The ‘Dream Museum’ at !Khwa ttu, the world’s first heritage centre of the San
people, will be composed of five distinct areas, each exploring an aspect of
the life, culture and history of the San. In preparation for our opening in
September the team at !Khwa ttu has become adept at keeping lots of balls in
the air, and in the last fortnight we have put into motion several small projects
which will greatly enhance the experience of our guests.
The first port of call for visitors to the museum will be the Orientation
Room. Here visitors will be introduced to the San and to our values at !Khwa
ttu. This week we have been talking to the filmmaker about the work we are
commissioning for this room. Together we are drafting the script and
developing ideas for the introductory film. Running for about 12 minutes, the
film will engage visitors in the story of the San and whet their appetite for what
is to come.
The start of our museum tour is our Origins building, which divides into
a San origins section and an archaeology section. For the entrance to our San
origins section we have commissioned a large artwork from our old friends at
KuruART (kuruart.com), a San community art project, in Botswana. At
KuruART a number of different Naro Bushman artists will collaborate to
produce a beautiful, large canvas on the theme of creation / origins. For the
San people origins is a strong element in their oral tradition, although they
don’t tend to think of a single creation moment as there is in Genesis.
Instead, there was a time when people were animals and animals were people.
Sometimes this is called the ‘primal time’ or the ‘first order’. Different
San groups have their own versions of the story, but in most, something
happened which caused the animals to be given their own specific
characteristics. At the same time, people lost the ability to talk to animals and
were given the power of fire, which distinguished them from the animals. This
was the great separation, and the move from the primary to the secondary
order of creation. All San groups have some versions of these tales and the
canvas, 1.8m x 2m, will be a visual representation of one of the stories.
At the planning stage, the San consultants were keen that their story should
be told chronologically, so it follows that the second room on the tour is the
Archaeology Room. This week we have been in contact with archeologists
to pin down exactly what artifacts we can display or replicate. The objects we
have selected will give evidence of the earliest signs of symbolic thinking.
Lumps of ochre, 77,000 years old, decorated with crosshatching and pieces of
ostrich shell marked with scratched lines are amongst the first examples of
human mark making. They pose questions, ‘Why do humans start marking
things and what do these marks represent? We have also selected stone
tools made with the controlled use of fire. Examples of bone tools, bladelets
used for arrowheads and arrow shafts will also help us to trace back the
earliest signs of San culture into the wider hunter gatherer culture from which
we all came.
For the Colonial Room, the third room on the tour, we have been selecting
photographs and drafting the text that will link in this difficult element of the
San story. When the Europeans arrived in Southern Africa, they had a
different way of thinking about land. In an age of Enlightenment, rationalism,
and imperialism, control and ownership were central to that thinking. As the
19 th C progressed and interest in anthropology, eugenics, and evolution grew,
Southern Africa, and the San in particular, became a real focus. In a Post-
Linnaeus age of taxonomy and categorization, the San were seen as possibly
the most ‘primitive people’ on the planet and thus they became a watchword
for primitivism. An era of dehumanization commenced. The San people were
weighed and measured, skulls and bodies collected. They were at the heart of
a movement that fed directly into the Nazis interest in eugenics. We are trying
to tell that story in a sensitive manner. Exhibition designer, Joss Thorne, is
working on the design of the whole museum and is acutely aware that, with
this room in particular, the material must be handled with sensitivity and
Finally, on a brighter note, we have heard back from our San consultants
about sites for filming the footage for The Way of The San. It looks like we are
heading up to Tsumkwe in Namibia very soon.