Wednesday March 20, 2019

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.

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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.

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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

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)