Qauqaua: A San Folk Story from Botswana Told by Coex’ae Qgam
Johannesburg: Artists’ Press, 1996
Smithsonian Libraries

Qauqaua tells a traditional folk tale of the San people of southern Africa.  It is illustrated with vivid drawings by San artists affiliated with the Kuru Art Project in D’Kar, Ghanzi District, Botswana.[1]  This collaborative artists’ book comprises eleven color plates, most spanning two pages; each is signed by its artist.  Sixty-one plates were used to complete the eleven prints, and the plates were destroyed after completion.  Qauqaua was published in an edition of one hundred, plus twenty artist proofs.

Qauqaua : a San folk story from Botswana told by Coex'ae Qgam published by Artists' Press, 1996. Morning Next  Day. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Master printer Mark Attwood, of The Artists’ Press, assisted with the production of the lithographs in Qauqaua.  Lithography is one of the more complicated printing processes, requiring the collaboration of an experienced printer.  The images were drawn directly onto lithographic printing plates during a workshop in 1994.[2]  Attwood then worked with the Kuru Art Project artists at their studio in D’Kar to proof the plates on an etching press.  The letterpress printing process has imparted a slightly embossed, tactile quality to the pages.

The book is bound in goatskin leather from the Kalahari Desert, which has been tanned in the traditional manner using the elandsboontjiem, or eland’s root.

Qauqaua : a San folk story from Botswana told by Coex'ae Qgam published by Artists' Press, 1996. Quagua Cover. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

One edge of the slightly rough archival-quality paper has its natural deckle, and the other edges have been torn rather than cut.

The story of Qauqaua was told by Coex’ae Qgam, better known as Dada, who is the best known of the Kuru artists.  She is fluent in five southern African languages and originally worked as a translator for the Kuru Art Project.  Intrigued by their art making, she decided to try her own hand. [3]  Thamae Setshogo, Qwaa Mangana, Cg’ose Ntcox’o, Sobe Sobe, Nxabe Eland, Coex’ae Bob, Qhaeqhao Moses, and Thamae Kaashe also collaborated on Qauqaua

The Folk Tale Qauqaua

The folk tale of Qauqaua is an origin story that explains the existence of a very large smooth rock in Namibia, the guinea fowl, the morama bean, and wild potato plants.  It is a gruesome story about Qauqaua, a beautiful woman with smooth, satiny skin.  Her husband kills her mother after the old woman speaks ill of him to his and Qauqaua’s daughter.  When she sees what her husband has done, Qauqaua kills him by stabbing his throat with a red-hot awl.  Soon the husband’s brothers, learning what has transpired, pursue Qauqaua to take their revenge.  With her child on her back, Qauqaua flees.  With words that sound like the call of a guinea fowl, the little girl warns her of the brothers’ pursuit and throws thorns on the ground to stop them.  But they catch Qauqaua and kill her.  Her blood soaks the ground to become the morama bean plant and the wild potato, and her body turns into a smooth, shiny stone.  The child turns into a guinea fowl, continuing to make the same call that warned her mother.  According to the notes in the book, “The story is mythically connected to rock engravings which are said to be the footprints of Qauqaua near Mamumo, Botswana.  Across the border on a farm called ‘Uichenas’ south of Gobabis, Namibia, there lies an unusual, smooth, large round stone.  This is said to be the body of Qauqaua.”

Qauqaua : a San folk story from Botswana told by Coex'ae Qgam published by Artists' Press, 1996. Bird Footprints. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Qauqaua “is the first book ever to tell a San folk story in the language and words of the story teller and then illustrated by San artists from the Kuru Art Project in Botswana.” [4]  The story was written in Naro, the predominant language of the Ghanzi district,  by Dutch linguists Hessel and Cobi Visser, who were the first to transcribe the language.  The story was then translated into English by the staff of the Kuru Cultural Centre for this book.

The connection to the famed rock in Botswana and the local flora and fauna makes the story one that is particularly relevant to the people who tell it and compelling to those of us who read it.  Kuru Art Project artists often create artworks focusing on the past and on stories of how things were, perhaps in an effort to keep the past alive in the community.  This may be the poignant reason they selected Qauqaua to share with us.

Qauqaua : a San folk story from Botswana told by Coex'ae Qgam published by Artists' Press, 1996. Still Hunting. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.


The Artists’ Press. “Kuru Art Project.”

The Artists’ Press.  “Qauqaua.”

Attwood, Mark.   “Kuru Art Project.” In Images and Form: Prints, Drawings and Sculpture from Southern Africa and Nigeria.  Edited by John Picton, pages 65-69.  London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1997.

The Bag Factory: Fordsburg Artists’ Studios: 10 Minnaar Street Fordsburg.  Newtown, South Africa: The Bag Factory Fordsburg Artists' Studios, 1999.

Gollifer, Ann.   “The Kuru Art Project, D’Kar, Botswana.” In Transitions: Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, 1960-2000, pages 110-112.  London:  Africa Centre, 2005.

Kuru Art Project. “Techniques.”

[1]  The Kuru Art Project provides artists from the Ghanzi community with technical advice, materials, and studio space, while encouraging the artists to develop their own techniques and styles. 

[2]  See The Bag Factory for a photograph of Cg’ose Ntcox’o drawing on an aluminum plate, page 11.

[3]  Mark Attwood, “The Kuru Art Project,” page 67.

[4]  The Bag Factory, page 11.