The Khoikhoi ("people people" or "real people") or Khoi, in standardised Khoekhoe/Nama orthography spelled Khoekhoe, are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group, who were the native Black Africans of southwestern Africa, closely related to the Bushmen (or "San", as the Khoikhoi called them). They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD [ [ Country Information on Namibia] (cached page)] and, at the time of the arrival of white settlers in 1652, practised extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle.

Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa from Botswana through two distinct routes – travelling west, skirting the Kalahari to the west coast, then down to the Cape, and travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast. [ [ Pre-Colonial cultures in South Africa; The San and Khoikhoi]] Most of the Khoikhoi have largely disappeared as a group, except for the largest group, the Namas.


The name Khoekhoe most accurately translates to 'People People'. They were traditionally—and are still occasionally in colloquial language—known to white colonists as the "Hottentots", a name that is currently generally considered offensive (e.g. by the Oxford Dictionary of South African English). The word "hottentot" meant "stutterer" or "stammerer" in the colonists' northern dialect of Dutch, [ [ The Hottentots. British Views Of 18th Century Africa.] Retrieved on: February 01 2008] although some Dutch use the verb "stotteren" to describe the clicking sounds ("klik" being the normal onomatopoeia, parallel to English) typically used in the Khoisan languages. The word lives on, however, in the names of several African animal and plant species, such as the Hottentot Fig or Ice Plant ("Carpobrotus edulis").


The Khoikhoi were originally part of a pastoral culture and language group found across Southern Africa. Originated in the northern area of modern Botswana, the ethnic group steadily migrated south, reaching the Cape approximately 2,000 years ago. Khoikhoi subgroups include the Korana of mid-South Africa, the Namaqua to the west, and the Khoikhoi in the south. Husbandry of sheep, goats and cattle provided a stable, balanced diet and allowed the related Khoikhoi peoples to live in larger groups than the region's original inhabitants, the San. Herds grazed in fertile valleys across the region until the 3rd century AD when the advancing Bantu encroached into their traditional homeland. The Khoikhoi were forced into a long retreat into more arid areas.

Migratory Khoi bands living around what is today Cape Town intermarried with San. However the two groups remained culturally distinct as the Khoikhoi continued to graze livestock and the San subsisted as hunter-gatherers. The Khoi initially came into contact with European explorers and merchants in approximately AD 1500. The ongoing encounters were often violent, although the British made some attempt to develop more amiable relationships. Local population dropped when the Khoi were exposed to smallpox by Europeans. Active warfare between the groups flared when the Dutch East India Company enclosed traditional grazing land for farms. Over the following century the Khoi were steadily driven off their land, which effectively ended traditional Khoikhoi life.

Khoikhoi social organisation was profoundly damaged and, in the end, destroyed by European colonial expansion and land seizure from the late 17th century onwards. As social structures broke down, some Khoikhoi people settled on farms and became bondsmen or farmworkers; others were incorporated into existing clan and family groups of the Xhosa people.


From 1904 to 1907, the Namaqua, a Khoikhoi group living in present-day Namibia, along with the Herero took up arms against the Germans, who had colonized Namibia. 10,000 Nama, 50% of the total Nama population, perished.


The religious mythology of the Khoikhoi gives special significance to the moon, which may have been viewed as the physical manifestation of a supreme being associated with heaven. Tsui'goab is also believed to be the creator and the guardian of health, while Gunab is primarily an evil being, who causes sickness or death. [cite web |url=|title=Reconstructing the Past - the Khoikhoi: Religion and Nature] Recently, many Khoikhoi in Namibia have converted to Islam and make up the largest group among Namibia's Muslim community. [cite news |first=Rodrick |last=Mukumbira |title=Islam in Namibia…Making an Impact |url= | |date=June 1, 2006]

The traditional Khoisan are a hunter and gatherer society. They live in simple and disposable huts made of long sticks bound at the top with vines or other fiber then covered in grass.Each family has their own hut. However children that are older my live in seperate huts with others in their age group. The Khoisan are polygynous (more than one wife). Wives may share or occupy different huts depending on how well they get along. Visitors are entertained outside the home unit around the fire.(. [Schapera.I "The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa: Bushmen and Hottentots" (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul LTD, 1930), 88-89.]


In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles", Dr. James Mortimer tells Sherlock Holmes, "Many a charming evening we [Charles Baskerville and James] have spent together discussing the comparative anatomy of the Bushman and the Hottentot."

ee also

* Herero and Namaqua Genocide
* Namaqua
* Khoikhoi mythology
* History of South Africa
* Hottentot Venus


* P. Kolben, "Present State of the Cape of Good Hope" (London, 1731-38);
* A. Sparman, "Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope" (Perth, 1786);
* Sir John Barrow, "Travels into the Interior of South Africa" (London, 1801);
* Bleek, "Reynard the Fox in South Africa; or Hottentot Fables and Tales" (London, 1864);
* Emil Holub, "Seven Years in South Africa" (English translation, Boston, 1881);
* G. W. Stow, "Native Races of South Africa" (New York, 1905);
* A. R. Colquhoun, "Africander Land" (New York, 1906);
* L. Schultze, "Aus Namaland und Kalahari" (Jena, 1907);
* Meinhof, "Die Sprachen der Hamiten" (Hamburg, 1912);
* Richard Elphick, "Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa" (London, 1977)


External links

* [ Cultural Contact in Southern Africa] by Anne Good for the [ Women in World History website]
* [ An article on the history of the Khoikhoi]
* [ The genetic heritage of one Afrikaner family]

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