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The Native Perspective, Episode 1: The San People

The Native Perspective is a Food Circle project that discusses taking urgent climate change action in order to protect indigenous peoples who depend on their natural environments for survival, food, shelter, and to maintain their cultural identity. Because climate change affects those who rely on nature the most, it is crucial to support indigenous communities worldwide which in turn ensures the preservation of ecosystems, as indigenous peoples have developed a balanced rapport with their natural surroundings and there is much knowledge to be gained from their lifestyles for more sustainable living. The dialogue also draws talking points from ecocriticism; it examines people’s attitudes towards nature, and indigenous studies; centering and elevating the voices of different indigenous cultures and promoting their experiences. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Who Are the San People?

The San people of the Kalahari Desert, who are also known by other names such as the Bushmen people or Khoisan, are the indigenous people who occupy the southern African countries of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Eswatini, and Lesotho. Within one another they are known by their distinct ethnic groups, including Ju/’hoansi, Khwe, Naro, G/ui, G//ana, and Tshwa. They are a diverse group of people, averaging 50 different groups in the region. Their culture and way of life have survived over 20,000 years, maintaining their language of clicks and “hunter-gatherer” status. The San people are considered a protected indigenous group in Namibia, where certain government divisions and NGOs are placed to assist them with access to water, schools for their children, and provide them with an income grant. Examples of NGOs in Namibia are the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNFDN) and the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), who help the San and marginalized groups. In Botswana, the government has initiated the Remote Area Development Program (RADP) to assist those living in rural regions of the country and focus on communities with less than 500 people. [1]

Hunting is the main source of nutrition for the San people. It is performed by the men and the catch is shared throughout the community. They are skilled hunters, with intelligent techniques to either trap or pursue a prey. Their hunting method is calculated; the target, depending on its size, can be tracked for hours or days. Their arrows are smeared with a special poison extracted from a caterpillar, which is reduced through boiling. The women partake in the gathering of vegetation, which includes mushrooms, berries, and melons. The food gathered is usually eaten by the gatherer’s family members. [2]

Changes in Their Environment

Just like many indigenous groups, the San people and their lifestyle are threatened by different aspects. Globalization, while generally regarded as beneficial due to its positive impact on world economies and overall tolerance and understanding, is a factor that is alienating the San and pushing them further into marginalization. With increased globalization, the world around the San is changing greatly, as the communities that surround them gain improved technologies, transportation, communication, and general standard of living. These transformations give rise to cash-based economies and careless tourism, which diminishes the call for community sharing, thus reinforcing their dispossession and displacement. [1]

Climate change is yet another poignant factor. Because the world is advancing at a dramatic, indeed unnatural, speed causing impactful developments in the global climate, the San people’s way of life is struggling to keep up. Climate change, as the name suggests, causes weather extremes and this debilitates natural environments worldwide. As a result, the San people have been forced to depend on government assistance for their mere survival and continuity, because “rising temperatures, dune expansion and increased wind speeds … resulted in a loss of vegetation, and negatively impacted traditional cattle and goat farming practices.” [3] Such a dependence jeopardizes their traditions and could lead to the erasure of their cultural identity.

What Is Being Done?

Representatives from these communities have spoken in regional as well as international meetings about the challenges that their people face. In Namibia in December of 2018, for example, representatives appeared at the Sub-Regional Workshop on Inclusive Development for San People, funded by the United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development, where the “San have called for recognition of their land and resource rights and the right to have their own traditional authorities and representatives in district councils and the national parliament.” [1] Additionally, the N/a’an ku sê Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary is a conservation center that promotes responsible, eco-tourism. It is a non-profit which helps educate its visitors on the local wildlife, including rehabilitating carnivorous animals. The lodge is placed to exclusively sponsor the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, supporting schools, clinics, and the indigenous communities. [4]

To reach our sustainability goals, it is important to look at and gain lessons from people who are disturbing nature the least and whose lifestyle have lasted millennia. While fully transforming the way of life that the majority of us have gotten used to is impractical and, quite honestly, impossible, the fact remains that our day-to-day practices cannot be sustained for much longer. The San people offer the world valuable knowledge and exposition on how to harmonize with nature, and this is information that could help educate and inspire us to live with greatly reduced harm and preserve the world for future generations.

Author: Rima Qayed


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  1. The Plight of the Kalahari San: Hunter-Gatherers in a Globalized World | Journal of Anthropological Research: Vol 76, No 2 (

  2. San - Bushmen - Kalahari, South Africa... (

  3. Climate Change | United Nations For Indigenous Peoples

  4. San vs wild: what the San people can teach us about living with climate change (