Sounds of the San

Sounds of the Hai//om -2007
and  “!Kung” (Ju/’hoansi) – 1955


Link to
!Kung Expedition IV, 1955 – footage
hosted by Smithsonian Institution


Link to an old Hai//om friend of the
brothers playing the //gwashi or quasi –
an instrument akin to a simplified kora;
essentially a soundbox with wooden
tuning rods and normally up to five

Unfortunately the “cicadas” in the
background are  the motor of the
camera..the second song is about
back ache

Buks Kruiper playing the guitar and singing a ‘traditional’ Khomani song


Buksie (Hendrik, Buks or Beline) Kruiper singing ‘Ou Makia’ on a
winter’s night in Welkom, 2009

On April 29th 2013, Buks Kruiper passed away. In
very many ways Buks was a special man and it was a
great honour and pleasure to have known him. Apart
from being the finest ≠Khomani tracker and probably
the last member of the community with convincing
knowledge of older Bushman lifeways,  Buks was a
music lover.
He was a man of great spirit and my finest Kalahari
moments were nights spent with Buks and a guitar
around the fire. Good luck on the next road Buks. The
Kalahari will be a different place without you.

Ou Makai is a popular song amongst the older Kruiper clan. The song is about Ou Makai the great
grandfather of Dawid and Buks Kruiper. One version recorded by Belinda Kruiper went:

Ou Makai te kiraha                Old Makai is old and dying
Ou Makai te kiraha                Old Makai is old and dying
Na ke !au kwena hocha        And strangers will come from all over to bring love
Na ke !au kwena hocha        And strangers will come from all over to bring love

(Belinda Kruiper and Elana Bregin. 2004. Kalahari Rain Song. Scottsville, University of KwaZulu-Natal
press, p.41)

Buks’s versions would ramble and vary night by night. Significantly one night in Mbeeway, the
Bushman camp inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Buks and Ilia Festus were remonstrating with
each other around the fire. Ilia was emphasising to Buks that he knew the words of the song ‘Ou
Makai’ better than Buks. ‘It is my heritage too’ he stressed. This exchange followed an earlier heated
discussion in the back of the Land Rover. As we were driving into the park Buks was telling Ilia and
another extended Kruiper family elder, Ghert Swarts (Cookie Swaartz), that only he and !Noe and
someone else none of them had heard of had the right to dig for medicines within the Kgalagadi Park.
This claim by Buks said much about the misunderstandings, selective political processes, elitist
opportunism and infighting that underscores the ‘successful’ Bushman land claim for the Park and
surrounding farms.


Mbeeway, the Bushman camp inside the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Ilia said he did not know what the name meant because it is not his


The following is a set of three brief recordings  from Edward Tsam, one of the three brothers below:

The Tsam brothers

Three brothers: (from left) Attie Tsam, Adolph Tsam, Edward Tsam. Taken on a visit to their old home in Tsintsabis, Oct 2007.



Edward lives (2007) together with family members on a farm south east of Etosha National Park, Namibia. He was born in Tsintsabis in 1945.

Edward very kindly agreed to my recording three songs he remembered from his earlier days living in Tsintsabis. He is happy for these to be shared and broadcast.

Song 1 the opening song says “catch me like that polecat”. It was sung as the men sat around a boiling pot waiting for the days catch, a polecat, to be cooked.

Song 2 extols the delights of warthog meat: “Watrthog meat is a nice meat…”

Song 3. This song talks of a big bird with black on its wings and white on its chest. The Hai//om say it looks like someone is wearing a suit. The song asks: “why are you walking like someone wearing a suit?”

Two of these songs are about eating meat. There are many ideas amongst the KhoeSan about what sort of person can or should eat certain sorts of meat. Amongst Khoe speakers there is an idea that certain things are soxa. Adolph explained this to mean that old people would term something special, soxa, and if you did not do what they said in relation to it you would get into trouble. Only certain men, for example, could eat the pangolin.  If a child eats a pangolin and consequently dies the body takes the form of a pangolin (curls forward, arms like a mantis).

Amongst most Bushmen groups the massive Eland antelope is considered a very special animal. Edward described the Eland as a soxa animal because a snake lives in the hair in its forehead. When the Eland is shot the snake falls out and runs. Many KhoeSan know of this snake.

Edward Tsam described how they just stopped singing songs when they left Tsintsabis to work on the farm. He related it to the coming of the Church. When he was younger, before the church people started visiting from Tsumeb, they didn’t know about God. They were just talking about Haiseb.

“Haiseb does wonderful things.  When he is killed, he stands up ”

” When good things happened people say it is the work of Haiseb.  He makes the house, where there is no house.  He makes the rain, where there is no rain.  If there are no clouds and then rain is falling it is Haiseb”


Academics and activism
As I was leaving these brothers they implored me to
take this letter. I was very happy to but explained as
best I could, that it was unlikely I could help.
Unfortunately, like most of us, it is a speech I have
had to make many times. Attie had already described
to me how he followed the railway tracks at the same
time each week, in case a sack of something edible
had fallen off a scheduled goods train. Attie had
worked on the farm where I met these Bushmen for
16 years and prior to that for 20 years on a nearby
farm. He had not worked for five years.  He had no
shoes.  I bought him some shoes on our trip to
Tsintsabis. He will leave the farm with nothing.

I present the letter on this page as a reminder that
research is about people. At the same time, I told
these men that I would do what I can. After the
novelty of being a researcher in the field fades one
becomes increasingly aware of the inequality of the
situation. On occasions I have been sitting at home in
London and received phone calls from people in
Namibia. It then hits you. Two lives really collide.
Someone with no money bothered to call just to see
how you are. It is a jolt. Can you just hand out your
phone number ( or a false one as many end up
doing) and utter vague promises, ask people
sometimes extremely personal things, join in with their
lives…and just walk away?

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