Geography as Destiny
The Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers region includes much of southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana and South Africa) and the heart of Central Africa (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Congo-Kinshasa). Individuals with this genetic ethnicity may also be found in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya.
There are two geographic features important to understanding the peoples native to this region. First is the Kalahari Desert, the second-largest desert in the world, which spans a large part of five countries. Despite having no water source beyond seasonal rainfall, the Kalahari is home to a rich variety of plants and animals that have made life possible for the Khoe-San peoples spread across it. The second important feature is the Congo River Basin; the river drainage and massive rainforests provide a home to the Baka and Mbuti and other Pygmy groups.
Life in the Kalahari Desert and Congo forests was fraught with risks and dangers that could only be overcome by cooperation. Harmony in the group was the highest cultural goal for people native to these regions.
The southern portion of this region has been home to the nomadic Khoe-San peoples for thousands of years. The pastoral Khoe, or Khoi (“the people”), rely on herds of livestock for sustenance. The San people, often referred to as “Bushmen,” are hunter-gatherers who forage for plants, insects, roots, game and water. Both groups comprise many smaller groups and clans. Though distinct culturally and linguistically, the Khoe and San have a common genetic origin. The fact that the Khoe-San have among the highest levels of genetic diversity in the world has led researchers to believe that the Khoe-San are one of the world’s most ancient human populations.
Though the Khoe tend to have hierarchical cultures based on livestock wealth, the San have no hierarchy, share all things and make all decisions by consensus, even if reaching agreement takes a long time. Both cultures are oral in nature—they have no written language—but have distinctive art forms and language. The Khoisan languages are known for their distinctive clicks; however, their languages are unrelated to nearby Bantu languages such as Zulu and Xhosa, which have adopted some Khoisan click consonants.
Because the Khoe-San groups have no written language, their history is based on archaeological findings, oral tradition and DNA studies. The great Bantu migrations from eastern Africa brought successful ironworking, animal husbandry and farming to southern Africa, creating fast-growing populations that displaced the Khoe-San peoples. From the 16th through the 18th centuries, Bantu groups pushed the Khoe-San farther south and west toward modern-day Botswana and South Africa, while Dutch and French settlers of the Cape region pressured Khoe groups to move farther north. Although they had been spread thinly across southern Africa for thousands of years, the Khoe-San population ultimately concentrated in the arid Kalahari and areas they occupy today.