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San Elders Speak

Author(s): Francesco d’Errico, Lucinda Backwell

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San material culture has been a subject of study for many researchers and archaeologists but rarely has the documented material been seen through the eyes of the people themselves. San Elders Speak: Ancestral Knowledge of the Kalahari San is the first attempt to document indigenous knowledge through the voices of four San elders from the Kalahari. Over a period of seven days, the authors presented the four San elders, leaders in their community and custodians of ancient knowledge, with of the largest collection of KhoiSan ethnographica collected by Dr Louis Fourie at the beginning of the 19th century.

The San elders rediscovered objects last seen in their childhood and shared stories inspired by their handling of the objects. They provide the correct traditional names and explain how items were made, from what material, who used them, why and when. In a number of instances the elders changed the identification given by Louis Fourie. The knowledge they shared over those several days at Museum Africa in Johannesburg provide an enriching account that links the past and present in San life in illuminating ways. The text is accompanied by a rich visual record of the artefacts and how the San elders portray their use.

Aimed at scholars and students of archaeology, human evolution, anthropology, material culture studies, conservation, museology, and African studies, San Elders Speak is a captivating record into all aspects of this ancient and vanishing world of indigenous knowledge, and represents a unique heritage for the people of descendant San communities.