!KHWA TTU NATURE RESERVE – THE SAN HERITAGE CENTRE
!Khwa ttu, pronounced with a click (Xhwa) in the beginning, is where the San people both teach and learn.
As a Motswana who grew up in different parts of the North West province before moving to the Free State, I have always wondered what the connection is between Batswana and San people because they wear San clothes and emulate their dancing during cultural events. I guess I was not curious enough because I never asked my parents or grandparents to explain the connection.
When I met the team from !Khwa ttu at the 2019 World Travel Market (WTM), I knew I had met the right people who could answer all my questions and they have since “adopted” me as one of their own.
HISTORY OF THE SAN PEOPLE
The San people are members of various Khoe, Tuu, or Kxʼa-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer cultures. They are the first cultures of Southern Africa whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Zambia and have called these regions their home for tens of thousands of years. In 2019, Botswana was home to approximately 64 000 San people, making it the country with the highest population of San people – hence the strong connection with Batswana people.
San people were traditionally semi-nomadic, moving seasonally within certain defined areas based on the availability of resources such as water, game animals, and edible plants. The tribes are well-known for the profound connection they have with their land, for their intimate knowledge of the natural world, and the delicate balance they have maintained for millennia with the environment.
The sad reality is that their unique societies and way of life will be destroyed if their stories and heritage are not preserved and knowledge is not passed on to the youth hence !Khwa ttu serves as a highly innovative workplace and learning centre, delivering individually designed, on-the-job training for between 50 and 75 San people a year.
Their ancient way of life, their languages, and their culture are currently under grave threat from disenfranchisement, climate change impacts, and a widespread lack of understanding of their way of life. The story of the San is one that many people across the world might not know, but it is one that everyone will recognise. It is their story – the story of humankind.
THE STORY OF !KHWA TTU
At !Khwa ttu, the San tell the stories in their own words. This San culture and educational centre was founded in 1999 and is located off the R27 West Coast road on an 850 hectare Nature Reserve, just 70km from Cape Town. It’s a non-profit company managed jointly by the San and the Swiss-based Ubuntu Foundation. You might ask yourself what the connection is between !Khwa ttu and a Swiss-based foundation.
Let me explain real quick…
!Khwa ttu’s story begins with Irene Staehelin. In 1998, the Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) decided that the San needed assistance in unlocking potential tourism opportunities and showcasing San culture to the world. They turned to Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin, who agreed to help. In 1999, guided by her own vision, and inspired by heritage centres in the USA and Canada, Irene bought an 850-hectare wheat farm on the West Coast of South Africa for the !Khwa ttu project. Irene later set up the Ubuntu Foundation in Switzerland, to help guide and support the !Khwa ttu project.
!Khwa ttu opened to the public in 2006 and inside the now restored farm buildings, it steadily developed its tourism offering and San development capabilities. Outside, the land was carefully rehabilitated and wildlife reintroduced. In September 2016 Ubuntu committed a substantial portion of the funding needed to build !Khwa ttu’s San Heritage Centre. This paved the way to fulfilling the dreams of many people who work, learn, and live at !Khwa ttu.
This centre is also a thriving tourism destination, boasting a restaurant that specialises in local cuisine found only on the West Coast, simple but stylish guest houses, cottages, open-air tented camps, thrilling mountain bike trails, walking trails, shop selling hand-crafted gifts found nowhere else, and educational tours. San guides lead unique tours for visitors, fulfilling !Khwa ttu’s mission to enable San to reclaim and share their heritage, in their own way.
Situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, !Khwa ttu embraces and champions a range of environmental stewardship programmes.
SAN HERITAGE CENTRE
Their newest development, the !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre (or Museum), 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. Their exhibitions, San-led trails and guided experiences are designed to engage body and senses, as much as the mind.
They demonstrate the skills and knowledge of San from across southern Africa, while also telling the archaeological story of the origins of the modern mind on the southern African coastline.
We recently spent two nights at one of the cottages to ensure that we immerse ourselves in nature and take a much-needed break from our busy city lives. Their cottages are simply-furnished but clean and offer a real nature living experience. During your stay, you can enjoy a diversity of tours while learning about San culture in a very natural and interesting way, with personal stories from people with direct experience.
As the sun sets and the night falls, you experience a magical peaceful feeling found only at !Khwa ttu – the land of the first people. Their accommodation ranges from hideaway simple and elegant farm cottages, to furnished tents with open air showers and a communal boma where you may find yourself relaxing and chatting under starlight, making friends who last a lifetime.
This original farm cottage nestled on the hillside near the state of the art San museum and with Atlantic sea views, has been turned into a simple but stylish, open plan self-catering unit warmed in winter by a wood fireplace. This unit is equipped with everything you need for a comfortable ‘home away from home’ stay.
There is an open plan lounge and kitchen, bedroom with King-size bed, bathroom with shower, and Wi-Fi connectivity. The kitchenette is equipped with a fridge, microwave, 2 ring gas top, toaster, kettle, crockery, cutlery, and a shared outside braai area.
Outdoor spaces are very well kept, with a fair amount of wildlife and educational plaques scattered around the property to help you learn about indigenous plants and their medicinal benefits. There’s plenty of great artwork to admire and interesting books to read. Click here to view more accommodation options.
SAN GUIDED TOURS
Be ushered into the heart of Bushman culture by one of the qualified San Tour Guides. Their guides come from a diverse range of San communities, each with their own language and story. Whoever accompanies you, you will discover some of the qualities that enabled San to survive and thrive, for centuries.
Whether your tour takes you along their medicinal and food trails, further afield into the Nature Reserve, or indoors through the intimate spaces of the museum, you will be guided into a new understanding of the indomitable San spirit. Each of the San Guided Tours is different, but all are designed to engage the body, soul, and mind. They demonstrate the skills and knowledge of the San, whose simple sophistication may surprise you.
- TRACKING – Reading the signs – R160 for 45min
- TEA TASTING – The veld pharmacy – R160 for 45min
- ENCOUNTERS – When cultures collide – R160 for 45min
- FIRST PEOPLE – Food from the ancestors – R160 for 45min
- THE WAY OF THE SAN – Spirit, hunting, and gathering – R160 for 45min
SELF-GUIDED MUSEUM TOURS
Sometimes you don’t feel like joining a guided tour, you just want to walk around taking your own time. This self-guided museum tour allows you to do that. There is such a richness and depth of content in their three museum buildings that you could spend many hours engaging with their exhibitions.
There is no need to book in advance. Simply buy your entrance ticket for R85 at the reception and collect your self-guide map.
THE INDEPENDENT VISITOR – HIKERS AND CYCLERS
There are walking and mountain bike trails to suit all tastes and levels, from hardcore to easy riding. There is a fee to use the trails. If cycling, you will need to bring your own mountain bike.
Tel: +27 22 492 2998
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