Hunter Gatherer Research

‘We live in a modern time’

Local perceptions of traditional knowledge and formal education among a Namibian San community

Hunter Gatherer Research (2019), 5, (1-2), 119–151.


The maintenance and continued transmission of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge (TK) is of increasing concern as it continues to be undermined by colonisation and modernisation. Formal education plays a significant role in this process and can be seen as both a cause of knowledge erosion as well as a potential remedy to its demise. In this article, I describe the lived realities of the Namibian Khwe San people in relation to the maintenance of their TK and their perception of the formal education system. The results of this study suggest that while the majority of Khwe youth perceive the knowledge and skills obtained from school as more important than their own TK, many also value their own knowledge highly. Meanwhile, the Khwe parents would like their children to be successful in the formal education system in order to obtain employment and ensure financial security, but they also consider the maintenance of their culture and TK to be equally important. Despite this diversity of opinions, teachers at local schools follow a ‘one size fits all’ national curriculum, repressing social and cultural features of the Khwe. Removing structural barriers in formal education, implementing culturally responsive approaches at school and enabling the transmission of TK both inside and outside the formal education system could loosen dependency on external support and allow the Khwe to exercise their rights to self-determination.

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Author details

Paksi, Attila