On Cultural Shows

In Botswana we witnessed what are colloquially known as a cultural show. This one was of the San people. We paid $10 US per person to visit the show. We were going to take the money along with us to pay the troupe. But no, it’s best we give it to our guide.

There were close to 50 tourists there that night. So that’s about $500 US for a show. The shows run most nights, but not all nights will be as big as tonight.

The group of six performers are driven to the show in the back of a ute (read: pickup). Like how you’d drive a dog that can do tricks to a showground. Oh wait, I put my dog inside the car.

The did their dances with an interpreter explaining the meaning behind each dance.

Then they asked for tips.

Why would a group of people making $500 US (5,000 Botswana Pula) a night need to ask for tips? This is already a lot of money in a country where I bought sandals for 30 Pula.

It’s probably because they don’t get the money. The money goes to the vultures who run the campground, who interpret on their behalf and who drive them around.

At the end of the show we milled about before walking away. One of the San came over and asked for a cigarette. In English!

This seemed to be an outrage to some people. "I cannot believe they want a cigarette" and "I can't believe they spoke English".

I too have a fundamental distrust for anyone that is bilingual.

Do you want to know about the San?

They are also known as the Bushmen. There is some confusion of whether they should be called San, Bushmen or Basarwa. Each of those terms has been used as a negative way of labelling the people. So the confusion is around which term is least offensive. At the moment the San seems to be the term preferred by the San.

Population groups in Africa can be grouped by the language family they speak. People carry their languages with them and by seeing how different people share common words you can track the movement of people across Africa. You can do the same with genetic markers. Genetic markers that appear in distinct population groups share a common ancestor. Conversely, markers that don’t appear in each others DNA has come about since the two groups separated. The San have some of the most divergent genetic markers. This means they split off from other Africa groups before most other groups split off. They’re one of the oldest groups in Africa.

The San language has clicks. Collectively their languages are called Khoisan. Some languages in this group have as many as 48 click consonants. You may have heard clicks in movies about the Zulu people. The Zulu are Bantu speaking but were influenced by the Khoisan; and added clicks to their own language. The Xhosa did too. That X at the start of Xhosa is a click.

The Bantu speaking people are the most populous group (355 million speakers) in Africa is who fill most countries from Kenya down to South Africa. The San are one of the smallest with only 90,000 people.

Most of the San now live in the Kalahari desert. When you think of Kalahari you probably think of the San or The Bushmen of the Kalahari. Like it’s their traditional homeland. It’s only partially the case. Some San have always lived in the Kalahari region but the rest of the San stretched across Southern Africa. The Bantu who came down, a long time ago, were the first to push them aside. Then the governments of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa either recently or under colonialism pushed the remaining San into the Kalahari.

That desert isn’t good for much.

Except their might be diamonds there. As recently as 2013 the San were being forcibly relocated out of the very place they were pushed into. There are on-going court cases in Botswana on their right to stay in the Kalahari.

This has been: Another cheery tale from Africa.

when: Sunday, December 14, 2014