!kun drawings from the Lloyd Collection

I wanted to share a find which made a profound impression on me. At the National Library of South Africa, tucked away on the balcony above the domed reading room, was an extraordinary exhibition, not fully installed yet, drawn from the Bleek and Lloyd Collection.

In the mid-nineteen century the San people (Bushmen) were being decimated by Dutch colonists in the north of the country, hunted for sport, forced into labour and sent as prisoners to build the harbour breakwater in the British colony of Cape Town.

German linguist Wilhelm Bleek obtained permission to house a number of San prisoners on his property in order to study their language and stories. He and his wife’s sister, Lucy Lloyd, collected more than 13,000 notebook pages of narrative, genealogies, maps and illustrations. The collection has UNESCO World Heritage status (more information here: https://www.aluka.org/heritage/collection/LBC).

This exhibition focuses on four boys from the !kun language group in Namibia, who came to the Bleek property in the late 1870s, after Bleek’s death. Their pictures and profiles are here. Lucy Lloyd learned their language and recorded their stories, and the boys produced more than 570 drawings in charcoal, pencil and watercolour.

I find the drawings exquisite and the whole story fascinating and poignant.

The collection has been digitised and the high-quality images are under copyright, so I will post a few of my crappy, reflections-under-glass snapshots as a taster, and refer you to the excellent digital resource at http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/index.html. Here are the direct links to the drawings of Da, Tamme, |uma and !nanni.


The last two images remind me a lot of my then 6-year-old son’s first ‘scientific illustration’, of plumbago, which I blogged about here.

There were also pages from Lucy’s notebooks, such as this translated story: 

The Story of Umkuywana

There was once a king, who had an ox that was very large indeed. He also had some sons. It happened that after a time there was born to him another son, whose name was Umkuywana.

The king told the boy to sleep with the large ox. And sure enough the boy slept in the kraal with that ox, until he grew up.

It happened when the boy grew up his father said he must herd the cattle, for he was afraid, he said, lest his brother come and wrest from him his inheritance, and sure enough then the boy herded. It happened while he was herding, he was overpowered by sleep, and went fast to sleep. It happened, while he slept, there came thieves; _ said one of them, let us kill him; but another said, No; the child, even if he wakes up, he can’t do anything; so they left him alone, and drove off the cattle and away they went with them.

However, that large ox remained, and it also slept. When the ox waked up, he

… what did the ox do?? I found out here. It gets pretty trippy. http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/From_a_Vanished_German_Colony_1000074420/123