The Oldest Tribes on Earth
Hunter-gatherer tribes such as the San of Southern Africa represent some of the oldest human societies on Earth and represent direct descendants from our early human ancestors, according to DNA studies.
Living conditions for indigenous populations can often be harsh. Their unique culture and traditions often differ significantly from modern societies.
The San, who have lived as hunter-gatherers in southern Africa for millennia, are responsible for creating some of the world’s most visually stunning rock art. Many see them as embodying unspoiled “natural humanity”, living harmoniously with nature; Laurens Van der Post’s books and films such as The Gods Must Be Crazy reinforce this idealized image; however their lives were often harsh, difficult, and even lethal.
Today, only a few dynamic San communities exist in Namibia and Botswana, though most have adopted more stable lifestyles. Their descendants rely on both hunting and farming activities for survival.
/Kaggen is an essential spiritual figure to the San, often mistranslated as praying mantis due to its shape. But this deity actually takes on various forms such as animals, people, objects or even simply sounds like “many”, hinting that he created many things for them such as the earth and stars.
Rock paintings carved into their desert homes are highly valued possessions in San culture. Anthropologists once dismissed some of these images as crude; now scholars recognize they carry strong religious and spiritual meaning. For instance, an antelope called an eland features prominently in many paintings not at random but was believed to possess special supernatural power; furthermore shaman-dancers who created these paintings often showed lines connecting these animals to themselves, depicting dancers taking on animal traits during out-of-body vision journeys, etc.
An important element in understanding San beliefs is their relaxed gender roles. Women hunt and gather plants food, while both men and women serve as shamans using healing or trance dance to harness the spirits contained within eland animals – something their rock art embodies.
Trance dancing involves shamans moving around a carcass of an animal which has died, while other members of their community clap, sing and dance; eventually drawing upon this supernatural energy to perform magic.
Since 1997, over one thousand San have been forcibly removed from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and relocated to dysfunctional town sites far removed from their traditional lands. Junko Maruyama explores New Xade – the government townsite to which |Gui and |Gana have been sent – and describes their ingenious strategies for making ends meet in this foreign environment. Their struggles highlight the significance of returning them home while protecting their rights as indigenous people. Whether or not they return back is yet unknown – for now their fate lies with maintaining relationships with spirit world – maintaining these connections may prove their greatest challenge of all.
The Bambuti are the smallest group of Pygmies living in central Africa’s Ituri Forest. Renowned for their intimate connection to their environment–foraging tree canopies for honey or fruit without cutting any trees down–they use knowledge of their forest environment to live sustainably. Environmentalist Peter Umunay spent eleven months living amongst the Bambuti to conduct a forest inventory inventory within its boundaries to identify trees that sequestered carbon emissions.
Their communities are organized into patriclans, with each clan holding onto an area of forest to which it holds loose exclusive rights. Marriage arrangements must be approved by both clans involved; women are expected to fully integrate themselves into the clan of their prospective husband. Hunting small animals using bow and arrow, while women collect honey, fruits, nuts and seeds from forests while gathering honey from honeybee hives is common as is cultivating food crops such as cassava, plantains and rice for gardens or trading food items for sweet potatoes with villages for trades between villages for trades of sweet potatos or sweet potatos among themselves.
The Bambutis do not possess chiefs or formal councils of elders; disputes and issues are resolved through general discussion. They believe in a protective forest deity and commemorate significant occasions–such as boys maturing into young adults, weddings, or deaths–by singing songs to awaken and celebrate its world.
Men enhance their looks through scarification while women use beads and file their teeth into points to enhance their beauty. No visual arts exist within this culture but music and dance remain vital parts.
At one time, they lived off of hunting and gathering skills alone in the forest. Over time however, they have been drawn into a more monetized economy; selling their meat at retail markets or performing menial wage labor–often for much lower wages than foraging would pay. Many traditional relationships have since disintegrated completely while their children marry strangers instead of each other.
Forests in Central Africa are under attack from logging companies, gold miners and agriculturalists who damage its delicate ecosystem. Loggers, gold miners and agriculturalists damage its delicate balance further forcing Bambuti communities out of their forest homes in search of work in nearby towns that see them as second-class citizens. Their plight has garnered national attention and activists have lobby government officials for more protections for this group; yet in a country with multiple factions fighting over power struggles their fate remains uncertain.