San Bushmen

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San Bushmen, Botswana

The San Bushmen are hunter-gatherers and were the first nations of Southern Africa, between Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola. Nowadays the majority of the San Bushmen live in the Kalahari regions of Botswana and Namibia with smaller groups in South Africa, Angola, and Zimbabwe. As a non-violent group, the San have been pushed from the fertile lands they once occupied in areas of Southern Africa. Fleeing the more violent tribes, the San finally settled in the harsh Kalahari Desert and have etched out an existence here for thousands of years. In more recent times, the San have been moved from these Kalahari lands by governments to create national parks, wildlife reserves, and farming. They have once again been marginalized and moved into camps, but unfortunately, they are unable to maintain their traditional way of life.

Nowadays there are several settlements around Namibia and Botswana and thanks to tourism efforts, the San are once again able to practice parts of their old traditions. Hunting is still forbidden in Botswana, so the San are unable to maintain this element of their incredible tracking and survival skills. The San have received international attention for their incredible survival and hunting skills as well as their wealth of indigenous knowledge of the fauna and flora of Southern Africa.

Their tracking skills are second to none and they are able to follow an animal through virtually any type of terrain. They use various methods to hunt animals including the setting of traps, but their main method is the use of bow and arrow. They apply poison to the arrowheads so that when the arrow penetrates the animal, the poison will slowly kill it, often taking hours and sometimes days. They will also eat birds’ eggs, tortoises, and anything else they can find. They are not at all wasteful and will only kill what they need and will then utilize the whole animal.

Historically, the San would have migrated across all parts of Southern Africa making their homes in caves or temporary grass huts, but as borders were formed and national parks created, they were forced to settle in a more permanent location. Within San communities, there is no chief or hierarchy, and decisions are made by group consensus.

Stanley Safaris’ preferred lodges and camps that include the most authentic San Bushmen experiences. Today, families of San work with several lodges and camps in Botswana where they take guests on educational walks to teach them a little about their traditions and cultures. At the moment, this is the only way they are able to maintain any form of their past cultures. Some lodges hire San as trackers because of their incredible skills. Having experienced several San walks, below are some of the camps and lodges that offer some of the more authentic experiences. We have also partnered with some of these camps to offer our guests an even more immersive San Bushman experience – see blow for more info.

Here are our top camps and lodges that offer the most authentic San Bushman Experience:

Jack’s Camp, San Camp and Camp Kalahari
All three of these camps are in a private concession bordering the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and are all run and operated by Ralph Bousfield, the son of a legendary crocodile catcher and hunter. The three camps are all different in design and location, although all are on the edge of the great white Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.

Guests staying at either of these camps can enjoy game drives (day and night) on the concession which is home to large herds of zebra and wildebeest, springbok, oryx, giraffe, elephant, lion and cheetah. Brown hyena also den on the concession and have been studied, making this one of the best places in Africa to see the more elusive cousin of the spotted hyena. The charismatic meerkat are also resident on the concession and have become habituated over the years, allowing guests a rare opportunity to observe them as they head for the day on their foraging excursions. Due to the extremely flat nature of the environment, meerkats will often use the guests as vantage points to get a better view of any predator that might be on the hunt.

Guests also have the chance to do some horse riding across the salt pans and for guests staying a minimum of three nights, there is the incredible quad biking and sleepout excursion in the middle of the Makgadikgadi Pans. One of the most incredible experiences anyone can have.

Aside from the above, Ralph and his team have been working very closely with the San and guests get the chance to go on a walk with a family as they forage for tubers, dig for scorpions and show you where they get the poison from for their arrows. This is an extremely informative walk and offers guests a small window into the traditions and cultures of the San life.

Stanley Safaris Unique Bushman Sleep-out
For an even more immersive San experience, Stanley Safaris has partnered with Ralph and his team to offer our guests the chance to do a mobile camp on some of the rocky islands of the Makgadikgadi Pans and have the San stay over with you. Not only will you have the privilege of doing an informative walk with them, but in the evening, you will have the opportunity to witness their traditional “trance Fire dance”. This hypnotic dance uses the rhythm of music and singing as well as the ambience of the fire to go into a healing trance as they dance around the fire.

Part of the experience will be for the San to cook some of their traditional foods for the guests, possibly including ostrich eggs cooked on the fire.

This is a mobile camp but will have all the comforts you would need on an expedition like this.