The San, a small ethnic group, numbering about 40,000, are more commonly known as Bushmen and comprise of one larger and four smaller groups. The largest group is that of the !Kung, found in Kavango in the northeast and down the eastern side of Namibia to the Gobabis district. They are also found across the border in western Botswana.
A small group of Heikom (//Kx’au//’en) historically roarmed in the are of the Etosha National Park and the surrounding districts to the east. The Khoe, or Mbarakwengo, are the River Bushmen and are found around the eastern perimeter of the Kavango region, spreading into Botswana and western Caprivi. The Naro’ group are found in the area east of Grootfontein and Gobabis and also in Botswana. A very small, near-extinct group, the /Auni, is found in the lower Nossob district.
The Bushmen are well proportioned, and have lean and delicate limbs – ideal physical features for endurance running. Most have high cheekbones and are of light complexion. Newborn and young children are especially light in complexion. The Bushmen rely more on the gathering of roots, seeds, nuts and other edible plants than on hunting. They often go without meat for lengthy periods but cannot survive for long without foraging for veld food, as this is also a source of water for them.
The Bushman is the only ethnic group in Namibia which has no traditional area which they call home. For perhaps thousand of years they have followed the migratory routes of the animals they hunted although these activities curtailed with the agricultural developments that took place.
The proclamation of game reserves also closed off large areas to them and slowly, increasingly they were obliged to seek employment on farms. Their extraordinary
fieldcraft, particularly tracking skills, were welcomed by the farming community. Some took employment as servants for other ethnic groups whilst others became trackers in police and military units.
Sadly, the numbers of San people are dwindling and unless some way can be found to create a homeland for them, Namibia’s oldest inhabitants will gradually become extinct.