The Sans are a group of indigenous peoples in southern Africa. The term San (pronounced / san / plural san or sans) tends to replace Buchman (bushman), used during the period of colonization. The Sans would have been present in the region for 44,000 years. Like the Khoikhoi pastoralists, they practice the Khoisan language’s click languages, a linguistic group without cross-comprehension and distinct from the majority Nigerian-Congolese languages in sub-Saharan Africa. Persecuted by the Bantu and Boer and marginalized by British settlers, they now live mainly in the Kalahari Desert. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, they are now largely sedentary and would be no more than about 100,000.


According to the sources, there are many variations: Basarwa, Bushman, Boschiman, Bushmen, Khoe, Khwe, Masarwa, San, Sans, Sarwa, Xam. “Bochimans” is derived from the Dutch word “bosjesman”, introduced by the Boers and literally meaning “Bushmen”. The unspecified ones by the names of the different groups that they compose, !Kung, |Xam, ǂKhomani, N|u, Ganda, Domkhoe, Kisheshkhoe, Gani, Tanne, Ts’xa, Ncoakhoe, Haba, Tsoa, Wax Wax, Deti, Ganadi, Shwakhwe, Nookook, Koreekhwe, Aye, Taise, Tshidi, Danisi, Cara, Xaio , Auen, Kua, Xgana and Cui (en), etc. Many of these ethnonyms end with a suffix approaching the root khoe, which means “people”. For example, Shwakhwe means “people of salt”. “San” is a general name introduced by their neighbours Namaquas. It means in dialect Haiǁom (in) “gatherers”. It is more politically correct than “Bushmen” and the Bushmen use it themselves. However, the exonym “Sankhoi”, those who gather on the ground, remains opposed to the name by which the Hottentots designate themselves, “Khoikhoi”, those who belong to humanity. Previously, the Sans were simply defined as “those who follow the lightning”, as they moved according to the rains to feed on fruits, roots and game.

San – Botswana

Bochiman woman from Botswana


The Bushmen are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa where they have lived for at least 44,000 years. Their current habitat is reduced to the Kalahari Desert. This nomadic people of hunter-gatherers once occupied all of southern Africa. The successive arrival of the Hottentots (living from breeding cattle and speaking a language of the same family), then the Bantu, sedentary farmers, decimated this population and pushed it towards dry lands. The arrival of the Dutch (Boers) and Huguenots in the seventeenth century and the British finally reduced them to misery by chasing them from their ancestral lands. In the eighteenth century, farmers were grouped into militias (kommando) who launched punitive expeditions against the Bushmen. Today relegated to one of the world’s driest lands, the Kalahari Desert, the Bushmen are still at risk of migrating because the Botswana government claims they want to integrate them for civilization purpose but, according to those concerned the real project is to give way for the De Beers’ diamond prospection.
In 1991, the Botswana Christian Council published a report about a case involving Bushmen suspected of hunting on private property and were apprehended and tortured by Game Reserve guards. In 1997, many were expelled from their homes in the Kalahari and those who remained suffered drastic reduction in their hunting grounds, continual harassment and torture. At the beginning of 2002, harassment intensified: their water pumps were destroyed, water supplies emptied in the desert and hunting and gathering prohibited. Considered to be poachers, virtually all Bushmen were then expelled from the Kalahari Game Reserve, but many of them have since returned to their ancestral lands and many others want to do the same. The reasons for this expulsion differ greatly between the parties. The Botswana government emphasizes that the Bushmen no longer live by their traditions, raising livestock and thus disturbing the ecological balance of the reserve. The British NGO Survival International suspects its interests in diamond mining. In 2006, after four years of legal proceedings, the Botswana High Court recognized the illegality and unconstitutionality of the Bushmen’s expulsion from the Kalahari Central Animal Reserve, without imposing on the government to supply water in this area. The government does not seem inclined to make things easier for them. At the end of 2007, the Bushmen announced they would sue again the government of Botswana if they cannot return to their territory. On July 21, 2010, the Botswana High Court ruled that Bushmen cannot use or build wells in the Kalahari Desert, thus depriving them of water supply.


The Buchman languages belong to the Khoisan language family. They speak different languages, and all of them incorporate clicks (inspired consonants) translated into writing by signs! or ||. Bushmen are hunter-gatherers who for thousands of years have found their livelihood in the desert with their knowledge and skills. They hunt – mainly several species of antelope – but their daily food has always been mainly fruits, berries and desert roots. They are building temporary wooden shelters. Many of them were forced to leave their territory and live in villages located in areas unsuitable for hunting and gathering. In Botswana in particular, they suffer the discrimination and ostracism of Tswana society because of the government’s sedentarization program. Relocated to miserable camps or living on the ranches in which they work, the Bushmen are rejected and marginalized, just like the Aborigines of Australia. There are 100,000 Bushmen throughout Southern Africa today. Some 3,000 Bushmen still live in the centre of the Kalahari but in a natural reserve created by the Botswana government.
Their works (war scenes & hunting) are painted on rocks. You can see some remarkable examples in the nature reserves of Cederberg and Matjiesrivier. According to Bradford Keeney, the Shamanic experience of the Bushmen is based on the tremble of the body (head, limbs, and abdomen). He considers that “the Bushmen’s tremor leads them into spheres of mystical and shamanic experiences, where all perception is considered transient and capable of changing form. Here, the past and the present are not distinct, and humans and animals are not. The entering to this experience is caused by the tremor, which, in turn, is facilitated by music and dance”

Ancient painting of the San near Murewa (ZW)

Old San Paintings near Murewa (Zimbabwe)


Western culture

The great success of the movie The Gods Falled on the Head gave an ephemeral notoriety to this people whose language, like the other languages Khoisan and xhosa (a Bantu language that has evolved in contact with languages Khoisan), has clicks (clicks) . The Bushmen also hold a central place in Antoine Bello’s novel, The Falsifiers. In Christopher Hope’s book Darkest England, the Bushman hero, David Mungo Booi, is instructed by his fellows to ask the Queen for protection once promised, and to evaluate the possibility of creating a colony on the island. He discovers England in the manner of Western explorers of the nineteenth century

Bochiman poem
Prayer to the moon
Take my face and give me yours!   
Take my face, my unhappy face
Give me your face,
With which you come back
When you die
When you disappear from my sight
You go to bed and come back.
Let me be like you, because you are full of joy
You come back every time more alive
After you disappeared from my sight
Have not you promised us before
That we too will come back
And will we be happy again after death?