Early inhabitants of Central and Southern Africa

28 May, 2023 - 00:05 0 Views
Early inhabitants of Central and Southern Africa San people (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The Sunday News

History lessons with Dr Manners Msongelwa

San people

The San people were  the earliest inhabitants of Central and Southern Africa. They survived through the environment hence the nickname Bushmen. Their ways of life entirely were dependent on the environment.  Today they are found in the Kalahari desert in Botswana (Zimbabwe’s neighbour to the west) and also in some parts of Zimbabwe. They were short, swift, tough and yellowish brown in complexion.

San people lived in doom-shaped huts. They also stayed in caves. Their groups ranged from 50 people and below. They survived through hunting and gathering thus they were called hunter and gatherers. They practiced rock paintings and painted on the caves depictions of their ways of life.  The San people were nomads, they moved from place to place looking for food.

They stayed in groups of between 50 people and below. When the group grew to exceed 50 people they would split into two groups. San are the ancestors of people who today reside in Southern and Central Africa. They used ostrich egg shells to fetch water and used fire sticks to make fire. The community was headed by an elderly member in the community. 

The wife of the elderly member supervised the tribal fire and never allowed it to die out. They believed in God and worshipped him through the prayer Mantis. They also believed in rivers, mountains and valley. They believed that the spirits of their ancestors inhabited at these areas. They practiced initiation ceremonies and young boys and girls were initiated before marriage. They married at an early age however despite early marriages they limited their children to two. They told stories to their children and danced for the New and full Moon.They danced imitating the animals that they hunted.

San economic life

They practiced hunting and gathering. They devised many hunting methods like traps e.g. fish traps/fish baskets made of reeds for catching fish and animal traps e.g. net traps and pit traps for trapping animals. They used poisoned arrows and spears to kill the animal quickly. They also used bows and arrows and throwing spears. Poison was extracted from roots, barks of trees and from poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions. Small animals, reptiles and other large animals were killed. Meat was cooked fresh or dried. San people also ate gathered fruits, bulbs and nuts. They also used hooks made from sharpened bones to catch fish like shell fish. Fibres were spanned to make traps e.g. sisal fibres. Clothing was light and loose for easy working. They used skins for clothing and blankets. They wore ornaments made from seeds, berries, shells and also used pieces of wood to make bracelets and necklines. They also practiced leather work to make bags and clothes. They were nomadic meaning that they moved from place to place or from one place to another. 

File photo: A tourist admires the rock paintings at a cave in the Matopos Hills

Rock paintings

The San painted rocks and cave walls and engraved ostrich shells. They made paints of several colours. San rock paintings showed their lifestyles and beliefs.  Pictures, drawn included themselves, animals and hunters chasing and killing animals. The San got most of their resources for survival from the environment.

San political life

They had no centralised political system or government. There was a group leader or community chief. Change of location was decided by the whole group with leader coordinating. San societies had no classes or hierarchy, all people were equal.  This was the stage of early communism.

ν Dr Manners Msongelwa is the president of History Teachers of Zimbabwe and a Teacher at Camelot college in Kwekwe.

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