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Chapter 3 - The Life and Times of Louis Fourie

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2022

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Summary

Louis Fourie was a medical doctor, a public health official in the colonial administration of South West Africa and South Africa, and a man deeply interested in the lives and culture of the San. It is through this interest, which he pursued on numerous research expeditions and in his contact with the San people he treated medically, that we have access to one of the best collections of San artefacts in the world. We know about him through the unpublished manuscript written by his elder son, Hilgard, and through the work of Ann Wanless, who put the information on Fourie’s life into a broader historical and sociological context. She drew from historical sources and from Fourie’s correspondence and photographs in the Fourie Collection housed at Museum Africa in Johannesburg.

In the course of his professional career Fourie witnessed the changing attitudes of colonial governments towards the San, and the increasing pressure placed on them to abandon their traditional way of life. It may be argued that the collecting of indigenous cultural artefacts by colonial researchers and administrators was a deeply problematic phenomenon; however, Fourie’s motivations and methods were different from those of other collectors, as we discuss later in this chapter, and there can be no doubting that the Fourie Collection represents a significant contribution to the preservation of San history and culture (see pages 26–32).

A Doctor To Soldiers and Civilians, From Ladysmith to Windhoek

Louis Fourie (figure 3.1) was born on 4 December 1878 in Oudtshoorn, in the Eastern Cape, into a family of ostrich farmers. He was the seventh of nine children, seven boys and two girls, born to Henrik Willem Fourie and Dirkie Catharina Fourie (née Botha). Of all the siblings he was the only one who showed an interest in obtaining a higher education. With the financial help of his father, he matriculated from Victoria College in Stellenbosch in 1896, and went on to take an intermediate examination at the University of Cape Town, with the aim of studying medicine. Since there was no medical school in South Africa, he borrowed money on his future inheritance and enrolled in 1898 as a medical student at Edinburgh University in Scotland.

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San Elders Speak
Ancestral Knowledge of the Kalahari San
, pp. 17 - 34
Publisher: Wits University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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