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Perceptions Of Bushmen Culture Essay

1536 words - 7 pages

In the 1800s Europeans discovered Saartjie Baartman, a South African Bushman woman. They called her the Hottentot Venus and exploited her mainly because of her physical and cultural differences. Hottentot, Khoisan, San and Bushmen are all common names for the group of indigenous people of which she belonged. These people have been largely viewed by Western society as “savages who were part human, part animal” and considered to be “the lowest rung in the ladder of human development.” This unilateral yet widespread notoriety has existed since the 1800s and many of the banal conceptions of the Bushmen have remained unchanged through the course of modern history. This paper will be general ...view middle of the document...

Early anthropologists believed that because the Bushmen preserved a pre-industrial, pre-literate lifestyle, even throughout the 19th and 20th century, that they could be considered in likeness to people that lived in prehistoric times. This misconception has aided the western world’s misunderstanding, lack of appreciation and caricature view of the Bushmen.
It is also important to discern the terminology used to describe the people we call the Bushmen. “Bushmen” is probably the most common name used to describe the group of South Africans that are being talked about in this essay. Although they are commonly referred to as “Bushmen”, this is a generic name that does not take into account the many ethnic groups that exist under this umbrella. The word Bushmen itself has a negative connotation; meaning ‘orangutan’ in Malay, it can be considered a derogatory term not unlike ‘wetback’. Nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropologist have ascribed many of the names that are used to describe this group of people. The second most commonly used classificatory name is Khoisan. Alan Barnard explains that the word ‘Khoisan’ itself is like ‘Austronesian’ or ‘Indo-European’, it has been artificially constructed for concision. Anthropologists have also called populations of Bushmen, simply, the ‘San’. However, the name San originated within the native population to make a distinction about class. Various names used to describe those who I will continue to call Bushmen (for continuity), were often time given to make distinctions about the people’s biological, linguistic, and economic identity. “When we speak of the little yellow people as a biological or racial entity, we use the term San. When we speak of their language…of their cultural aspects, we refer to them as Bushmen,” while Hunter-gatherers or Herders “refers to them as exponents of a particular economy”. “The herders, who lived within an economic, social and ritual order that was based on cattle, were designated as ‘Hottentots”. /Xa, //Xegwi, Ju/’hoan, G//ana, Khoe, Damara and Nharo are a few of the names of specific ethnic groups that dwell in the southern parts of Africa. They, and the many other specific ethnic populations, are considered a part of the population this essay discusses.
Many settlers and colonists, especially missionaries believed that the people they came to know as “Bochmans” did not practice religion, nor did they have the “mental capacity to understand any form of religion.” However, cultural anthropological study of the well-known Bushmen rock art is telling. Much of Bushmen rock art depicts religious matter such as rituals and animals like elands, lions, mantes and bees, all which have religious significance. More modern day scholars have identified some key components of what is understood as Khoisan religion. Although regional diversities must be considered, the people believe in “a high god who is the creator and benefactor of human beings, a...

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