2. General History

History speaks for itself.

Southern Africa’s history can be traced back to the very beginning of human development, some 2.5 million years ago, housing the Cradle of Humankind; inhabited by honey-skinned carriers of the oldest human genetics on the planet, the San; and sheltering the greatest storehouse of high quality rock paintings and engravings in the world. The San’s history in the area, on account of archeological findings, can be traced as far back to the Later Stone Age, indicating the increasing use of a wide range of bone and wooden tools while utilizing plants for making rope, string, nets, mats, etc.

The San suffered greatly with devastating effects at the hands of migrating Africans on foot from the north, around 300 AD and later, Europeans arriving by sea. Names given to them by outsiders emphasize their recognized collective “otherness”, and signified a lack of understanding of the complex and sophisticated nature of the hunter-gatherer existence in contrast to the practice of agro-pastoralism. During the time of European invasion and settlement, the practice of displaying human differences, which can be traced back to the country fairs of the 16th century, as curiosities gained popular worldwide appeal and later became institutionalize for amusement and profit. Fascination about the “exotic” and “pure” nature of the San grew so tremendously, resulting in them becoming the most researched people on Earth. European interest reflected the notions that the San were less than human, to be collected, dissected, preserved as specimens and displayed as curiosities and then later a more romanticized view as the ideal “noble savage” was adopted.

Khoi San (more and more frequently spelled Khoesan or Khoe-San) is the name for two major ethnic groups of Southern Africa. From the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period, hunting and gathering cultures known as the Sangoan occupied southern Africa in areas where annual rainfall is less than 40 inches (1016mm)—and today’s San and Khoe people resemble the ancient Sangoan skeletal remains. Both share physical and linguistic characteristics and it seems clear that the Khoe branched forth from the San by domesticating animals.

The Khoi-San people were the original inhabitants of much of southern Africa before the southward Bantu expansion — coming down the east and west coasts of Africa — and later European colonization. The Khoi-khoi and San were displaced from their land and experienced erosion of their identity by acts of genocide inflicted by the Dutch, British, and German settlers. They also suffered greatly under the early segregation policies of the English and the later apartheid regime of the Afrikaners, and were later absorbed into the Afrikaans-speaking ‘Coloured’ communities, while others were absorbed into the dominant societies around them, both African and European, and into the populations of labourers who were brought from Malaya, China, and from other regions of Africa. For over three hundred years, Dutch, British, Portuguese and, later, Afrikaaner colonists took Khoi-San for slavery, sport or exhibition, and measured, dissected and gazed upon Khoi-San bodies in the names of Medical Science and Anthropology.


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