January 1, 2023

Take a walk in your ancestors’ footsteps

Doupos 2018, IKunta Bo explaining how to make the n!ang nIosi sandal, copyright Future Footwear Foundation

Doupos 2018, IKunta Bo explaining how to make the n!ang nIosi sandal, copyright Future Footwear Foundation.

The first recorded human footprint is 3.7 million years old.  But it's not for another 3.69 million years that we find the first shoe. That means our ancestors were walking, running and hunting barefoot for millions of years. When the first sandals came along in Africa, they were made to protect feet from heat and desert thorns, and nothing more. Most  indigenous shoemaking was barefoot shoemaking.  Indigenous people understood the importance of respecting nature — from the way we use her resources to letting feet do their thing. This knowledge allowed them to survive the harshest environments for thousands of years.

Meet the San-dal

Working in collaboration with Future Footwear Foundation and guided by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we have established a long-term partnership with the Ju'/hoansi San people, to support the regeneration of a lost craft and preserve ancient (barefoot) wisdom. Creating barefoot San-dals nearly identical to those our ancestors wore before us. Looking back to move forward.

The original hunting sandal, called N!ang n|osi, features a back strap, a double lace between the toes, and a two-layer sole. For our limited edition drop in summer ‘23, we’ve subtly adapted this ancient design for modern life, adding a new buckle system instead of laces. This makes it easier to pull the sandals on and off, so they’re ideal for everyday use in the city or outdoors. As with any vivo shoes, we recommend walking before running.

Helping to revive A lost craft, reclaiming natural materials

The sandals are made by San cobblers and seamstresses who sew the cloth hunting bags in which the sandals are packed, and add the removable eggshell accessories. They use the traditional materials and techniques that their ancestors would have used before them.

Until the 1950s, the San people used to wear hunting sandals made from eland skin, called n!ang n|osi. But due to limited access to eland, they started making sandals from car tires. This shift was influenced by the colonial regime, border policies, and the decline of their traditional lands in the Kalahari. Western fashion, social media, and the availability of second-hand shoes also contributed to the decline of traditional eland-hide footwear. By 2016, only a few San elders remained who were knowledgeable about making the eland hunting sandal through observing previous generations.

The traditional sandal, tested over generations, is not just a beautiful and functional object, but also offers insight into the mindset and worldview of its makers. For the San community of Nhoma, the significance lies not only in the sandal itself, but also in the narrative and history surrounding it. The cobblers carry this project into the future, giving it new meaning and exploring sustainable design approaches and livelihoods.

supporting the regeneration of a local community

Established in 2022, this newly constructed workshop is a bottom-up collaborative action between the San cobblers, Future Footwear Foundation as facilitator, and Nina Maritz, an award-winning Namibian architect renowned for her expertise in sustainable and vernacular architecture. Constructed using earth-bag architecture, the workshop showcases the use of locally available soils to create robust structures.

The new workplace pays homage to the richness of the surrounding environment and the resourcefulness of the Ju'/hoansi San cobblers. This purposeful space preserves the ancestral knowledge of the cobblers, enabling them to produce their original barefoot shoes.

The San-dal project is an integral part of the Future Footwear Foundation's comprehensive initiatives. As a centre of excellence and research, FFF delves into the dynamic interplay between human locomotion, creativity, and the diverse ways individuals engage with their surroundings. Through collaborative efforts, FFF partners with various shoemaking communities, including the Ju/’hoan San community, to explore and promote sustainable footwear practices. With the generous support of Pupkewitz Foundation (NA), Rotary Beveren (BE), University of Applied Sciences HOGENT (BE), and Vivobarefoot (UK), the solar-based atelier became a reality.

All proceeds from San-dal purchases go towards material costs, management, salaries and capital for the local ecosystem. By connecting the San with a global barefoot community, we hope to establish a thriving social enterprise for generations to come.The original hunting sandal, called N!ang n|osi, features a back strap, a double lace between the toes, and a two-layer sole. For our limited edition drop in summer ‘23, we’ve subtly adapted this ancient design for modern life, adding a new buckle system instead of laces. This makes it easier to pull the sandals on and off, so they’re ideal for everyday use in the city or outdoors. As with any vivo shoes, we recommend walking before running.

"Maybe for you people from overseas, our footwear looks unique. For us it is what our elders, our ancestors were making. Today, for us, now that we have access to skins again, it seems we have got something back that we thought was in the past and lost."

IU Kunta, in: Do You Want Your Feet Back? Barefoot Cobblers, APE, 2018.

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