Even the children show little of the round outlines of youth. The amount of fat under the skin in both sexes is remarkably small; hence the skin is as dry as leather and falls into strong folds around the stomach and at the joints. The fetor of the skin, so characteristic of the negro, is not found in the Bushman. The hair is weak in growth, in age it becomes grey, but baldness is rare. Bushmen have little body-hair and that of a weak stubbly nature, and none of the fine down usual on most skins. On the face there is usually only a scanty moustache. A hollowed back and protruding stomach are frequent characteristics of their figure, but many of them are well proportioned, all being active and capable of enduring great privations and fatigue. Considerable steatopygy often exists among the women, who share with the Hottentot women the extraordinary prolongation of the nymphae which is often called "the Hottentot apron" or tablier. Northward the Bushmen appear to improve both in general condition and in stature, probably owing to a tinge of Bantu blood. The Bushman's clothing is scanty: a triangular piece of skin, passed between the legs and fastened round the waist with a string, is often all that is worn.
Many men, however, and nearly all the women, wear the kaross, a kind of pelisse of skins sewn together, which is used at night as a wrap. The bodies of both sexes are smeared with a native ointment, buchu, which, aided by accretions of dust and dirt, soon forms a coating like a rind. Men and women often wear sandals of hide or plaited bast. They are fond of ornament, and decorate the arms, neck and legs with beads, iron or copper rings, teeth, hoofs, horns and shells, while they stick feathers or hares' tails in the hair. The women sometimes stain their faces with red pigment. They carry tobacco in goats' horns or in the shell of a land tortoise, while boxes of ointment or amulets are hung round neck or waist. A jackal's tail mounted on a stick serves the double purpose of fan and handkerchief. For dwellings in the plains they have low huts formed of reed mats, or occupy a hole in the earth; in the mountain districts they make a shelter among the rocks by hanging mats on the windward side. Of household utensils they have none, except ostrich eggs, in which they carry water, and occasionally rough pots.
For cooking his food the Bushman needs nothing but fire, which he obtains by rubbing hard and soft wood together.
Bushmen do not possess cattle, and have no domestic animals except a few half-wild dogs, nor have they the smallest rudiments of agriculture. Living by hunting, they are thoroughly acquainted with the habits and movements of every kind of wild animal, following the antelope herds in their migrations. Their weapon is a bow made of a stout bough bent into a sharp curve. It is strung with twisted sinew. The arrow, which is neatly made of a reed, the thickness of a finger, is bound with thread to prevent splitting, and notched at the end for the string. At the point is a head of bone, or stone with a quill barb; iron arrow-blades obtained from the Bantu are also found. The arrow is usually 2 to 3 ft. long. The distance at which the Bushman can be sure of hitting is not great, about twenty paces. The arrows are always coated with a gummy poisonous compound which kills even the largest animal in a few hours. The preparation is something of a mystery, but its main ingredients appear to be the milky juice of the Amaryllis toxicaria, which is abundant in South Africa, or of the Euphorbia arborescens, generally mixed with the venom of snakes or of a large black spider of the genus Mygale; or the entrails of a very deadly caterpillar, called N'gwa or 'Kaa, are used alone.
One authority states that the Bushmen of the western Kalahari use the juice of a chrysalis which they scrape out of the ground. From their use of these poisons the Bushmen are held in great dread by the neighbouring races. They carry, too, a club some 20 in. long with a knob as big as a man's fist. Assegais and knives are rare. No Bushman tribe south of Lake Ngami is said to carry spears. A rude implement, called by the Boers graaf stock or digging stick, consisting of a sharpened spike of hard wood over which a stone, ground to a circular form and perforated, is passed and secured by a wedge, forms part of the Bushman equipment. This is used by the women for uprooting the succulent tuberous roots of the several species of creeping plants of the desert, and in digging pitfalls. These perforated stones have a special interest in indicating the former extension of the Bushmen, since they are found, as has been said, far beyond the area now occupied by them. The Bushmen are famous as hunters, and actually run down many kinds of game. Living a life of periodical starvation, they spend days at a time in search of food, upon which when found they feed so gluttonously that it is said five of them will eat a whole zebra in a few hours. They eat practically anything.
The meat is but half cooked, and game is often not completely drawn. The Bushman eats raw such insects as lice and ants, the eggs of the latter being regarded as a great delicacy. In hard times they eat lizards, snakes, frogs, worms and caterpillars. Honey they relish, and for vegetables devour bulbs and roots. Like the Hottentot, the Bushman is a great smoker.
The disposition of the Bushman has been much maligned; the cruelty which has been attributed to him is the natural result of equal brutalities practiced upon him by the other natives and the early European settlers. He is a passionate lover of freedom, and, like many other primitive people, lives only for the moment. Unlike the Hottentot he has never willingly become a slave, and will fight to the last for his personal liberty. He has been described as the "anarchist of South Africa." Still, when he becomes a servant, he is usually trustworthy. His courage is remarkable, and Fritsch was told by residents who were well qualified to speak that supported by a dozen Bushmen they would not be afraid of a hundred Kaffirs. The terror inspired by the Bushmen has indeed had an effect in the deforestation of parts of Cape Colony, for the colonists, to guard against stealthy attacks, cut down all the bush far round their holdings. Mission-work among the Bushmen has been singularly unsuccessful. But in spite of his savage nature, the Bushman is intelligent. He is quick-witted, and has the gift of imitating extraordinarily well the cries of bird and beast. He is musical, too, and makes a rough instrument out of a gourd and one or more strings.