Traces and tracks - A thirty year journey with the San (Hardcover)
Traces and Tracks is the culmination of a thirty-year journey that photographer Paul Weinberg has undertaken with the San of southern Africa, with his first visit to these communities being in 1984. He had previously studied the San at university and was aware of their special relationship with nature, survival skills and their hunter-gatherer existence. Celebrated filmmaker, John Marshall, was Weinberg’s first guide to the San, but nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to see. Many of the San men in Eastern Bushmanland, like in other parts of Namibia and even Angola, had been recruited into the South African army to fight against SWAPO, who at the time were engaged with others in a struggle for independence and liberation. In this first encounter, he witnessed signs of a society under severe pressure, grappling to hold on to their land, way of life, culture and values. The conversion of a people’s way of life that was dependent on the land into cash wages from the South African army presented sad and traumatic scenes. People would in a day or two after being paid blow up their wages on alcohol and often inappropriate consumer goods because of a lack of understanding of the value of modern money. The San, from the perspective of the protected environment of the academy and their reality, as he had observed, were drastically out of sync. It begged questions and answers and set him on this journey. For the next three decades he travelled to communities in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa to document the lives of the modern San and share their stories. In 2013 and 2014, with the support of !Khwa ttu, he embarked on trips to communities that he previously visited, and reconnected with many people whom he had known before and acquainted himself with new voices from these landscapes. He recorded over 20 video interviews with the title, ‘San Voices’, along with many photographs, which all formed part of the exhibition ‘Traces and Tracks’. He also ran workshops for young emergent San storytellers, whose insights and perspectives are also included in the book and exhibition. While today there are an estimated 113 000 San who live in southern Africa, predominately in Namibia, Botswana and to a lesser extent in South Africa, their one-time harmonic relationship with nature and the environment has been under serious threat ever since they interacted with other settlers. In the last 70 years or so, these communities have struggled hard to hang on to their way of life and land. As Weinberg notes, ‘My collective journeys that began in the last quarter of the 20th century and continued into the 21st, have been to understand and document the conundrum between these peace-loving communities and the challenges they face in a modern and fast-changing world. How can they hold onto and share their culture, heritage and skills with others who wish to dispossess them? How can their lifestyle be accommodated into various shifting ecologies?’ The book, published by Jacana Media, will be launched on Wednesday, 12 April at 6pm at the Origins Centre at Wits University, along with an exhibition of more than a hundred photographs and two video installations. The exhibition will be on for two months before embarking on a national and international tour.
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