anne solomon on the potentials of san historiography


Anne Solomon, ‘Writing San Histories: The /Xam and ‘Shamanism’ Revisited’, Journal of Southern African Studies 37, 1 (2011)

The oral narratives and personal accounts given by the /Xam of the northern Cape, and recorded by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, have played a key role in interpretations of rock art and of southern San culture, recent and ancient, generally. However, the validity of the account that relates the /Xam texts to supposed shamanic practices is an issue requiring attention. The texts are open to other readings that do not support the notion that ‘altered states’ are central in the thought of diverse San groups. Insofar as its methods and ‘neuropsychological’ foundations produce an account of a unified and largely uniform San cultural identity, the shamanistic reading sacrifices historicity and a more nuanced understanding of San pasts and lived experiences. As an alternative to positivist and structuralist accounts, phenomenology is an approach that is of relevance to under-explored issues regarding the writing of San (cultural) histories by archaeologists, anthropologists and other scholars.

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