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Kalahari San Bushmen

The Bushmen or San are the oldest known living race. Their ancestors can be traced back over 100 000 years ago, and were to be found throughout Southern and Eastern Africa. When exactly these earliest true humans began to behave like fully modern human beings is not certain, but what we do know is that by 75000 years ago, from the information hunted and gathered through extensive archaeological excavations, features of their lifestyles must have been fairly modern, in terms of certain defining characteristics of culture, including the use of language, ritual, symbolism, weapons and art.

They most definitely would have had a spoken language, and what we do know about modern Bushmen languages is that they are very complex, with up to 150 phonetics, and consist of a wide variety of clicking sounds. The Bushmen are masters at mimicking the behaviour and onomatopoeic sounds of the animals, insects, plants and various elements in their surroundings.

There can be no doubt that their language evolved over thousands of years listening to the sounds of animals galloping, thunder roaring, lightning crashing and stones flaking in the manufacturing of tools, water lapping, fire crackling, bees buzzing and Eland's knees clicking.The Bushmen ancestors from 75000 years ago also hunted with very sophisticated spears. Their weapons consisted of stone spearheads which were bi-facially flaked, serrated and leaf-shaped, tapering off to a point on both ends. These were then mounted on long wooden shafts and could effectively be used for bringing down large game animals, such as the now extinct giant buffalo, which weighed in excess of a ton. For butchering they made use of very sharp stone blades, a large parallel-sided cutting tool, the equivalent of a modern day knife.

In addition, within the ancient living sites occupied by these people, archaeologists have found thousands of pieces of red ochre, an iron oxide pigment still used to this day by cultures throughout the world as a cosmetic, for ritualistic, ceremonial, and also for artistic purposes. The pieces found in these caves and rock-overhangs come in a variety of different shades, from dull red to bright red, from reddish-brown right through to yellow. Of the pieces found, some of them show clear signs of being worked, such as being scraped or smoothed on the sides, possibly the result of being ground for powder or used as an ochre pencil directly on the rock surface.

Here we can see how these early humans were already preparing these pigments for ritualistic and artistic purposes. Any ochre sketching or drawings done on the rocks at this early stage of human development would certainly not have survived to this present day, as it is unlikely that they would have mixed binding agents such as fat or blood with their ochre pigments, as was done with nearly all known Bushmen art, resulting in the paintings lasting for hundreds or even thousands of years.

These early people would most likely have drawn directly on the rock surface, the result being that we now only have indirect evidence of art in the form of utilized pieces of ochre. So over thousands of years, the art form developed to include the use of multiple ingredients in the paint. But within the site of Blombos Cave in the Eastern Cape, archaeologists have discovered two pieces of ochre with engravings on them. These engravings consist of geometrical crosshatch designs and both have been dated to approximately 75000 years ago, making them the oldest known art on Earth.

This engraved form of art, plus the fact that they were collecting and processing ochre for ritualistic purposes, along with the fact that they were hunting with sophisticated spears and butchering the carcasses (of the animals) with very sharp blades, is clearly a sign of modern human behaviour, making the San a very ancient and wise race indeed.

These gentle, wise and humble people have a lot to teach us westerners about the way life used to be, balanced and harmonious, taking into account all those in your community and your environment, plants, animals and spirits alike, to live in peace, to share and to never to take more than you need.

We are so selfishly caught up in own struggles for self-gain that we have forgotten about our selfless place in our greater community. Look to the ancient ones for guidance, they have danced the song of life for longer than we can imagine, their rhythms mimic the cycles of nature in its universal wholeness and completeness.

Written by my friend Gary Trower
Camagu

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