The San
South African Culture

© Shem Compion
A San man teaching children how to start a fire.

The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20 000 years. San has received the attention of anthropologists and the media with their survival and hunting skills, a wealth of indigenous knowledge of the flora and fauna of Southern Africa, and their rich cultural traditions.

A belief that was prevalent for many years was that the San in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana and Namibia were descendants of fugitive people driven from better-watered parts of southern Africa. In fact, archaeological evidence reveals that the Kalahari has been occupied by hunter-gatherers for millennia.

These peoples have been extensively studied by anthropologists and archaeologists, seeking parallels between modern hunter-gatherers and their ancestors. The San, however, are not 'living fossils': like any other people, they change with circumstances. Kalahari hunter-gatherers today retain many aspects of ancient lifestyles but are not isolated from the modern world and the money economy.

Religion and Beliefs of the San

The religious beliefs known from many diverse San groups are currently thought to be crucial to understanding the rock art of southern Africa....more

San Cave Paintings

The spectacular paintings that the ancestors of the San left on the rocks and the walls of cave and shelter are arguably the most exquisite and finely detailed in the world's hunter-gatherer art....more

San Way of Life

At different times and places, San-speakers have lived in various ways; the Kalahari San are not necessary typical of all San and, even in the Kalahari groups, lifestyles may differ....more

The San People of South Africa

Ancestors of San-speakers were probably the earliest inhabitants of southern Africa, with archaeological sites dating back hundreds of thousands of years....more