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Extract from 'The San Voices In Zimbabwe'

30 Nov 2016 at 07:10hrs | Views
Her name was Motshwa Moyo and she was the driving force in San culture and language reclamation, reinvigoration and revitalization. Motshwa Moyo is now late — she died in 2013. Her death was so sudden and it left the entire San communities devastated. Motshwa was born at a time when her people were practicing hunting and gathering life styles and she grew up in a perfect world where the San had plenty of food and water and in a friendly environment.

After getting married to Dolo Tshuma, from the Mtshuria family, Motshwa lost her sight and this completely changed her world. From here on, she could only see the changing world through the sight of other people.

Her blindness made her a good listener and this prompted her inquisitiveness. As she grew older, her knowledge of the San history grew and she became one of the most trusted elder where San history was concerned. Her command of the Tjwao language was phenomenal and she could proudly speak her language in traditional gatherings of any sort, whereas most of the San could not.

Motshwa was a lovable person and many times she spent her days surrounded by her grand and great grandchildren, teaching them the San cultural way of life and most notable the Tjwao language.

It was during these episodes that one of her great grandson, Jonathan Moyo, became so interested in the Tjwao language that he started learning the language her.

It was Motshwa's love of telling San stories that got my attention. At first it was just casual, but when she saw that I was also interested in telling the San stories to the outside world, we became instant friends. As we worked, she was not intimidated by my video recorder or camera, and unlike other members of her community; she did not demand any payment for her services.

The San family organization: "Mr. Ndlovu, life was not like this in the past. San families, where usually very small in size (parents and two to three children) and we used to live in groups of 25-50 people that were linked through kinship, marriage, and friendship. These groups, or bands, were linked into larger groups that saw themselves as having the same traditions, culture, history, and associations with land and with each other" she said to me one morning.

"Unlike the San you see today, I was born at a time when the family played a pivotal role in bringing up children. Traditional education always emphasized the need to respect nature and the family. Some people say that our way of life was primitive, but to us it was very satisfying and we lacked nothing" she said this with pride.

Motshwa attested to the fact that all San territories had the following features: First, they contained all the resources necessary to sustain a group including water, wild plants and animals, shade, materials for home construction, medicines, and body decoration. These territories were known both to the residents and to other groups. In general, the boundaries of the territories were not marked, but there were sometimes cut marks on trees indicating territorial edges. Groups from other bands had to ask for permission from a band leader controlling the area in order to collect food there, if they were not a member of the group. The territories often included places where specific historical or cultural events took place which some members of the group were aware of.

"As the San lived in groups, a territory was an area over which local people had all they needed to survive. It was usually a named area of land that contains natural resources upon which people depend, including water, wild food and medicinal plants, trees for shade, fire wood, and construction, and materials such as stone used in the manufacturing of tools and other goods. In general, the size of the territory was based on the types and amounts of resources it contained, which theoretically at least should be sufficient to meet the needs of a group in an average year. Boundary-marking of territories was unusual, but some if not all people in a band or group knew roughly where the boundaries were" she added.

"My greatest fear or concern is that all the San today lead diversified livelihoods and that they now live in permanent villages, some with crops and domestic animals that they raise themselves, earning part of their incomes through informal employment. However due to numerous issues related to marginalisation, access to services and changes in land and livelihood patterns, we are still poor and usually we subject ourselves to live as landless labourers under the Ndebele and Kalanga influence. To me, it is no wonder that most San households across the region are poor, and receive food and other support from the governments and non-government organisations" she said.

Motshwa was worried that many aspects of traditional hunting and gathering knowledge were in the process of, or have already been lost and that the common usage of bush foods, medicines, and other natural resources in many San communities had come to an end. Hunting and collection of animal meat, fats or hides is now considered a criminal offence.

Other traditional practices, including healing ceremonies and ibʰoro dances and medicinal use of plants has suffered due to encroaching western cultures that view these cultural practices as primitive. One other challenge for Motshwa was that most San children today were attending school, and learning the dominant languages of the area at the expense of their mother tongue language.

This book is my answer to Motshwa's concerns. I have tried to follow her path as a storyteller in a new chapter for the San. Motshwa had only a small audience for her stories, but now there is a larger audience with greater interest in the San culture, both inside and outside of the community. We now have a new age of hope.

But, before I tell you about my journey into the world of the San, let me give you a brief history of these wondrous people and say a little about where they live.

Who are the San or San people in Zimbabwe?

The San people formally known as Bushmen and various other names including, AbaThwa, aMasili, abaKhwa, are believed to have been the first people to settle to what is known as Zimbabwe today. Most of their drawings depicting their way of life of hunting and gathering can be seen on rocks or caves around the country and most notable the Matopo Hills in Matabeleland South.

The arrival of the powerful, armed and militant tribes like the Ndebele and Shona between the 13th and 18th centuries pushed the San people to the drier parts of Matabeleland and subsequently changed their ways of life in the process.

The expansion of the Ndebele Kingdom to those drier and semi-arid parts of the country after the fall of the Ndebele Kingdom in 1894-6 reduced the freedom of movement and influence of the San. The San had nowhere to go and had to submit themselves to be slowly but surely assimilated to the Ndebele/Kalanga pattern of life.

The assimilation of the San has seen a drastic change in their social way of life. This has meant that they have lost most of their values and identity, most notable their language. The San/Tjwa/Tshwa are viewed as troublesome people and are perceived to be primitive, unsophisticated and are resisting change.

The arrival of the white missionaries in 1890, with their mining and hunting expeditions, further accelerated the demise of the San/Tjwa/Tshwa way of life. The establishment of Parks, the likes of Wankie Game Reserve now Hwange National Park in 1928 further reduced hunting and gathering space for the San and pushed them to the outer edges of the country, where they now live as landless, impoverished citizens.

Source - Davy Ndlovu Motshwa, the San Storyteller
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