Drawing parallels between the Khoisan and Norway's Coastal Sami

09 December 2019 - 11:04
'Street Khoisan: On belonging, recognition and survival' by Siv Øvernes.
'Street Khoisan: On belonging, recognition and survival' by Siv Øvernes.
Image: Unisa Press

It was a rainy day back in the 1990s when Priscilla said it. “I am Khoe.” Her words surprised Siv Øvernes.

Caught in her ignorance, Øvernes wondered: “But the Khoisan are no longer around, are they?” From that moment, she developed a keen interest in embarking on this ethnography on street life and Khoisan belonging.

From a marginal part of a wider Khoisan world, Øvernes learnt from street people in Cape Town about the meaning of Khoisan belonging.

“Being strong” and “being survivors”, but also the predicaments of having “lost all” and “being down on luck” was linked to a Khoisan past and present. Albeit whispered about rather than overtly declared, Khoisan belonging was meaningful on the streets and taken to heart by many street people. This book searches for answers to why.

Now, it is no longer a surprise that the Khoisan are part of the SA nation. They are everywhere, and not only on the streets.

Colonisation, assimilation and acculturation did not make the Khoisan disappear. Self-naming has carried resilience here, as in other places where indigenous identities have been muted and esoteric.

While focusing on the Khoisan, this book includes a juxtaposition between Khoisan experiences with glimpses of the indigenous Coastal Sami's history from the author's home ground in Norway. As they have for centuries, indigenous people continue to survive.

Øvernes, who has a PhD, is a social anthropologist in the Department of Child Welfare and Social Work at the Arctic University of Norway.