If you don't know where you came from, how can you know who you are?
As South Africans celebrated their diverse roots on Heritage Day, one group of people reclaimed their story that's always been told by those from the outside and out of reach in libraries and universities. The San - the indigenous people of Southern Africa - is finding their voice at the new San Heritage Centre at !Khwa Ttu on the West Coast near Yzerfontein.
The new museum tells their own story - from the First Peoples of Africa to their myths to their first encounters with other groups - as well as share their culture, forming new relationships between visitors, community members and academia.
A dream to build a self-sustaining centre where the San can upskill, learn their heritage and transmit it to others started in 1999, when Swiss photographer Irene Staehelin bought a derelict farm and have over the past 20 years converted into a place where the San can teach their culture to younger generations.
“The !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre is a great deal more than a collection of artefacts and historical photos. It's a pioneering initiative that embraces the principle of community curation, led by San consultants from across Southern Africa and academics. The exhibitions, San-led trails and guided experiences are designed to engage the body and senses as much as the mind,” explains Michael Daiber, general manager of !Khwa Ttu.
“They demonstrate the skills and knowledge of the San people, while also telling the archaeological story of the origins of the modern mind on the Southern African coastline.”
Besides the new museum, !Khwa Ttu also offers elegant accommodation in cottages and glamping tents, as well as game drives and a restaurant that serves up delicious traditional South African cuisine. The San youth go on training courses through these initiatives which teaches them skills in hospitality and tourism, relaying their heritage as guides and learning about themselves and their roots in the process.
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