San Bushmen

Some of the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, the San Bushmen have lived for centuries on a territory that spans across South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. This African group has traditionally been a foraging people, although recent decades have seen them switch to farming as a result of government-mandated modernization programs.

The San bushmen demonstrate how to start a fire without using a flint.

The customs, economy and kinship system of the San have long been of interest to eager anthropologists who have gained a wealth of information through studies and observation. Traditionally an egalitarian society, decisions are made by consensus even though there is a hereditary chief. Women have high status in the community and are generally respected. Their roles are played in the household and in gathering fruit, berries, tubers, bush onions and other plant material, although they also help with hunting as well.


Water is extremely important to the San, as the droughts of Southern Africa can last for several months and waterholes may even dry up. Water is collected in hollowed ostrich eggs and stored for the dry season. It is during this time that insects provide much needed protein for their diet as well. Traditionally, the San use a very skilled, laborious method of poisoned arrows and spears for hunting, although this method has declined as farming livestock becomes more popular. The San economy was traditionally based on gifts, which they would give and receive regularly.

Since the 1950s, the San Bushmen have become popular in the media, after Laurens van der Post published a book about them and followed with a documentary through the BBC. Many various documentaries have subsequently featured the San, bringing with them considerable modern exposure. Some may even remember the 1980 fictional comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Enjoy intriguing cultural interactions and bush-walks with the San on an extension to any of our Botswana Safaris.