Desert Diaries is a story about two San children – !Nanni and Tamme. Over a century ago they travelled from the northern borders of what is today Botswana to Cape Town and given over to the care of the pioneering linguists Lucy Lloyd and William Bleek in 1880. 

Bleek worked for the Governor George Grey and together with his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd, who was South Africa’s first female PhD, produced one of the world’s most important ethnographic archives focusing on the /Xam San.

Bleek believed the research was not only important in the fields of evolutionary theory and language, but also for the history of South Africa. Lloyd and Bleek asked the youngsters to record as much as possible about the plants they used and ate, the animals they encountered in Botswana and on their journey to the Cape and the San or ‘Bushman’ folk tales that they had grown up with. 

We discovered the story of !Nanni and Tamme  in an exquisite exhibition, Made in Translation, at Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town in January last year. Our own research revealed a book documenting their story as well as their own hand drawings; an incredibly rare archive of children’s experiences of both the violence of the colonial frontier and of just being children. We here honour these boys and their struggles.