San-Speaking Peoples - Orientation



Identification. The term "San" has replaced "Buchman" as an ethnographic term designating both the contemporary and the precolonial southern African peoples who speak, or spoke, languages containing click consonants and who have been described as hunter-gatherers or foragers. Thus, San-speaking peoples do not constitute an ethnic group in the usual sense. The most widely known are those who call themselves "Zhu I õasi" (!Kung or Juwasi in most ethnographies), although the other peoples mentioned above have also been extensively described; about ten other groups have been well studied by linguists. In Botswana, all these peoples are called collectively "Basarwa," and this term is often seen in recent ethnographic literature.

Location. The Zhu I õasi live in the semiarid savdveld (savanna) of northwestern Botswana (Ngamiland) and in adjacent parts of Namibia. The !Xu, whose anglicized ethnonym is the source of the name "!Kung," live in the better-watered tropical open woodlands of southern Angola. The Axoe live along the Okavango River, in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia; the Hai I I om occupy a large part of north-central Namibia, between the Cunene River and the Etosha Pan. The Nharo live in the limestone karst zone of the Ghansi District of Botswana. The G I wi, G I I ana, and !Koõ live throughout the poorly watered central sand zone of Botswana, extending into Namibia, in conditions most closely approximating true desert. The I I Anikhoe, the so-called Swamp Bushmen, live in the Okavango Delta floodplain; the Deti live along the Botletli River. Several other peoples who are called San in the ethnographic literature speak Khoe languages and live in the hill, mopane -forest, and salt-pan environments of eastern Botswana. These highly diverse geophysical regions share a number of features: seasonal rains, falling mainly as localized thunderstorms during the hot months, October to May; high variation in average annual rainfall—around 45 centimeters in Ngamiland, some 50 percent higher in Angola, and 50 percent lower in central Botswana; summer temperatures that often exceed 37° C; and cool winters, with night temperatures as low as -4° C in Botswana and Namibia.


Demography. In 1980 the most reliable sources estimated that about 30,000 San-speaking peoples lived in Botswana, about 12,000 in Namibia, and about 8,000 in Angola—representing about 3 percent of the population of Botswana, 1.2 percent of that of Namibia, and 0.1 percent of Angola's people. The Zhu I õasi, who previously had wide birth spacing and a low birthrate, now have one of the highest recorded birthrates in the world, according to 1980 statistics, with 6.7 live births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. Zhu I õasi infant mortality, at 85 per 1,000 births, is comparatively low by African standards, as is child mortality. Life expectancy at birth was 45 years for Zhu I õasi in the 1960s, but improved nutrition and health care have probably lengthened life spans; survivors to age 5 have good prospects of living into their 70s. There are no comparable statistics for other San speakers, but health-ministry surveys suggest that similar demographic profiles may be found in Botswana.


Linguistic Affiliation. San languages are usually classified as being in the Khoisan Family; there are three sets of these languages, each with its own history. Zhu I oasi, !Xu, and Au I I ei (formerly spoken around Lake Ngami, now with few living speakers) are mutually intelligible and together constitute the Northern Khoisan Group; they are grammatically, syntactically, and lexically distinct from other Khoisan languages. G I wi, G I I ana, Kxoe, Nharo, and I I Anikhoe, plus Deti, Buga, Tshukhoe, Kwa, and several others, form the Khoe Group, formerly Central Khoisan, which is closely related to the Nama that is spoken by Khoi peoples (often called Hottentots in the past); Hai I I om is a dialect of Nama. In general, the geographically adjacent Khoe languages (e.g., G I wi and G I I ana) are very similar and are mutually intelligible, whereas those farther apart (e.g., Nharo and Deti) are structurally alike but become progressively less interintelligible. The principal extant Southern Khoisan languages are !Koõ and Tsassi, spoken across a long, narrow band of the southern Kalahari. All Khoisan languages are predominantly mono- and bisyllabic and tonal, and they contain click consonants (which are conventionally represented by ¦, !, and ¦ ¦—although Bantu orthography, which uses c for ¦ and, q for !, and x for ¦ ¦, is preferable in nonlinguistic contexts). The replacement of click by nonclick consonants is common in the Khoe languages of eastern Botswana, where some of these languages are being completely replaced by Setswana.

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