On the outskirts of Upington, in South Africa’s Northern Cape, there lives a queen. The queen is aged and when she dies it could not simply be she who’s gone, however a whole realm. Katrina Esau is 88. Her group topped her Queen of the Western Nǁnǂe (ǂKhomani) San in 2015. A yr earlier, then-president Jacob Zuma offered her with the Nationwide Order of the Baobab in Silver.
For the earlier eight many years, Esau had gone largely unnoticed. Her folks, the San – of whom the Western are one group of many – are good at that. Their survival relied on it: first for the numerous centuries that that they had South Africa to themselves, dwelling deftly on the land as hunter gatherers. After which, with the arrival of different teams, to evade the scrutiny of those that meant them hurt.
Esau was born on the farm the place her dad and mom labored. The farm’s Afrikaner proprietor obnoxiously renamed the younger queen “Geelmeid”. “Meid” means “maidservant” whereas “geel” (yellow) is a crass reference to pores and skin tone. As we speak, some nonetheless know her – lovingly – as Ouma (Grandma) Geelmeid. However typically it is Queen Katrina. The farm proprietor additionally forbade Esau from talking her mom tongue, N|uu; a language with roots to humanity’s very origins. As a substitute, the newly minted Afrikaans language (a mere 300 or so years outdated) can be Esau’s camouflage for nearly her whole life.
We do not know when the N|uu language developed – it’s too historical to age exactly – however actually its roots couldn’t be deeper. But if it turns into one of many 600 to 800 languages more likely to disappear within the close to future, it is not simply its antiquity that we should always mourn. N|uu’s richness and wonder are additionally astonishing: English has 44 distinct speech sounds (phonemes), as an illustration, whereas N|uu has 114.
Then there are its clicks. The bar in “N|uu” represents a click on consonant – particularly a dental click on, articulated with the tongue tip sucking shortly away from the higher tooth. A century in the past, not less than 100 indigenous click on languages had been probably spoken within the southern and jap areas of Africa. To these unfamiliar with clicks, it will possibly appear as if a click-language speaker’s mouth has morphed right into a percussion instrument. Think about that N|uu makes significant distinction between an unbelievable 45 clicks; to listen to the language spoken fluently is to expertise a linguistic fireworks show.
The star of the N|uu click on repertoire is the phenomenally uncommon bilabial “kiss click on“, which sounds uncannily like an air smooch and options in simply two of the world’s 7,000 or so different languages. (One in every of them is Taa, which has 111 click on phonemes.) As Esau’s years have superior, her urgency to sow new seeds of N|uu has elevated. Within the early 2000s, she began instructing the language to her group from a schoolroom in-built her entrance yard in Rosedale, a township close to Upington, utilizing track, dance and play. Her pupils, who vary in age from three to 19, are the one college students of N|uu on the earth.
Lately, others have bolstered Esau’s efforts. A staff of linguists has helped create an orthography and academic supplies for N|uu, that means that her granddaughter Claudia Snyman can train the written language (Esau cannot learn). Tortoise and Ostrich, a kids‘s storybook in N|uu, Afrikaans and English was revealed in Could. However the fantastic thing about N|uu shouldn’t be used to color an unduly romantic image of Esau’s folks – the San. Michael Daiber is supervisor of the !Khwa ttu heritage centre, an hour’s drive north of Cape City, which calls itself the “embassy” of the San. He says the centre, which additionally provides lodging, is an antidote to the “sunsets and silhouettes and smiling folks” picture of the San.
“Institutions used to advertise that bare hunter-gatherer Bushman picture,” Daiber defined. “All that ‘the final surviving’, ‘distinctive encounter’, ‘come and see it whereas it is nonetheless right here‘ language. The leaders who based !Khwa ttu again in 1996 had been saying, ‘This isn’t our story. Our land has been taken away from us. We’ve had a very powerful historical past.'”
“The place San dwell, it appears to be like like unoccupied land,” added Joram /Uiseb, a San of the Namibian Hai||om group, who’s heritage co-ordinator at !Khwa ttu. “Land is life. Solely take from nature what you really want.” For the San, land was about stewardship not possession, and South Africa was simply wrested from them. “Within the 1980s, I used to be instructed there have been no Bushmen left,” Daiber stated . “And right here 40 years later I’ve had a profession working solely with San folks. How do you measure it and who decides?”
The “it” he is referring to is San id. Even “San” itself is an exonym for South Africa’s unique inhabitants. It was launched by the Khoikhoi, a individuals who arrived from modern-day Botswana. The time period “Bushman”, in the meantime, is a translation of “Boesman”, which is what the Dutch – who settled the area from the mid-17th Century – referred to as the hunter gatherers. However whereas the San’s languages and way of life have been principally erased, the folks dwell on.
There are between 120,000 and 140,000 San dwelling right now in southern Africa: round 60,000 in Botswana, 40,000 in Namibia and the remaining in South Africa, with a small quantity in Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. !Khwa ttu represents the San as they’re now: survivors with no land of their very own on which to observe their traditions. Sheena Shah, who labored alongside fellow linguist Matthias Brenzinger to determine a N|uu orthography with Esau, believes the centre has a particular vitality because of its position as a spot of studying as a lot for the San as for guests.
“San study pc literacy and finance administration right here. However in addition they get coaching in use conventional data like ethnobotany for ecotourism. They then observe their expertise with guests,” Shah stated. “We beloved our tour via the fynbos, with a San information who confirmed us the vegetation he makes use of in conventional drugs or as meals.” “Guests to !Khwa ttu meet San in any respect ranges: tour guides, waitresses, shopkeepers,” added Daiber. “It is stunning to listen to the tales from the San themselves.”