Smoking around the campfire: A San encounter with the colonial
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In 1873 Joseph Orpen, resident of Nomansland, engaged a San1 man Qing to guide a combined force of levies and mounted police through the Maloti mountains in present-day Lesotho where they hoped to intercept a group of reluctant Hlubi rebels under chief Langalibalele. Orpen was not only a colonial official but also a keen scholar. In response to his questions Qing commented on some of the rock paintings they saw on their short journey and recounted folklore. A year later Qing’s narratives and his comments on rock art were published along with Orpen’s account of the journey and ‘remarks’ by the celebrated linguist and collector of |Xam narrative, Wilhelm Bleek in an article in the Cape Monthly Magazine (CMM). Orpen’s piece has enjoyed a seminal position in San studies ever since, especially in the field of rock art. The encounter between Qing and Orpen occurred in a context of colonial violence. Not only was the campaign that was being pursued against Langalibalele and his men unnecessary but the San had been subject to genocidal attacks by both regular and irregular colonial forces for a considerable period of time, and the studies of San rock art and narrative at the time were largely carried out in an intellectual climate that saw the extinction of the San as inevitable. This article will locate the CMM article more firmly in its colonial context by combining a close reading of elements of the CMM article itself with a consideration of a wider body of writing that relates to Orpen’s piece.