As part of my project ‘Animals in Bushman Medicine’, I responded to a number of ≠Khomani, or Sa Bushmen as they prefer to be known, who asked if I could try and come up with an initiative to help them. These Bushmen are currently living around Welkom, a small settlement near the South African entrance to the Kgalagadi National Park that has yet to make it onto any commercial maps. Despite a successful claim to access and indigenous resource use rights in the park and ownership rights to adjacent land, life remains extremely hard for them, as it does for most Bushmen.
Working with the appointed assistant to Dawid Kruiper, their traditional leader, I helped develop the idea of an art project, similar to that carried out in other Bushman contexts. We hoped that perhaps these Bushmen, who claimed to be skilled and interested in art, might be able to contribute to a now quite mature local and international Bushman art market, in the same way that members of the Platfontein Khwe and !Xun and the D’Kar Nharo continue to do so.
I was delighted at the prospect of being able to help my new found friends. At the same time I was very intrigued to know exactly what they would paint. On this page I include the majority of the paintings they produced. If anyone doubted that these people were Bushmen, in as much as they remain intimately interested in and responsive to, if not absorbed in, their deeply rural environment, these images should dispel their doubts.
Undoubtedly the way the Sa or ≠Khomani relate to ‘nature’ is complex and highly political and they have long been wise to the fact that their ‘people in nature’ Bushman identity secures certain advantages, as it bestows many disadvantages. Nevertheless, these Sa Bushmen exhibit a distinctive relationship to environmental factors that cannot be easily dismissed, that deserves recognition and should be taken seriously.