The !Xam Khomani Heartland


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The area south of Upington was home to communities of the !Xam, a clan of the San (or Bushmen) who inhabited southwestern Africa for thousands of years until displaced by later settlement. Here some survivors became laborers on farms but their language and culture has disappeared. However, in the 1870’s Dr Wilhelm Bleek and Miss Lucy Lloyd began recording the language, folktales and spiritual beliefs of a number of !Xam brought to prison in Cape Town. These individuals were amongst the last repositories of the language and belief system of the !Xam and Bleek and Lloyd’s work links many beliefs to known features in the landscape, providing a window of understanding into the blending of folklore and geography by the !Xam. The information has enabled archaeologists to interpret the rich rock art legacy left by these and other San. The !Xam area in a unique way links the memory of a vanished people, their language and culture, spiritual connection to their environment and contribution to the meaning of Southern African rock art. It is a unique memorial to lost pre-colonial cultures in Africa. By comparison the area in the north of Upington is home to the $Khomani who until recently were thought to have disappeared, in this instance due to their removal from ancestral lands in the mid¬20th Century. In 1996 several elderly speakers of their language and carriers of the culture were identified. In 1999, activism by younger descendents led to restitution of land to the south of the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park, the original home of the community, and restoration of certain land use rights within the Park. Young members of the community have since worked with elders on cultural mapping of these lands and ‘reconstruction’ of a cultural landscape, not dissimilar to that of the !Xam. There is a strong revival of traditional practices and use of this landscape in a manner that enhances conservation thereof. The $Khomani are the last surviving indigenous San community in South Africa and their living cultural landscape is an important aspect of national culture, one that contrasts well with the !Xam area to the south. The two areas are the only San cultural landscapes that have enjoyed this level of attention and concerning which there is hence a fair depth of knowledge. Although covering extremely large areas the two components are in relative close proximity and are considered as a single nomination illustrating the heritage of a unique group of African cultures most of which have disappeared without record of the knowledge and practices they embodied

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