people who seem to live for today and never keep food for tomorrow. Apart from the change in environment, the penetration of other tribes into their lives has to some extent negatively influenced their behaviour. “The problem of drinking is becoming unbearable among my people. Hereros and Damaras brew tombo but we are trying to discourage people from drinking and become more productive especially now that we can farm given the seeds from Red Cross,” he said. Agricultural extension officers in the areas at the beginning of the rain season held sessions with the people and shared information on how farming must be done to ensure a good harvest. A leader of another group of the San people settled at Juliana farm located about 75 km northeast of Grootfontein Gerson Kavari, says agriculture is their only hope left. If only they could get a tractor or plough with animals then things would be a lot easier. “We are strong people, we only need tools and we will make it,” the San leader assured. The people have no jobs apart from burning trees for charcoal which is currently not easy given the heavy rains. This means that people cannot burn charcoal all seasons. Farming is at the moment the only way people would survive. “We are prepared to do farming,” he ended.