Dorothea Bleek

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Dorothy F. Bleek
Dorothea Bleek01.jpg
Dorothea Frances Bleek

(1873-03-26)26 March 1873
Died27 July 1948(1948-07-27) (aged 75)
Nationality South African
  • South Africa
  • Germany
Occupation Anthropologist and philologist
Parent(s) Wilhelm Bleek

Dorothea Frances Bleek (later Dorothy F. Bleek; born 26 March 1873, Mowbray, Cape Town – died 27 June 1948, Newlands, Cape Town) [1] [2] was a South African-born German anthropologist and philologist known for her research on the Bushmen (the San people) of southern Africa. [3]


Life and Work

Dorothea Bleek was born into her profession as the fifth daughter of Wilhelm Bleek, a pioneering philologist studying the languages and cultures of southern Africa in the late 1800s. Much of his work was done in partnership with his sister-in-law (Dorothy Bleek's aunt, Lucy Lloyd). The work of Dorothy Bleek was largely a continuation of her father and aunt's research, but she also made numerous notable contributions of her own to the field. Her culminating work, published after death, was the book A Bushman Dictionary, still referenced today. [4]

Laurens van der Post, who liked to think of himself as "a white Bushman", credited her book Mantis and His Hunter (along with Specimens of Bushman Folklore by her father and aunt) as "a sort of Stone Age Bible". This is in the introduction to The Heart of the Hunter (1961), a follow-up to The Lost World of the Kalahari, the book based on the BBC series that brought the Bushmen to international attention.

Bleek's research and findings are often overshadowed by the work of her father, and she has been criticised for lacking the empathy and intuition of him and her aunt. This has led to a misperception of her as a racist. [5]

Despite this, Bleek's research on the language, customs, and especially rock art of southern Africa (present-day South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, and Namibia) stands as a vital contribution to scholarship on the region. Her photographs and audio recordings were especially important to later researchers. [6]



  1. Plug, C. "S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science" . Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  2. Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa vol. 2
  3. Wessels, Michael (November 2016). "Dorothea Bleek: A life of scholarship". Kronos. 42 (1): 253–256. doi:10.17159/2309-9585/2016/v42a16. ISSN   0259-0190.
  4. ""African Rock Art Digital Archive"". Archived from the original on 2016-01-25. Retrieved 2012-02-11.
  5. Jill Weintroub. Dorothea Bleek: A Life of Scholarship (February 2016); ISBN   978-1-86814-879-0 (PDF), ISBN   978-1-86814-882-0 [ page needed ]
  6. Andrew Bank, Anthropology and Fieldwork Photography: Dorothea Bleek's Expedition to the Northern Cape and the Kalahari, July to December 1911,; accessed 4 February 2017.

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