Roughly 20,000 years ago, South Africa, still in
the grip of the world's last Ice Age, was occupied
by people now known as San. Remnants of San
communities (sometimes called Bushmen) still survive
today in the
Kalahari Desert (Kgalagadi).
San, who developed their society over thousands of
years in isolation, speak a language that includes
unique "click" consonants, have a smaller stature,
and have lighter skin pigmentation than the
Bantu-speaking Africans (Nguni,
Tsonga and Venda) who later moved into southern
San obtained a livelihood from often difficult
environments by gathering edible plants, berries,
and shellfish; by hunting game; and by fishing.
Gathering was primarily the task of women, who
provided approximately 80 percent of the foodstuffs
consumed by the hunter-gatherer communities.
Men hunted, made tools and weapons from wood and
stone, produced clothing from animal hides, and
fashioned a remarkable array of musical instruments.
San also created vast numbers of rock paintings
and rock engravings which express an extraordinary
aesthetic sensibility and document San hunting
techniques and religious beliefs.
Approximately 2,500 years ago, some San in the
northern parts of present-day Botswana acquired
fat-tailed sheep and long-horned cattle, perhaps
through trade with people from the north and the
east, and became pastoralists.
Their descendants, called "Hottentots" by early
Dutch settlers, are now more accurately termed
Khoikhoi, "men of men". Some people believe that the
present-day Nama people (Namaqua) are the true
descendents of the Khoikhoi.
Although Europeans often considered San
and Khoikhoi distinct races culturally and
physically, scholars now think they are
essentially the same people, distinguished
only by their occupations, and today they
are often referred to as Khoisan.
Because the southern Cape is fertile and
well-watered, many Khoikhoi settled along
the coast between the Orange River and the
Great Fish River. With the greater and more
regular supplies of food that they derived
from their herds, Khoikhoi lived in larger
settlements than those of the San, often
numbering several hundred people in a single
Khoikhoi engaged in extensive trade with
other peoples in southern Africa. In
exchange for their sheep and cattle, they
acquired copper from the north and iron from
Bantu-speaking Africans in the east and
fashioned these metals into tools, weapons,
and ornaments. They also acquired dagga
(cannabis) from the coast of what is
modern-day Mozambique, cultivated it
themselves, and trading it for other goods.
By 1600 most of the Khoikhoi, numbering
perhaps 50,000 people, lived along the
southwest coast of the Cape. Most San, their
numbers practically impossible to determine,
lived in drier areas west of the
400-millimeter rainfall line (the limit for
cultivation), including present-day
Northern Cape province, Botswana,
Namibia, and southern Angola.