After 20,000 years, world’s oldest people are facing Crisis of Culture

The San's people can be found across Botswana, Angola Namibia and South Africa. Also, known as Basawara, these people lead a very nomadic life which has not changed for over millennia.

Image source : CNN

The indigenous people of Botswana (South Africa) are only living link to the ancient Africa, there hunter gatherer ways dates back to 20,000 years. They are known as San. DNA test show that they are direct descendants of first Homo sapiens. But now they sit at a crossroads where their culture, traditions and heritage can be lost forever. People sciences have proved that San’s are likely to be the oldest and continues population of human on the continent and on earth.

The San’s people can be found across Botswana, Angola Namibia and South Africa. They are known Basarwa in Botswana region. Basawara people lead a very nomadic life which has not changed for over millennia.

“If this Culture is not preserved, if this Culture is not passed on from one generation to another it is going to die later on. Culture is something that can die and we should understand that culture is dynamic,” says Bihela Sekere, part of the indigenous population who previously worked at the Botswana High Commission in London.

As a child Bihela and his family lived in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The national park in the heart of the desert is the second largest game reserve in the world. It was there that his father taught him the ways of the Basarwa. But in 1997 The Government began to remove Basarwa from reserve, to protect the area and integrate their community into the society.


Now the Basarwa people live in the resettlement village, trying to pass on age-old tradition.

“Some of the kids, Basarwa kids, are taken to schools (and) they can lose their culture because they are taught other ways of living,” explains Sekere. “To start with the language — if they are taught Setswana and English, it means the language will suffer.”

“Culture is Dynamic it changes, as much as you interact with other cultures, more people and more development coming in you stand a chance to lose your culture. Culture is old but it is what lets you know who you are and a nation without its culture is lost nation.”

But San’s people still have hope that they can preserve their culture. A local man Xontae believes that through tourism their culture can be preserved . He guides people around “The mountain of God’s” Tsodilo Hills, which is also UNESCO world heritage site and a national treasure. The mountain contains 4500 rock painting spread across 400 different location which dates back to Stone Age.

Painting on Tsodilo Hills. Image Source: CNN
Painting on Tsodilo Hills. Image Source: CNN

Sekere said “It will be very good for the Tsodilo Hills to be used as a tourist destination. By using the locals the people who grew up here and know the history behind this hills and paintings that will itself make it unique and special for the people from outside world to come and see what the San’s people have.”

Meanwhile Kuru Art project is an initiative which seeks to revive the art making among the Basarwa once more.

“Gradually as time went on hunting and gathering lifestyle changed. With time obviously the land got divided and the people lost movement their rights like before and so the art provided that. Art project became a way through which they wanted people to understand who they were.” Said Ann Gollifer who is a visual artist in the Botswana who been involved in the project.

Kuru Project. Image Source: CNN
Kuru Art Project. Image Source: CNN

She also said that the work the Basarwa create mainly depicts a hunter-gatherer lifestyle of yesteryear. Using modern mediums to paint ancient traditions, these artworks have sold all over the world.

Hence there is still hope there for the Basarwa people, who want to preserve their culture and heritage.

-by Bhaskar Raghavendran

Bhaskar is a graduate in Journalism and mass communication and is a reporter at NewsGram. Twitter handle: bhaskar_ragha