Khoesan hunter-gatherers (popularly called ‘Bushmen’ or ‘San’) lived in the Kalahari desert in Southern African for many thousands of years. Their way of life was shaped extensively by the seasonal variation of the Kalahari environment, and various bands of people moved according to the changing availability of water and sources of food within territories defined by natural landmarks. The need for mobility meant that they had to keep their household goods to minimum, and they used a variety of skin and net bags to carry their belongings.
Need for Mobility
Their way of life was shaped extensively by the seasonal variation of the Kalahari environment, so that the various bands of people moved according to the changing availability of water and sources of food within territories defined by natural landmarks.
The need for mobility meant that they had to keep their household goods to minimum, and they used a variety of skin and net bags to carry their belongings.
The Man Thing
As with clothing, bags were made from dressed animal skins. The skin was pegged out, the hair scraped off and then softened by rubbing between the hands. It was cut into the desired shape and then sewn with sinew thread.
Bone awls were used to pierce the holes, but metal awls and needles were also used. Skinwork was done by men because of the association with hunting, but women often assisted with the softening, sewing and decoration.
The bags shown here were used by people from different groups in the Kalahari, but mainly from the Auni and Khatia in the south and the Nharo in the central areas, and were collected at various times during the 20th century, many by Dorothea Bleek, an accomplished San linguist and ethnologist, and H.P. Steyn, an anthropologist at the South African Museum in the late 1960s.
The Iziko Social History Centre
The Iziko Social History Centre is situated in Church Square, Cape Town. It is housed in the magnificent former National Mutual Life Association of Australasia building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and Francis Masey in 1905.
The Iziko Anthropology Collection
The collection focuses mainly on African material culture, with special emphasis on southern Africa. With over 15 000 accessions, the collection illustrates indigenous African technologies, as well as ways of life and processes of cultural change among hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and farmers (and their descendants) in southern Africa during the colonial and post-colonial periods.
A small but representative sample of artefacts from similar types of societies elsewhere in Africa and the rest of the world is held for comparative purposes.
Basketry, ceramics, clothing and ornaments are especially well-represented, and there are objects of ethnographic and historical value associated with significant historical personalities. Material contributed by early South African anthropologists, notably Winifred Hoernlé, Dorothea Bleek, Isaac Schapera and Eileen Krige are important complements to their published work.
Other sections of the collection, such as clothing, toys and political material document selected aspects of contemporary urban society.
Due to the nature of these anthropological collections in Iziko, the names of the makers of these artefacts were often not recorded.
Created by Gerald Klinghardt, Lindsay Callaghan and Sarah Schäfer.
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