Peoples of the African savannah

The habitat of the savannah favours farming and breeding and this is why it has been remarkably altered. The people living in this biome are mainly farmers who grow cereals and other plants that can resist long dry spells, such as millet, sorghum, barley and wheat, as well as peanuts, cotton, rice and sugarcane, while breeding prevails in drier savannah areas. Farm animals are generally cattle (zebus), sheep, goats and donkeys. Many peoples live in the savannahs: the Nubians in the upper Sudanese Nubia, the Kualngo and the Akan in the Ivory Coast, the Bushmen and the Hottentots in Namibia.
The Masai
The best known people of this habitat are the Masai. The Masai are a number of groups who share the same language and cultural and social similarities and who live scattered between Kenya and Tanzania. They mainly live on sheep-breeding, but also on farming and trade. Breeding provides the staples of the warriors’ diet: they only eat cow milk, meat and blood, while the old and the women also eat butter, legumes and flour. All of them eat a lot of honey while only the old and the women are allowed tobacco. These people have plenty of traditional customs dating back to ancient times: from religious ceremonies to the initiation of young warriors. Men wear their hair long, arranged in thick locks mixed with red ochre and animal fat, while the women, the old and the children must be thoroughly shaved. Another particular customs of the Masai is they change their names at each life stage, from childhood to old age. Among all the inhabitants of the village, one in particular has a superior authority: the oi-boni, a sort of chieftain, who is also a healer and has the power to make prophecies and predictions by throwing stones, inspecting animal entrails, interpreting dreams and consulting oracles. The Masai believe in the existence of two superhuman gods: the red god, who is evil and the bearer of drought, and the black god, who is kind and brings rain. The two gods receive sacrificial offerings and propitiatory rites, especially with grass, that for the Masai has a religious and strongly symbolic value, so much so that if they are fighting against an enemy and want to make peace they offer them grass as a token of peace.
The Bushmen
Another people who used to be numerous and is now reduced to few hundreds of individuals is the Bushmen who live in the Kalahari desert. Their economy is exclusively based on hunting, which is practised by men, and supplemented by roots and seeds, which are collected instead by women and children. The Bushmen’s life style and social organisation are considered as very similar to those of the late Palaeolithic people and this is why they are submitted to in-depth anthropological studies. The Bushmen still use the hunting techniques described in the ancient rock graffiti: the ambush is laid by lying flat on the ground, then poisoned arrows are thrown at the prey. As well as bows, they also use stone-topped clubs, digging canes, stone scraping blades and sometimes spears. Only un-tanned hides are used to make their primitive clothes; the scanty water available is kept in ostrich eggshells. Their homes, which are just windscreens, are erected when they stop, when the hunter has killed his prey. This is eaten at once, just slightly browned on fire, since the Bushmen are not used to preserving their food. Their social structure is quite simple, based on monogamous families. Every family have their hunting territory within the larger but strictly outlined territory of the tribe. The harsh environmental conditions and their nomadic lives impose strict living rules that must have been easier and less strict in the past, as is shown by their rich and lively wealth of myths and legends and by the nature of the Supreme Being, who once used to be good and is now evil “because of the cruel fights he had to endure”. The Bantus first, then the Europeans systematically exterminated the Bushmen. Many of the original groups have disappeared or are reduced to few dozens of individuals so that now the Bushmen are only 10 – 15,000. Today their territory has become a place to look for natural resources, regardless of the impact this may have on the Bushmen. After years of indifference by the African Governments, they are now awakening to the problem of the indigenous minorities who risk disappearing. The community has now become aware of the importance of the Bushmen’s great cultural and artistic heritage, which is regarded as one of the most significant in the history of mankind.

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