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  • I collect dictionaries and I have recently been lucky enough to obtain Dorothea F. Bleek's sizeable 'BUSHMAN DICTIONARY' (Published - 1956). I was quite amazed to learn that it lists 45 words for water. In 1911 the anthropologist Franz Boaz reported that the Eskimos have four different words for snow. This number has swollen and, through urban myth, is even reported as 400. Realistically it is estimated that the Eskimos have about 18 words for snow. It is interesting that in the two cases a lack (of water) and a surplus (of snow) are blamed for the many words.


    The Khoisan (Bushman) people are divided into three main language groups. The name Khoisan is from khoe-i 'person' (the plural of Khoe is Khoekhoe); and from San, a derogatory word among theKhoe for 'despised people'. Dorothea Bleek's dictionary of of Khoisan records adds to the research of her father, Wilhelm Bleek into the language of the¦Xam, or Cape Bushman. The language of the southern San, also known as southern Bushman is now almost extinct and there are only a few hundred speakers left in Botswana and Namibia. In respectful recognition of the role of the Khoisan people, the centre of the new South African coat of arms presents a rare image of two typical Khoisan individuals.


    The Khoisan are well known for the eccentric clicks by which they speak. They refer to thoughts and sentences as 'thinking strings' - a reference to the strings of beadwork, made from ostrich egg shell and perhaps unwittingly a forerunner to the idea that sentences can be strung along as text to produce the fabric of writing. The Khoisan are the people of the moon - the moon being their principle object of worship and inspiration. They would perform trance-dancing in concentric circles invoking the moon's power over and association with their lives.


    I wish to propose an artwork entitled WORDS OVER THE MOON to be made in beads in which I want to bring homage to the Khoisan tongue, now all but lost from the combined human vocabulary. Astonishingly, Bleek's 'BUSHMAN DICTIONARY' records 38 Khoisan words for the moon! I have transcribed these words with their unconventional alphabetic arrangents from the Bleek dictionary for use in my work.

    I submit this proposal to the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation project as two main ideas, with several variants of each on A3 paper.


    Idea one contains the 38 Khoisan words for the moon arranged into a 'sky' of fleeting 'moon-lit' clouds'. The words are disintegrating to show how a language, over time, erodes and can disperse as clouds under the wind.


    Idea two shows concentric circles of the Khoisan words for the moon to invoke the circles of trance-dancing. The words are arranged in and around moon-like shapes to function as 'stars in the night-sky'. As with the Khoisan language, the fire-works of word-stars light up the sky to blink out forever.

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