Society for Anthropological Sciences
Oral Presentation Session
Until fairly recently the environmental knowledge of southern African San and other groups of hunter-gatherers in Africa was not considered to be of particular relevance to the countries in which these groups live. By contrast, there has been a strong sense that “feeding the nation”, by extending and intensifying agriculture in particular, had little or nothing to do with the values and practices of these small marginalized minorities. This is changing in part since policy makers have realized that wildlife management in the form of game farming, wild plant extraction and conservation have a far greater economic potential than previously thought, especially in a world of global environmental threats. However, the preparedness to include San environmental knowledge does not imply the ability to do so. Based on field research on cultural models of nature in this collaborative project my contribution suggests that the state and development agencies that seek to apply San knowledge of nature have difficulties “reading” that knowledge. In fact, the expectation that the local knowledge could be “read” like a text is part of the problem. Field research with San highlights the indexicality of cultural knowledge about the environment which on the one hand makes this knowledge particularly versatile but which at the same time requires structural changes to the prevalent economy of knowledge if it wants to take in lessons to be learnt from the San case.