persistently hunting the persistent hunters



Galahad’s and Asher’s family have been cobblers for six gene­rations, but on a trip to Namibia looking for the last persistent hunters in the Kalahari, they were introduced to cobblers making hunting sandals adapted to their environment for many generations.  But, due to hunting restrictions they were running out of skins to make their original sandals and were starting to have to use old car tyres and hand-me-downs to make their shoes.

And so, the San-Dal project was born to revive the artisan skills and making of the traditional hunting sandals of the Ju’/hoan San people. Vivobarefoot were already working with the Future Footwear Foundation, an organisation focused on sustainable and indigenous footwear projects, bio-mechanics and foot health, and Dr Catherine Willems of Ghent University, School of Arts (KASK). Led by Flora Blommaert at the FFF, eland skins re-introduced, and the local cobblers did the rest!

The Ju’/hoan San community in Namibia are one of the oldest people on the planet. The term Ju/’hoan San means ‘true people’ in the Ju/hoan language. The San, who number around 27,000, in Namibia, have resided in the northern Kalahari Desert region for thousands of years. The sandals were used for many generations for persistent hunting, but the craft of making this footwear had died out. The how-to knowledge and memories, however, were still preserved in the minds of the oldest village members.

Made with eland antelope leather one of the thickest most durable leathers in the world, every pair is made by hand by San artisans.
In addition to providing free, natural movement of the foot, the sandals protect them from thorns and the hot sand, as the hunters endure soaring temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius and above.
The SAN-dals are embossed using a fire branding technique featuring paw prints of the endangered Cheetah or !a’o in Ju/’hoansi language.

In 2016 a crowdfunding campaign was launched to preserve the ancient art of sandal making and bring the Ju/’hoan San skill to the world. After a tremendous amount of dedication, love and hard work led by a team of inspirational devotees, the full Kickstarter order was completed by August 2018.  Since then, we have now delivered the first round of 500 SAN-dals made post-crowdfunding to sustain the craftsmanship in the area.

Vivobarefoot has now committed to bring to the world a very limited amount of 1,000 pairs every year! The idea of building an atelier in the local village started to grow. The cobblers reflected on the future construction of a production unit. Together with the community the implementation of such a center is one of the goals of the future.

Based on the social entrepreneurship principles where purpose and profits are aligned, we have set up transparent pricing for this project.

The amount we pay per pair is set by the cobblers and is based on a fair price determined by the time, effort and artistry poured into each pair. The community we work with lives in a very remote area and this project enhances their livelihoods while preserving their ancient traditions linking them with the rest of the world.

“The good aspect is that people here now have their own project, besides maybe trying to
get jobs in tourism, from the government, for different companies. 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” — !Ui Kunta (Steve Kunta). Ju|’hoan cobbler, translator and local guide, Tsumkwe.

Exploring the role of partnerships, alliances and working with shared intentions to regenerate, protect, conserve and enhance indigenous communities, this September Vivobarefoot is participating in series of events in London hosted by Gaia Spirit Movement bringing 16 representatives of indigenous communities from New Zealand to Brazil, from Finland to Namibia.

On the 7th September join us at the Gaia Spirit Movement: a Moving Meditation on Ecological Justice for All organised in partnership with London National Park City, Extinction Rebellion International Solidarity Network, Extinction Rebellion Youth. The Opening ceremony starts at 9am in Kingston followed up by walking, running or paddling the length of the Thames.

9-11 September – The Summit @ UCL, Department of Anthropology. A three day series of talks with the Indigenous representatives, leading anthropologists, businesses and NGOs.

Register here to join.

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