The Ju’Hoansi San Bushmen – An Ancient Society

Those of us of a certain age might have been introduced to the African bushmen watching the delightful film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” in the early 80s. Anthropologist have done many studies on this ethnic group, more properly known as “San” people. They are said to be descendants of Early Stone Age people. Genetic evidence suggests they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world, going back perhaps 60,000 years. They are dispersed throughout Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and South Africa.

The Sans are nomadic. In the mid 1600, the European settlers exterminated the San whom they thought inferior. They called them “Bushmen” and wiped out 200,000 of them in 200 years. Around 150 years ago the Bantu tribes and white colonists invaded their ancestral lands, murdering and oppressing them resulting in their population decrease from several million to about 100,000 today. San communities have always lived in the desert regions however, eventually nearly all San communities in southern Africa were forced into arid areas. The San remained in poverty where their richer neighbors denied them rights to the land.  The San people are on the shorter side and have skin that wrinkles early in life.  

I’d like to share some portraits of these gracious people and images of their ancient traditions and village life.

In hunter/gatherer societies the roles of men & women are distinct. Women provide approximately 80% of the food by gathering berries, nuts, and roots. The remaining 20% is meat hunted by the men using poisoned arrows and spears. Their hunting & gathering economy and social structure had remained virtually unchanged for tens of thousands of years. The San did not farm or keep livestock.

The San have a loosely knit family culture where decisions are made by universal discussion and agreement by consensus. An individual’s opinion is weighted according to their level of skill and experience in the particular field of discussion. Although role distinctions might appear sexist, women have a high status in San society, are greatly respected, and may be leaders of their own family groups. They make important family and group decisions, their opinions often taking precedence, particularly where food is concerned. They also claim ownership of water holes and foraging areas. The territory of a family may stretch to a 25-mile circle or more to provide sustenance.

The average life expectancy for the San is about 45-50 years. 50% of children die before the age of 15. Respiratory infections and malaria are the major reasons for death in adults. Only 10% become older than 60 years. Alcoholism is a big problem in Namibia in the Ju/’hoansi communities. Having no tolerance for alcohol increased drunkenness and crime have led to a general decline in family structures and community well-being.

With the help of academics and NGOs, the Ju/’hoansi bordering Namibia and Angola have managed to secure land rights. They are still permitted to hunt within their boundaries, despite being a game conservation area, as long as they use traditional methods.  Living in poverty and trying to maintain their culture, tourism provides a means of generating some money by selling crafts and demonstrating their traditional skills.  As with many cultures, their intersection with modernity provides no easy answers.


This entry was posted in Travel.


  1. Karen King July 19, 2019 at 8:00 pm #

    This is superb, as always. Ivy, you should publish a book! Karen

  2. Lew Haskell July 19, 2019 at 9:01 pm #

    Superb, your pictures are truly wonderful. You have an amazing eye. Thank you for sharing.

  3. michele zousmer July 19, 2019 at 9:46 pm #


  4. Dan Barnett July 19, 2019 at 10:12 pm #

    Superb photos. Splendid experiences. Special person.

  5. Kathie Davis July 20, 2019 at 12:15 am #

    Ivy, your pictures are stunning. You’re incredibly talented! Thanks for sharing these.

  6. Janet Hanpeter July 20, 2019 at 2:43 am #

    Wonderful blog post – story & photos, Ivy! The San culture in Africa is one I knew nothing about so thank you for this fascinating look into the Bushmen’s world.

  7. Mark Howard July 20, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

    Ivy, thank you for sharing your work. Incredible images that bring something and someone so seemingly distant, close. Thank you for helping us all see a bigger picture.

  8. Rosemary Cook July 20, 2019 at 1:17 pm #

    Your photos get better and better. What a pleasure to receive your photoessays!

  9. bob abney July 21, 2019 at 5:34 pm #

    Much much more than wonderful pictures but also the context. So many questions leap to mind. I really love your work. Thanks so much Iv.

  10. Sally Bucko July 21, 2019 at 8:46 pm #

    Excellent photos and blog, Ivy. We visited this same village a year ago and I recognize several of the people, but learned new information from your blog. Thanks for posting!

  11. Ginger Calvert July 21, 2019 at 9:32 pm #

    Wow, Ivy. You bring the Ju/’Hoansi culture alive with your blog and photos. The pictures are incredible as always. Thanks for the education and the beauty of your photography. xo

  12. Kathie Maxfield July 22, 2019 at 9:53 pm #

    What stunning photographs, Ivy! It’s a thrill to ‘travel’ with you. I wonder if you will send copies of these to them. Their reactions would be interesting. Thank you for sharing with me and Bob – who said Wow and Oh Wow and What a photographer.

  13. Bob Recchia July 22, 2019 at 10:53 pm #

    Thank you, Ivy. Your photos are so respectful and capture the beauty that lies within your subjects. I am moved to view them.

  14. Sandra Long July 23, 2019 at 12:40 am #

    A beautiful and poignant documentary set of images with just enough text to create a backdrop for why we need to continue efforts to protect the rights of such indigenous groups (world over) to further their living culture on “their” lands. Thanks, Ivory!

  15. Rita Florea July 25, 2019 at 9:39 pm #

    Another fabulous example of your photographic skills and your empathy towards the life of these fascinating tribes. Well done, my friend!

  16. Nina Atwood July 26, 2019 at 5:54 pm #

    Ivy: your photography continues to grow in depth, in your ability to capture the essence of the people with whom you interact. I was left wondering about your artistry, about how you are able to touch your audience by touching the lives of others. I am amazed! I agree with Karen – it’s time for a photo essay book. I know I would buy it in a heartbeat.

  17. Lewis W Lively August 5, 2019 at 7:41 pm #

    Oh Ivy, what a wondrous story of what an incredible people. And yes, I do have very fond memories of The Gods Must Be Crazy. What a delight it was, so thank you for reminding me about it, for I would love to see it again. Obviously you keep “moving”, as do we, for as long as we are able. . . . . Thank you also for including me in your continued amazing journeys.

  18. Imme Dyson August 6, 2019 at 8:19 pm #

    Oh my goodness, what a lovely collection of photos and report. Thank you for posting. I do remember the film, in fact I have a copy on my shelf, love it!

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