In December 2017, with the support of the Kalahari Peoples Fund, we initiated the recording of unique and endangered traditional knowledge at one community locality. Thanks to the support of Steve Stockhall and Robyn Currell of Earth Ark Photo Safaris, who kindly donated towards this cause in December 2018, our work on this has resumed and we are in the process of finalizing the first phase of the interview transcripts from 2017. A second phase is being planned for February, which will follow up on some fascinating cultural knowledge aspects. Amongst the aspects we are assessing and documenting include:
Traditional territories, place names and their meanings; historical movement patterns; personal histories and life experiences; use of medicial plants not yet documented (e.g. cures for snakebite, arrow poison antidotes); other unique skills and phenomena etc.
As follows is an intriguing sample extract from one of the elders interviewed, concerning a first hand encounter with a group of San who reportedly had the ability to change their form into lions at will and reportedly also used it as a hunting method:
"He said to the people who changed themselves into lions: "I know you really are people! Why did you change yourselves into lions?" And then they began to close their eyes and change back into human beings. They then came closer to the fireplace and they asked for tobacco."
There are in fact several elders who have personal knowledge of the shapeshifting phenomenon, regard it as historically integral to their culture, and claim to have personally witnessed its manifestation on numerous occasions including in relatively recent times. This is an example of one of the more mysterious aspects we aim to document in more detail, as agreed and supported by the elders concerned.
The San represent humankinds oldest and purest genetic lineage (it is at least 150,000 years old), and the skills and knowledge still posessed by the few surviving elders today are truly ancient and have been passed down largely unchanged over many thousands of years. It has now literally become a race against time to document these unique knowledge systems before the opportunity to do so disappears forever, which tragically will be in only a few years from now.
Urgent funding support is needed to expand our knowledge recording efforts to include as many elders as possible, within the over 30 dialect groups comprising the San in Botswana, as well as other groups with unique traditional knowledge (e.g. Bakgalagadi). Our aim is to record unique and endangered traditional knowledge, at the request of those Communities that have expressed concerned about loss of knowledge and lack of inter-generational transfer. Of paramount importance is to uphold their exclusive intellectual property rights, safeguard sensitive information and disemminate information only in close consultation with the communities concerned and the elders in particular. We will also focus on getting the recorded materials back into the Communities to foster custodianship and transfer to the younger generations.