San Master Trackers – Ancient Culture That Lives On

On a landscape as raw and ancient as the rugged terrain of Magic Hills Private Game Reserve, one can almost see how it must have looked far before European settlers arrived. The settlers brought farming and ecological disruption to the natural wildness of the region, and the animals were not the only ones displaced. The native San trackers of the Karoo would have been affected too.

It’s estimated that the San and Khoen-Khoen tribes roamed the Cape for many millennia before western civilization arrived. This can be attested to by the numerous rock art sites recently uncovered in hidden locations around the Magic Hills Private Game Reserve. These are estimated to be around 2000 years old.

The Ju/’hoansi, the San and Khoen-Khoen tribes

According to South African wilderness trail guide and expert, Clive Thompson, the rock art of Magic Hills is the product of the Khoen-Khoen, who were of the same extended kin and heritage as the Ju/’hoansi.

The Khoen-Khoen people were what colonialist would have named Hottentots – a derogatory and demeaning term. They were, by and large, nomadic pastoralists, and some tribes still exist today. Closely related, the San (also called Khoisan) were the original hunter-gatherers of southern Africa. Admiring their resilience, Thompson states, “The San have history. Serious history. Today’s representatives are arguably the direct descendants of the world’s oldest continuous human culture – unsurprisingly, a hunter-gatherer culture.”

The skilful San trackers of the Karoo and Cape carry with them genetics that have stood the test of time, their direct forebears having been in southern Africa for well over 100 000 years, well before the first archaeological evidence of modern behaviour in humans.

The Ju/’hoansi (Juun-kwasi), also related to the San and Khoen-Khoen, still live in Nyae-Nyae in north-east Namibia. Pockets of communities in the countryside still follow much of the “Old Way”, survival traditions of hunting and gathering. However, with the land being as depleted as it is, they cannot be self-sufficient on that alone and turn to modern civilization to supplement their lifestyles.

Quick facts about the Ju/’hoansi:

  • They speak their own language, as well as some English and Afrikaans)
  • They still have access to some of their original country
  • Their lands remain mostly wild, with free-roaming game
  • Their rural communities still practice subsistence hunting with bow and poisoned arrow
  • Some of the young Ju/’hoansi still hunt by persistence running, a test of endurance and speed.
  • They gather food from the veld and still practise traditional healing dances.

Experience the Real San Master Trackers at Magic Hills

Pioneering the conservation of the Ju/’hoansi culture, only three Ju/’hoansi Master Trackers have been recognized. To help keep these ancient traditions alive, Thompson spends his spare time assisting the last of the Ju/’hoansi Master Trackers showcase their skills in some of the greater game parks of South Africa, including the Kruger National Park. By connecting the San trackers with reserves, both the conservationist and eco-tourist are offered:

  • Tracking demonstration, unlike anything seen bere
  • Animal behaviour interpretations, like no others
  • Veld plant lessons
  • Bush navigation skills
  • Hunting simulations
  • Bow and arrow demonstrations
  • Stick fire-lighting demonstrations
  • Hunting stories and San cultural stories
  • Rock art interpretation

In support of this initiative, Magic Hills Private Private Collection has invited Thompson to travel to the reserve with the Ju/’hoansi Master Trackers to showcase their skills and to provide incomparable insight into the ancient rock art sites. This will occur when travel returns to normal, post-COVID, and the Magic Hills team is bursting with anticipation to see these masters at work.

If you would like to find out more about how you can see the San Master trackers in action yourself, get in touch with us directly to arrange the rendezvous.

About Clive Thompson Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Clive Thompson is lawyer and mediator by profession, now practicing in Sydney Australia. He is also an accredited South African wilderness trail guide. Thompson takes a personal interest in the art of tracking, saying, “I’m keen to help the oldest extant bearers of that art, the San (Bushmen) of Southern Africa, enjoy some recognition and reward.”

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