San Crafts

The San (Basarwa) People of Botswana

The San, (known as the Basarwa in Botswana), still live in the harsh environment of the Kalahari Desert and western Ngamiland in Botswana.

Although very few still rely completely on hunting and gathering to survive, most continue to engage in these activities part-time.

Their craft skills, passed down through generations, are an integral part of their traditional practices of hunting and gathering, dancing for healing and entertainment, and personal adornment of the body.

While the San continue to use their craft products in daily life, increased production and sale of these items also provides them with a crucial source of cash income. 

Leather Products

Leather products, such as carrying bags, dancing skirts, loin aprons, and hunting sets, are created through the joint efforts of males and females.

Men do the hunting, tanning, and sewing, while women are responsible for decorating the items with beadwork.

Beaded bags are used for carrying basic necessities like food and tobacco or when collecting roots, nuts, and melons.

Leather skirts and aprons, usually made with springbok, duiker, or steenbok skins, are the customary dress of the Bushmen. 

Hunting Equiptment

Three different types of hunting equipment are made and used by the San.

The bow and arrow set usually consists of a bow and a quiver which contains arrows and a fire-making stick. The full hunting set also has these items, plus a skin bag which holds the quiver and a spear.

A miniature version of the hunting set. the love bow, is shot by a man at the woman he loves. When she picks up the arrow, she is indicating that she also wants to develop a relationship. 

Eggshell Jewellry

Beads play an important part in the San material culture. They adorn their leather products with beads either of colourful glass or ones crafted from hatched ostrich eggshells. They create exquisite necklaces, bracelets, and headbands.

Tortoise shell powder puffs, used for storing aromatic herbs, are decorated with beads.

Beads are knotted with hair from the wildebeest tail to make bracelets.

The making of beads from ostrich eggshells takes infinite care and skill. Hatched shells are broken into small pieces with fingers, stones or sometimes the teeth. In each piece, a small hole is drilled by turning an awl between the palms of the hands.

The beads are strung onto twisted sinew, then each is chipped into a round shape with the horn of a springbok and finally made smooth by rubbing the strand through a special grooved stone. 

Music

Dancing and music has allways been a vital part of the San culture. They have a wide variety of musical instrumnts, including the thumb piano, music bow and segaba, all made from materials found in their natural environment.

The thumb piano (pictured left) is made with a wooden base fitted with beaten metal keys, each tuned differently.

The music bow, also known as the mouth violin, is played by placing one end between the teeth. Beating the string with a piece of grass produces low, soft sounds resonating from the mouth.

The segaba is a single stringed intrument played by striking with a bow of Wildebeest hair. The base is formed by a wooden stick attached to an empty can.

A range of San songs have ben recorded and are available from our retail shop.

Learn about the production of Botswana baskets

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Learn about the amazing ladies who weave Botswana baskets

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