The social, political and economic organization of the San

The social, political and economic organization of the San

Social organization.

  • The family was very important in society because it formed the basic social unit.
  • The San lived in small communities consisting of 50- 70 people.

  • The san led a nomadic life i.e. they moved from place to place in search of wild game and fruits
  • The girls of around 8 years could be married to the boys of about 13 and 14 years.
  • They slept in caves and temporary shelters .Their caves were beautifully covered by the paintings of animals on the walls.
  • The boys underwent initiation where their hunting skills were tested. Use of traditional medicine and dances were also tested.
  • After marriage ceremony, the husband joined the family of the bride/girl in order to hunt for them till the birth of the first child.
  • Polygamy was common among the san but produced few children due to their nomadic way of life.
  • They used traditional healing medicine. In fact the parents passed the knowledge of traditional medicine to the young ones

  • The San believed in God called Kaggen. Kaggen was also known as Thora or Hish. Kaggen was regarded as the creator and therefore prayers were made to him for blessings.
  • The preying- mantis was highly respected among the San for it represented fortune and good luck.
  • The San were great artists .For example they decorated walls of their caves with pictures of animals and daily experience.
  • The san lived by dancing .They dance at new and full moon .At the dace, hunters prayed for good fortune in hunting.
  • The most important social ceremony among the san was the sacrifice to the rain because they lived in drier areas.
  • They celebrated important days in life such as at birth puberty, marriage, and death. On such days, animals were slaughtered/killed.

Economic organization

  • The San were great hunters. They lived by hunting wild animals.In fact they kept no animals except their hunting dogs.
  • The hunters used bows and poisoned arrows for small animals and large animals were caught by digging pits. They also domesticated / kept dogs to help them in hunting.
  • Food gathering was also common among the San to supplement wild game. Women gathered fruits, honey, locusts and roots to enrich their diet.
  • Fish was caught in rivers like Kei,Tsomo, Umzimuhuru and Tugela to supplement on their diet.
  • The San also raided their neighbours like the Khoikhoi for cattle at times.

  • Trade was also carried out among the San as they mainly exchanged goods for other goods.
  • The wealth of the San consisted of the hunting dogs, hunting grounds and temporary shelters.
  • Land among the San was communally owns as no could individually own land.

Political organization.

  • They had no centralized system of government instead; the administrative work was done by the head man in each settlement.
  • The head man was assisted by the council of elders.
  • The work of the headman was to put in practice what was decided by the council of elders.
  • Council meeting were held on regular basis and were open to all adult males in society.

  • The youth were responsible for the security of their society and in times of food shortages, they raided their neighbours.
  • The San were friendly to the outsiders unless attacked or their hunting grounds interfered with.


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