Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Khoisan People of Southern Africa

Just a reminder not to forget about this community who speaks a different language.  They are really marginalized and we should do everything we can to incorporate them in our programming.

The San are the aboriginal people of Southern Africa.  Their distinct hunter-gatherer culture stretches back over 20 000 years, and their genetic origins reach back over one million years. Recent research indicates that the San are the oldest genetic stock of contemporary humanity. TEN thousand years ago their exclusive domain stretched from the Zambezi to the Cape of Good Hope, from the Atlantic tothe Indian Oceans.

THREE hundred years ago European colonists called them "untameable". Now southern Africa's 110,000 remaining San face cultural extinction, living lives of poverty on the outer edges of society.

Thabo Mbeki as the Former South African state president says in his I am an African speech:  “I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape - they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.  Today, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.”

Today they struggle to win back a foothold, along with their pride, in the lands they once roamed freely.

Khoisan (also spelled Khoesaan, Khoesan or Khoe-San) is a unifying name for two ethnic groups of Southern Africa, who share physical and putative linguistic characteristics distinct from the Bantu majority of the region. Culturally, the Khoisan are divided into the foraging San and the pastoral Khoi. The San include the original inhabitants of Southern Africa before the southward Bantu migrations from Central and East Africa reached their region, leading to Bantu farmers replacing the Khoi and San as the predominant population. Khoi pastoralists apparently arrived in Southern Africa shortly before the Bantu; over time, some abandoned pastoralism and adopted the hunter-gatherer economy of the San, likely due to a drying climate, and are now considered San. Similarly, the Bantu Damara later abandoned agriculture and adopted the Khoi economy. Large Khoisan populations remain in several arid areas in the region, notably in the Kalahari Desert.

Terms used to describe the Khoisan people include Bushmen, referring to the San, and Hottentot, referring to the Khoi or Khoe. Khoi derives from the old Nama word for "person", while Khoe is the modern Nama word. "Bushmen" is still being used by some individuals, though considered obsolete by others (the use of "San" is politically correct, despite its origins as a derogatory Khoe term for the Bushmen), while "Hottentot" is generally considered derogatory and is no longer used ("Khoe" should be used instead).

San community representatives declared a preference to be known either by their individual community names (!Xun or ‡Khomani, for example) or collectively as Bushmen, rather than as San or Khoisan. If the Bushmen need to be grouped with the Khoe pastoralist groups, the term Khoe–San is preferred.[4]



San woman from Botswana

Physically the Khoisan, with their short frames (149–163 cm/4'9-5'4;), copper brown skin, tightly coiled "peppercorn" hair, high cheekbones, and epicanthic eye folds are quite distinct from the darker-skinned peoples who constitute the majority of Africa's population, though both population are usually dolichocephalic (Huxley, 1870). They have moderately long legs and longer abdominal muscles, traits that sharply distinguish them from surrounding Pygmy and Bantu populations having muscles with short bellies and long tendons (Coon 1965). In past ethnography, the Khoisan have been referred to as the Capoid race because they can be visually distinguished from the "Negroid' Africans of Bantu origin.
In the 19th century, a distinguishing feature of Khoisan women was considered to be their tendency for steatopygia. This belief contributed greatly to the European fascination with the so-called Hottentot Venus.


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 a meter (1000 mm; 40 in), and today's San and Khoi people resemble the ancient Sangoan skeletal remains. These Late Stone Age people in parts of southern Africa were the ancestors of the Khoisan people who inhabited the Kalahari Desert. Likely due to their region's lack of suitable candidates for domestication, the Khoisan did not have farming or domesticated animals until a few hundred years before then, when they adopted the domesticated cattle and sheep of the Bantu that had spread in advance of the people's actual arrival. The Bantu people, with advanced agriculture and metalworking technology developed in West Africa from at least 2000 BC, outcompeted and intermarried with the Khoisan in the years after contact and became the dominant population of Southeastern Africa before the arrival of the Dutch in 1642.

The evidence of the Khoisan's original presence in South Africa in fact can be seen in the distribution of their languages today, which often show extreme differences in structure and vocabulary despite close proximity, demonstrating a long period of settlement and co-evolution of languages in the same region. In contrast, the languages of Bantu-origin peoples in the region such as the Zulu and Xhosa are all relatively very similar to one another. This suggests a much more recent common ancestry for the first Bantu group that spread and settled across the region. Among their descendents, the Xhosa and Zulu adopted unique Khoisan click consonant and loan words into their respective languages.

The distribution (green) of the various language families spoken by Khoisan peoples

After the arrival of the Bantu, the Khoisan and their pastoral or hunter-gatherer ways of life remained predominant west of the Fish River in South Africa and in deserts throughout their region, where the drier climate precluded the growth of Bantu crops suited for warmer and wetter climates. It took the arrival of Mediterranean crops from Europe in the 17th century for the Bantu farmers, and later white Boer farmers, to spread to the rest of the country and begin replacing the Khoisan population. During the colonial era, the Khoisan survived in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Today many of the San live in parts of the Kalahari Desert where they are better able to preserve much of their culture and lifestyle.

Against the traditional interpretation that finds a common origin for the Khoi and San, other evidence has suggested that the ancestors of the Khoi peoples (one subsect of the Khoisan) are relatively recent pre-Bantu agricultural immigrants to southern Africa, who abandoned agriculture as the climate dried and either joined the San as hunter-gatherers or retained pastoralism to become the Khoikhoi.



In the 1990s, genomic studies of different peoples around the world found that the Y chromosome of Khoisan men (using samples drawn from several San tribes) share certain patterns of polymorphisms that are distinct from the genomes of all other populations. As the Y chromosome is highly conserved from generation to generation, this type of DNA testing is used by geneticists to determine when different subgroups separated from one another and hence their last common ancestry. The authors of these studies suggested that the Khoisan may have been one of the first populations to differentiate from the most recent common paternal ancestor of all extant humans, the so-called Y-chromosomal Adam by patrineal descent, estimated to have lived 60,000 to 90,000 years ago. The authors also note that their results should be interpreted as only finding that the Khoisan "preserve ancient lineages", and not that they "stopped evolving" or are an "ancient group", since subsequent changes in their population are in parallel and similar to those of all other human populations.

Various Y-chromosome studies  since confirmed that the Khoisan (or Khoe-San) carry some of the most divergent (oldest) Y-chromosome haplogroups. These haplogroups are specific sub-groups of haplogroups A and B, the two earliest branches on the human Y-chromosome tree.

Similar to findings from Y-Chromosome studies, mitochondrial DNA studies also showed evidence that the Khoe-San people carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. The most divergent (oldest) mitochondrial haplogroup, L0d, have been identified at its highest frequencies in the southern African Khoe and San groups.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent
John Donne

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