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         ||   P.O. Box 356  ~  Browns Valley, CA 95918  ~  Tel: (530) 743-1339   ||   

Beads of the Bushman

During a recent tour of South Africa, in April 2004, we stumbled across the last remaining settlement of the Khoisan Bushmen of South Africa. It was about ½ hour outside of Kimberly, Northern Cape, near the town of Barkley West, on the Wildebeest Kuil and Platfontein Farm, and visitors were welcomed at the newly constructed Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Tourist Centre by members of the !Xue and Khwe tribes, the last remaining community of San Bushmen in South Africa. They are about 4,000 strong.

The Centre is the Information booth, curio shop and restaurant of the settlement, and is their sole means of revenue for the community.

This settlement comes after a long and tragic history of the San people. Originally brought to extinction by the colonial Dutch settlers, these remaining Bushmen of the !Xue and Khwe San community came from Angola and Namibia, where they were tricked by the Apartheid South African government to help in the war against the Cubans and the nationalist Angolan government. When that war ended, the South African government gave the Bushmen a choice; stay and face the wrath of a hostile Angolan government, or re-locate to South Africa. The Bushmen, approximately 4,000 strong, were flown to a tent camp inside South Africa where they lived for seven years, but lost that location to a court ruling giving the land back to the original indigenous people who had been displaced by the bushmen, successfully challenging the governments decision to let the Bushmen live on it.

The new Democratic government at that time, led by Nelson Mandela, awarded the !Xwe and Khwe community R40 million as compensation for their treatment under the Apartheid government, and this money was used to purchase the Wildebeest Kuil and Platfontein farm which the bushmen live on today.

We toured the ancient, 2,000 year old Bushmen outcropping situated on the top of a small hill, with its etchings, and purchased crafts the people made in the local village. Contact was made with the director of the Art Centre for future business dealings involving beads made by the local artists using ostrich egg shells.

Rock art at Wildebeest Kuil.


More rock art



We were able to purchase ostrich egg shell beads made by the local beadmakers. These primitive beads were made by hand the traditional way. The ostrich egg shell is broken into small pieces, then chipped and broken into a disk shape using the teeth to bite off small pieces of the shell, shaping it into its final shape. Then using a bow and arrow as a drill, the center hole is drilled through the shell, creating the bead.

Broken ostrich egg shell.

Bow and arrow used as drill, and beads used as fringe.



Ostrich egg shell
beads - contemporary.






Representation of a Busman drilling beads –Iziko Museum.

Also on display at the Fort in Cape Town(the oldest colonial building in South Africa, built in 1650, and still in use today by the military) are the world’s oldest known beads; drilled sea shells. San Bushmen drilled these beads approximately 75,000 years ago. The beads were discovered in the Blouberg Mountains of the Cape in 2002.

Close up of one of the beads.  

The entire collection on display – Iziko Museum.  

For more information on the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Site and the !Xue and Khwe bushmen, visit

For more information on the Bushmen of South Africa, visit the Iziko Museums of Cape Town.

The display of the 75,000 year old beads pictured in this article are on display at the Castle of Good Hope, courtesy of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town.

For even more information on Bushmen beadwork, and African beads in general, visit the Bead Merchants of Africa on Long Street in Cape Town, owned by Catherine LeSeur. This is the largest bead shop in South Africa, and Catherine is a wealth of information.

This article was written by Guy and Jamie of Wild Things Beads, Direct Importers of Czech and German beads and buttons. Guy was born in colonial Rhodesia, lived in South Africa during the 1970’s, met and married Jamie in the U.S, and both have traveled since to Zimbabwe and South Africa several times. Wild Things sold beads in the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in the 1990’s, and in 2004 went on a month long road trip throughout South Africa and Swaziland, selling beads to bead stores and co-ops.


Wild Things Beads  ~  P.O. Box 356  ~  Browns Valley, CA 95918  ~  Tel: (530) 743-1339

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