• Harlinah Teoh

!kun drawings from the Lloyd Collection

I wanted to share a find which made a profound impression on me. At the National Library of South Africa, tucked away on the balcony above the domed reading room, was an extraordinary exhibition, not fully installed yet, drawn from the Bleek and Lloyd Collection.


In the mid-nineteen century the San people (Bushmen) were being decimated by Dutch colonists in the north of the country, hunted for sport, forced into labour and sent as prisoners to build the harbour breakwater in the British colony of Cape Town. German linguist Wilhelm Bleek obtained permission to house a number of San prisoners on his property in order to study their language and stories. He and his wife’s sister, Lucy Lloyd, collected more than 13,000 notebook pages of narrative, genealogies, maps and illustrations. The collection has UNESCO World Heritage status (more information here: https://www.aluka.org/heritage/collection/LBC).


This exhibition focuses on four boys from the !kun language group in Namibia, who came to the Bleek property in the late 1870s, after Bleek’s death. Lucy Lloyd learned their language and recorded their stories, and the boys produced more than 570 drawings in charcoal, pencil and watercolour. I find the drawings exquisite and the whole story fascinating and heartbreaking.


The collection has been digitised and the high-quality images are under copyright, so I will post a few of my reflections-under-glass snapshots as a taster, and refer you to the excellent digital resource at http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/index.html. Here are the direct links to the drawings of Da, Tamme, |uma and !nanni.

The last two images reminded me uncannily of my then 6-year-old son’s first ‘scientific illustration’, of plumbago:


 

©2020 Harlinah Teoh