In the 1870s, facing cultural extinction and the death of their language, several men and women from the northern Cape told their stories to two pioneering colonial scholars, Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd. These were the |xam (or Cape San or Bushmen) and theirs were narratives of the land, the rain, the history of the first people and the origin of the moon and stars. They told of the importance of the land and all its plants and animals, and the circumstances of their relocation to Cape Town as prisoners of the British Crown. All these narratives were faithfully recorded and translated by Bleek and Lloyd, creating an archive of over 13 000 pages that includes drawings, notebooks, maps and photographs.

Now residing in three main institutions – the University of Cape Town, Iziko South African Museum and the National Library of South Africa – this archive is all that remains of the |xam language and the world it described.

In this book Pippa Skotnes presents, for the first time, all the notebook pages and drawings that comprise the bulk of the archive. Also included is a searchable, annotated index for all the narratives and contributors and several contextualising essays by well-known scholars. The book reveals both the beauty of the archive and the loss that it represents. Skotnes celebrates the enormous achievement of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd as well as the lives of the men and women and their children who struggled against unimaginable odds to survive, yet who filled the landscape with the poetry of their ideas and set their stories adrift on the wind. This book shows that, more than a record of the memories of a few |xam and !kun individuals and the dispossession of their descendants, the archive is their claim to the country.

The digital Bleek and Lloyd