A few hundred miles north of Cape Town in the dry and rugged Richtersveld mountains lie four communities along the Orange River whose people are known by several names; the Nama, San, Khoisan, the ‘people of the Richtersveld’, and derogatorily also known as the Bushmen. With a slim frame, a biscuit or apricot-colored complexion, wrinkly features, wiry hair, they are the remnants of the indigenous people who once were hunter gatherers and beachcombers in the early Cape.
They had lived for centuries in the mountains, fished in the waters and looked for food along the shore. They have good eyesight and make excellent trackers and have the ability to study a pile of manure or animal dung and tell you which animal had made the deposit, the age of the animal, and the direction in which it had gone. They left behind a trail of rock paintings along the coast and had a wonderful sense of poetry, music and art. Some of these paintings can be seen at a resort in the Cedarberg where San children and adults are on display in their original skins and habitat.
It is shocking that once the land which had been freely used by all were taken away and some of them migrated towards the Cape, some wandering in the streets, some finding jobs, others living out their lives as alcoholics. In the past part of the white man’s form of payment was a ‘dop’, alcohol, which kept them in a perpetual state of slavery. Filmmakers saw a chance to join in and a film by Jamie Uys, The Gods Must Be Crazy, where a Coke bottle falls from the sky and causes a tribe member to start walking to the end of the earth to return it to the gods, was born. The San were romanticized and the act of trying to give back a Coke bottle to the gods attests to their delightful nature. They speak both Khoisan and Afrikaans which has a click to it when they talk. Hunted by the early settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, they fled north and disappeared.
Another group of indigenous people are the Nama, similar in colour and stature to the San, who also had Mongolian features, and lived around the Orange River in the mid nineteenth century. These indigenous people were called Hottentots. Today, about 60,000 Nama live in Namibia and in the Richtersveld which are made up of Eksteenfontein, Kubus, Sanddrift and Port Nolloth.They have been granted houses along sandy streets and there is the normal church and school and a piano which provide entertainment. The Nama Dance which has them dancing around a fire in a trance is a particular favorite.
Culture in the Richtersveld
They are also known for their natural remedies and their rooster brood, flat bread baked on a stone oven. Problems in the community are teenage pregnancy and alcoholism; their biggest concern is that their culture and language is dying out. Elders are worried and say that the children are uninterested in learning the language of their elders and many of them now speak only Afrikaans and a few words of English. Their second claim to fame is that when Queen Elizabeth was in South Africa the last time she met with the leader of the four communities, Oom Po’, and shook his hand. A large framed photograph of the Queen is on the wall in the living room where everyone can see it. Of all the communities in the Cape these indigenous people have fared the worst.