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Chapter 1 - Meeting the San Elders

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2022

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Summary

In 2009 we visited the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa, to make a study of ancient organic artefacts from Border Cave. We found that many of the objects looked remarkably similar to items of historical San material culture, so we arranged the following year to study the century-old Fourie Collection of Kalahari San material culture housed at Museum Africa in Johannesburg. In addition to finding many parallels between the archaeological objects from Border Cave and items in the Fourie Collection, we discovered that even though many objects were identified in the catalogue of the collection, their function or meaning was unclear or unknown. We thought it a great pity that valuable information was lacking from this unique archive. Francesco had the idea of inviting San elders to the museum to discuss the items with us, and documenting their comments on film. In this way their knowledge of the objects, expressed in their own language, would be preserved; English subtitles would make their commentary accessible to viewers who did not understand the language they spoke. In our capacity as archaeologists, we would glean further information from them through question-and-answer sessions focused on items in the collection.

We thought that it would be best to have the input of two women and two men; one of the men should be a traditional hunter because hunting equipment is prevalent in the collection, and the other a traditional healer or shaman able to explain the meaning of esoteric objects. Although numerically objects related to hunting are more represented in the collection than objects used by both genders or only by women, they are all present in the collection, and in the literature more emphasis has traditionally been placed on hunting equipment than on domestic activities. We hoped that the women could inform us about objects related to typical female activities (bead production, cooking practices), but also about less touched upon categories, and give us a female view on typical male activities. Louis Fourie had gathered the objects from the Kalahari Desert, and it was therefore clear that the elders would need to come from this region, which today includes south-western Botswana and eastern Namibia.

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Chapter
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San Elders Speak
Ancestral Knowledge of the Kalahari San
, pp. 1 - 10
Publisher: Wits University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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