Sonqua, Bosjemans, Bushmen, abaThwa: Comments and Queries on Pre-Modern Identifications

Over the past twenty-five years, the notion of ‘the Bushmen’, or ‘the San’, as a clearly identifiable people with their own specific culture, language and physical characteristics has become increasingly suspect among academics. Less salient has been the realization that this notion took firm root in European thinking only in the late 19th century, and that before this time the word ‘Bushmen’ and its cognates had meanings which were altogether less clearly defined. The present article examines these earlier ideas, which belong to what the author calls the ‘premodern’ phase of imagining Bushmen, as distinct from the ‘modern’ phase, which started in the late 19th century, and the post-1960s ‘postmodern’ phase. A related concern of the author is to argue the possibility that the Khoe term ‘Sonqua’ and the Nguni term ‘abaThwa’, both of which have frequently been, and continue to be, glossed as equivalent to ‘Bushmen’, also had more diffuse meanings before the late 19th century. Notes, ref.

Title: Sonqua, Bosjemans, Bushmen, abaThwa: Comments and Queries on Pre-Modern Identifications
Author: Wright, John
Year: 1996
Periodical: South African Historical Journal
Issue: 35
Period: May
Pages: 16-29
Language: English
Geographic term: Southern Africa
External link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/02582479608671245
Abstract: Over the past twenty-five years, the notion of ‘the Bushmen’, or ‘the San’, as a clearly identifiable people with their own specific culture, language and physical characteristics has become increasingly suspect among academics. Less salient has been the realization that this notion took firm root in European thinking only in the late 19th century, and that before this time the word ‘Bushmen’ and its cognates had meanings which were altogether less clearly defined. The present article examines these earlier ideas, which belong to what the author calls the ‘premodern’ phase of imagining Bushmen, as distinct from the ‘modern’ phase, which started in the late 19th century, and the post-1960s ‘postmodern’ phase. A related concern of the author is to argue the possibility that the Khoe term ‘Sonqua’ and the Nguni term ‘abaThwa’, both of which have frequently been, and continue to be, glossed as equivalent to ‘Bushmen’, also had more diffuse meanings before the late 19th century. Notes, ref.