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Foreword

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2022

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Summary

For most people who have been fortunate enough to engage directly with the Fourie Collection at Museum Africa in Johannesburg, the experience has made a lasting impression. I remember very well the solemn awe I felt as a PhD research fellow when I was first allowed to open the drawers and take out and study some of the thousands of artefacts – to touch the beadwork and smell the leather of the old bags and aprons – that Louis Fourie had collected in the Kalahari almost a hundred years earlier. Some lucky few, mostly researchers and museum staff, have ended up spending days, weeks, even years, working on the collection, producing a limited number of scholarly papers, dissertations and books. The collection itself remains, however, relatively inaccessible, preserved and cared for in a museum storeroom without public access on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, I was thrilled to see the coming together of the book that you now hold in your hands, the result of a unique collaboration between four San elders and two archaeologists, one from Africa and the other from Europe. The efforts of the group were neither guided by narrow research questions nor intended to reach specific conclusions. Rather, by inviting Tsamkxao ≠Oma, Dawid Cgunta Bo, Lena Gwaxan Cgunta and Joa Cwi to engage, over a period of seven days, with what is probably the largest historical San artefact collection in the world, Lucinda Backwell and Francesco d’Errico initiated an exceptional context of knowledge sharing and recording. During that time the Fourie Collection became a point of departure for documenting informative explanations and comments made by the San elders on material cultural practices that are about to change.

The specific focus on the material culture is timely and highly commendable, as this has been an under-communicated aspect of San culture, past and present. In my opinion, the Fourie Collection should be compared to the much better known and thoroughly researched Bleek and Lloyd Collection. The strength of the Fourie Collection (and reason for its neglect, I believe) is obviously the assemblage of a vast number of artefacts instead of written oral narratives. San Elders Speak serves as a wonderful example of how material culture can create cross-cultural spaces for knowledge sharing, and of the potential that lies in historical artefact collections for further knowledge generation.

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San Elders Speak
Ancestral Knowledge of the Kalahari San
, pp. xvii - xviii
Publisher: Wits University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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