Notes to accompany KhoiSan animal use tables

“we tell the researchers what plants we pick or animals we catch, then the
conservationists  and government people come along and make it illegal for us to
do it. It was better before we told anyone”

I am very aware that publishing these tables constitutes a responsibility and trust between me
and the KhoeSan.  Numerous KhoeSan have expressed the above concerns to me. At the same
time all have given the information I include willingly, in the knowledge that  it will be recorded
and reproduced in the public domain.  We are the public domain. You may be the legislators,
academics, NGO’s, conservationists or Khoekhoe or Bushmen interested in this information. The
issues are complicated and decisions have real impacts on people and the environment. I
extend my trust and their trust to you. Reflect and use it wisely.

I have put together these tables as an indicator of recent KhoeSan use of animals in medicine. The tables
comprise information from KhoiSan interviewed by me during two principal bouts of fieldwork undertaken
respectively in 2000-2001 and 2006-2008. To ensure anonymity interviewees have been attributed
numbers. Numbers 1-101 refer to interviews from the first phase of fieldwork and numbers 2201 to 2250 to
the second. The first phase was intrinsic to my ESRC funded DPhil, ‘KhoiSan Healing: Understandings,
Ideas and Practices’ (Univeristy of Oxford, 2004). The research examined past and recent healing ideas
and practices and involved Damara, Nama, Topnaar, Hai//om, Nharo, Ju/’hoansi and !Kung. The second
phase relates to my ESRC funded project “Animals in Bushman Medicine” (2005-2008) which examines the
changing relationship between animals, Bushman and medicine from prehistoric times to the present.
During the second fieldwork period I principally interviewed Hai//om, Ju/’hoansi, Nharo and ≠Khomani
although I have included material from other Bushman groups I encountered, including Khwe  and !Ko.

Interviews were carried out with the aid of translators and were principally held on a one to one basis
although the contingency of interview settings often meant contributions were made to interviews by those
sitting nearby or dropping in. I have tried to account for the provenance of information as best as possible
within my interview name or number attribution. Formal interviews generally lasted between one and two
hours although some stretched to as many as four. I held three formal group interviews (H52, H59, N/D 32).
Some numbers refer to material taken from multiple interviews with one person or from notes made
subsequent to ongoing discussion held over days or returned to over months and years.

In listing animal usage I have deliberately included information which reflects the varying ways in which
individuals talk about animals alongside medicinal strategies and ideas. This is important because the
presentation of a stripped down list of parts accompanied by a sterile summary of use robs the material of
vital context. At times what has been included might seem inconsistent but I have chosen to list it because it
has some bearing on wider issues or debates either within my own work or the wider KhoiSan intellectual
context. The included taboo-like Khoe speakers concept of
soxa, for instance, is something as yet very
poorly explored in the literature but something with considerable bearing on human animal relationships. I
have deliberately included certain beliefs that say something important about the wider relationship between
KhoeSan, animals  and medicine and inform the problems of approaching the subject, medicinal animal
usage, from this Western categorical starting point. In certain instances I have also included information
regarding more everyday use of animals, particularly as food. This information seems important as an
indicator of the wider environmental use patterns or wildlife  trade patterns that background KhoeSan
medicinal animal use. Its inclusion broadens the usefulness of this list to those more focussed on
environmental or conservation issues.

Although the  interview number is not large,  250, and the material cannot by any stretch be said to be
entirely representative of all KhoeSan within the communities I encountered, let alone those living much
further away in Botswana or the eastern Cape, I am confidant given the repetitive nature of the themes, the
repetitive ingredients of ideas and practices and their relationship to information from other sources, that
the list captures central poles of KhoeSan medicine over a wider geographical area and for at least the later
nineteenth century onwards, if not far earlier. Many of the ideas, procedures and substances seem familiar
to those recorded in the Bleek and Lloyd archive from the latter decades of the nineteenth century and
similarly to the medicinal references that pepper other early ethnography or traveller texts since the late
seventeenth century. Massaging different sorts of fat is a good example of such continuity. Whilst historians
are rightly cautious to claims of continuity, arguments for continuity of practices and  ideas are becoming
increasingly accepted in the revision of postmodern history. The sort of continuity arguments I have
elsewhere proposed (Low 2008) hinge upon continuities in  environmental relationships fine tuning the sorts
of things people continue to notice, talk about, work with, dream and ultimately live off. Key to my
understanding of change is that different aspects of society change at different rates and, as Barnard
suggests (Barnard 2002) , folk ideas enmeshing ontology and epistemology , religious belief and folklore,
seem remarkably persistent.

Alan Barnard, ‘The Foraging Mode of Thought’, in Henry Stewart, Alan Barnard, and Keiichi Omura (Eds),
Senri Ethnographical Studies 60, (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology), pp. 5-24
Chris Low, KhoiSan Medicine in History and Practice, Research in Khoisan Studies (Koln: Roediger Koeppe
Verlag, 2008)
© 2009 Chris Hewson Low, All Rights Reserved