Essay: Anthropology Andrew Bank's Evolution and Racial Theory

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Anthropology

Andrew Bank's Evolution and Racial Theory: The Hidden Side of Wilhelm Bleek is focused on challenging how Bleek has been romanticized in recent years by those in Southern African scholarship. While his research into San mythology was very important during is Bushman period, it was not the only aspect of his life worthy of note. Because so many scholars spend their time on his San information, they fail to address that Bleek also contributed to racial theory and other intellectual issues in the region during a 25-year period. That is important, as well, since it paints a picture of Bleek that is more than just an anthropologist. With his focus on the importance of San rock art and his equally important focus on race in Southern Africa, he became a polarizing and important figure for a number of reasons.

This will be addressed in the following pages, along with another important part of the Bushman period -- the poetry and the tale it told of what was happening to the country at the time. These tales can be found in Krog's the Stars Say 'Tsau'. Here, both Bank's and Krog's work will be explored in order to show the similarities in the importance of what Bleek and the Bushman poets brought to the world and to Southern Africa. Although it may not seem as though the two writings have much in common, there is actually a great deal of information from the writings that are similar and that can provide a clearer picture of what was taking place in the Southern African region at the time. There is a rich history there that cannot be denied and has too long been ignored by many people.

According to Bank, Bleek's view was that the San rock art should be seen "not as the mere daubings of figures for idle pastime, but as an attempt, however imperfect, at a truly artistic conception of the ideas which most deeply moved the Bushman mind, and filled it with religious feeling" (164). In other words, the Bushmen of the time were telling tales that mattered to them, and providing value to the stories they provided. They were writing, as people do today, of the things that troubled them, and of their fears, hopes, and dreams. While the ways in which they expressed themselves may have been primitive when compared to what is seen in writing and artistic expression today, it was actually modern for their time period. They wrote to remind themselves of what they had experienced, and to tell others their stories, so the world could be easier to understand.

Bank went on to say that Bleek, along with his sister-in-law, also "took the trouble to learn a San language and then to write down what the San had to say" (165). He did not see the Bushmen as primitive, at all. What would be considered primitive today could have been very modern at the time it was created, and that was how Bleek looked at the culture of Southern Africa and the information the Bushmen provided to others like them. The Bushmen also left a lasting legacy for other people to consider, since there were many writings produced by them during the period in which they were dominant. What they had to say then is just as important today, as it provides more than just anthropological interest. It also provides cultural and racial relevance when considering where the Bushmen found themselves in emotional, mental, personal, and spiritual levels.

Those who romanticize Bleek, however, tend to forget that most of the information he wrote about the Bushmen was also characterized by his comparison of them to the higher primates (i.e. apes). While not as interested in biological classification than others, Bleek did "share a commitment to the concept of a hierarchy of development and an explicit interest in comparing more 'primitive' forms of humankind with the higher primates" (168). Unfortunately, this made some of the information he provided about them less valuable in the eyes of those who were interested in what the Bushmen had written about and accomplished, as opposed to how they were classified. The concept that they were treated as 'less than,' or that they were seen as little more than high-functioning apes was not always well-received in every circle to which Bleek belonged.

The origins of the development of human linguistics were of interest to Bleek, who carefully considered how these origins came to be and what further information they could provide as they were examined. Much like Darwin in his interest in evolution, Bleek focused on the same kinds of interest in development but then narrowed that focus to linguistic issues. In the 1860s, Bleek researched Bushmen who were held captive at the Breakwater prison. From that time on, he became very interested in looking at the lowest linguistic forms men used and the highest linguistic forms apes used, so he could more carefully consider how much they truly had in common. The 'click' sounds that were made by the Bushmen as they communicated with one another were of specific interest to Bleek, who wanted to know if apes communicated in the same way, with the same type of 'click' noises -- and if they used their lips, teeth, and tongue to make the noises in the same way as the Bushmen.

Coincidentally, Krog's interest in the poetry of the Bushmen ties in to the work of Bleek. Three of the poets Krog writes about had their writing collected while they were in the Breakwater prison, and those writings were turned over to Bleek for study. Bleek was so fascinated by them that, he "spent the last five years of his life compiling a / Xam alphabet" (9). He also put together collections of stories, a dictionary, drawings, and nearly anything else he was able to collect, still in conjunction with his sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd. The value of the / Xam language and others that were spoken by the Bushmen was very important to Bleek, who realized the language and culture was being threatened.

At the time when Krog writes about Bleek's study of the Bushmen, there was a big shift taking place in Southern Africa. Numerous white settlers had moved into the area, and they were turning the Bushmen's former hunting grounds into farmland. It was not only that issue that made things problematic, however. There was much more to the issue. Bushmen were "trespassing" nearly everywhere they went, and they did not understand this new way of life. They were used to foraging and hunting wherever they needed to be at the time, and they followed the game they hunted throughout the seasons, migrating and traveling as they had to in order to have available food. Because they suddenly could not do that anymore, they were forced into two different ways of life: they could either essentially be slaves for the settlers and work on their farms, or they could retreat further away from the settlements, to areas that were more arid and less hospitable.

Neither of those choices were anything close to ideal for a people who were used to doing as they pleased and living off of land that was suddenly being taken from them. Because Bleek realized how the Bushmen were losing their culture and language to societal changes, he worked very hard to preserve as much of it as possible. If it were not for Bleek and his sister-in-law, "rock art would have been the only evidence" of what the Bushmen provided to society, how they lived, and the type of language they spoke (9). By the end of the 1800s the / Xam and other Bushmen like them were, for all intents and purposes, extinct. Much of what Bleek created has preserved them as much as possible, but there are still unanswered questions that have no one left to provide information and understanding.

The main focus of Krog's work, which was made possible in part by what was recorded by Bleek, is poetry. The Bushmen were very expressive and intellectual when it came to their feelings and thoughts about the world around them. Because of that type of expression, more can be understood about what they really think and believe, instead of just seeing them as primitive people who scratched out marks on cave walls and clicked at one another for communication. Much of Krog's work reproduces the poems written by the / Xam people, in order to show the expressiveness of their language when translated into a language modern-day people can understand. Bleek's work to come up with an alphabet, a dictionary, and other works helped to make that kind of translation possible, and provided Krog and others with a means to make the Bushmen's thoughts available to others.

For example, Krog provides as one example a poem called 'the song of the star' which reads:

does the lily flower open?

the daisy is the one that opens do you… [END OF PREVIEW]

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