Environment Field Note: The San People

Imagine having to find food, water and place to sleep. Wait, this time you will only use the only what’s around you. That means no fancy grocery stores, hardware stores, or fast food restaurants.

Let’s take a quick trip out of Gaborone and out of the city and into the Kalahari Desert to learn about the San people known as the Basarwa.

Introduction – How are people connected to the environment?

The people from the Kalahari Desert are known as the San people. Today, they can be found throughout southern Africa, in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

Although the San people live near modern cities, many choose to life the life of traditional hunters and gather. When asked why they don’t move, many will responded by they don’t want to lose their culture.

The San people are hunters and gathers. With a bow and arrow and strength, they can capture any prey. By working together, men can track prey by following tracks of the animal. Women gather plants to use for food, medicine and traditional values.

What makes this environment special or different?

The Kalahari Desert cover 85 percent of Botswana. In Setswana the desert is named the Kgalagardi: “the great thirst”. The climate is dry and hot with little rainfall. Sometimes temperature can reach as high as 110- 115 F.  At night it’s different. The weather becomes cooler, sometimes as low as 10 F.

On a weekend trip to Ghanzi District of Botswana, I went to learn about the San people and observe them in cultural village. During my stay, I was able to go on nature walk with the Basarwa people learn about their plants and their uses.  This fast trip to Ghanzi gave me a first-hand experience into the daily life of Basarwa.

The first time, I learn about the San people was my freshmen year, talking about clicks in languages. The San people speak Khoisan, a language with clicks and many different sounds that are hard to understand. However, the San people are complex in other ways than language.  The San people of southern Africa are known as one of the oldest cultures in the world!

What parts of this environment help people to live here?

The San people are resourceful and they have adapted to the changing environment

They are hunters and gathers. By using the environment around them, they hunt for food by tracking their prey. They gather plants for foods, medicine and even shelter. The Kalahari also has wildlife and many species that can stay alive without a lot of water.

What challenges do people face living in this environment?

The Kalahari Desert has no surface water is mainly covered by sand and dry grass. This is one of the major obstacles the San people have learned to tackle. The Kalahari Desert is hard to classify. It is not known as “real desert” like the Sahara. Instead, it is called “semi-arid.”

How have people been adapting to this environment?

Knowledge of plant usage is passed from older generation to younger generation. To survive the San people have found a way of life how to how to do with little water sources.  For example, by digging using reeds, the tsmma melon provides a main source of drinking water. Tsamma melon gives the San people drinking water and the skin can be eaten.

To protect themselves against extreme heat and cold, San people also use animal skins as clothing. They can even make hunting bags to hold their belongings since they are on the move.   Tools for hunting and cooking are also made from products found around the environment.

Sources: The Encyclopedia Britannica Region Kalahari

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