Ons is Boesmans: commentary on the naming of Bushmen in the southern Kalahari

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 17
  • Abstract:

    This paper examines academic debates about the nomenclature of the San in light of recent ethnographic data. Academic debates centre around two aspects: the apparent complicity of the term “bushman” in construing the San as lower on the hierarchy of race and class; and the construction of the San as being in close contact with animals and nature. Academics have sought to resolve this dilemma of complicity by adopting self-referential terms, which would allow them to overcome the effacement of cultural and linguistic variation. Critically, the paper argues that this turn to self-referential terms is problematic in the case of the ≠Khomani San of the southern Kalahari because the San themselves claim “bushman” as their identity. The analysis suggests that the ≠Khomani San claim this name for themselves in a context of developmental needs. Thus, ≠Khomani San chose the name “Bushman” for themselves because it can be commoditised.