San-Speaking Peoples - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Zhu I õasi and the !Koõ each divide their chief deity into a creator, who now plays little active role in earthly affairs, and an administrator, whom they hold responsible for all that happens on earth. Some Khoe speakers incorporate these roles in one being. All believe in lesser spirits, who are ancestors. Ecumenism is characteristic of southern African peoples, who share numerous mythic themes: many ideas have been transferred among the different cosmologies of the region, including the various Christian forms that were added during the nineteenth century.

Religious Practitioners. There are no religious practitioners other than the diviners and curers (see "Medicine").

Ceremonies. The main ceremonies among San speakers are dance performances; these are usually attended by members of an extended family, but may include other relatives. The girls' initiation dance is restricted to relatives of the initiate—one adult-male relative plays a central ritual role. Male initiation, which was important in the past, is no longer performed.

Arts. San-speaking peoples have long been famed for beadwork, both of ostrich-eggshell beads, which they manufacture, and of glass beads, which they purchase or obtain in trade. They are widely believed to be responsible for the fine rock paintings of southern Africa. Recently three men (two Zhu I õasi and one Nharo) have gained recognition as watercolorists; in 1980 one of them received a prize at the Botswana National Art Show.

Medicine. Both men and women may be curers, but most diviners are men; often both roles are combined in a single person. Divination is directed toward the analysis of problems, such as the source of misfortune, the location of stray livestock, or the cause of illness. Divination takes two forms: in one, a set of bones or disks is thrown, and the resultant patterns are interpreted; in the other, a dance is performed, during which one or more practitioners may go into a trance. Cures are almost exclusively attained through the dance performances, usually involving trance, which are directed toward physical and psychological healing as well as social well-being.

Death and Afterlife. Death is a passing into a spiritual realm that is distinct from the material realm. To the Zhu óasi, human death is senseless because people are not properly earthly food; it can be explained, however, by the belief that the administrator deity feeds on the people he causes to die. Recently dead relatives are dangerous because their spirits yearn for their kin and may attempt to bring about their early deaths in order to be reunited; this danger recedes as memory of the deceased dims with time.

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