South Africa's original inhabitants, the Bushmen, have roots that stretch back some 10 000 years into the past. Also known as the San, they were traditionally hunter-gatherers, living in harmony with the natural world around them. In spite of their gentle nature, not only their language but also their healing rituals and dances influenced other peoples who came into contact with them. Early interaction between the Bushmen and the Nguni people for instance, led to many of the numerous click sounds that are characteristic of the San language, being incorporated into the Nguni languages.
It is the rock paintings and engravings of the early San people, however, that most reveal their traditions. A common theme appears throughout the paintings: that of human figures and animals, larger antelope, especially the eland, being the most favoured. The mythological world is often represented in the form of half-human/half-animal figures and over the years numerous interpretations have been given to the various images. Dating back many thousands of years the art appears to have stopped during the 19th century when colonial expansion was at its most aggressive. Although the San of today no longer produce the works of art of their forefathers, they still display an intimate knowledge of their environment, a reverence for the wild animals and an identification of themselves in the natural world - a world which most of us have sadly forgotten.
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