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The History of the Khoikhoi People of South Africa

The word ‘Hottentots’ was a name disparagingly used to refer to the Khoikhoi people that lived in the southern parts of the African continent…

The word “Hottentots” was a name disparagingly used to refer to the Khoikhoi people that lived in the southern parts of the African continent as early as the 5th century AD and continued to live till the first colonists arrived in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Dutch colonists called them Hottentots. It means “stammerer” in Dutch. Khoikhoi means “people people”. The word Hottentot is no longer used to describe the people.

The Khoikhoi people originally came from the region now forming parts of Botswana and they kept migrating southward until they reached the region forming part of South Africa. The migrating people came to known by different names depending on where they eventually settled. They were known as Korana and settled in the middle of South Africa, the Namaque in the western region of the country and the Khoikhoi in the southern most regions. The Khoikhoi people could mingle with the natives called San because of the similarity in their lifestyles. Even though there were inter marriages between the Khoikhoi and the San groups, they did not lose their cultural identities. The Khoikhoi were typically pastoral people. They raised their sheep, goats, and cattle and depended upon these for a well balanced diet. The San were mainly hunter-gatherers.

Their contacts with the colonists brought about a big change in their traditional way of life. With the exception of the British, most of the Europeans aggressively and systematically opposed the people. Warfare between the two was common. Many of the natives lost their lives not only in the wars but also to Small Pox, a disease which was introduced by the Colonists The Colonists snatched away their land and established ranches and farms. The KhoiKhoi were reduced to working on these as farm workers or were enslaved. Some of them were absorbed into neighboring groups like the Xhosa people. A few people belonging to this tribe have remained untouched by the Colonists and continue their traditional occupations of animal husbandry and farming.

The Khoikhoi people followed a distinct culture. They had well established religious beliefs and practices. They believed that the moon was God and therefore an object of much reverence. They regarded Tsuigoab as the creator and a protector of health and prayed for their well-being. Gunab, on the other hand was evil and the caused sickness and death. Many of the Khoikhoi have converted to Islam in Namibia

The story of Khoikhoi people is much like the story of the natives of America and Australia, of a people who were leading simple and contented lives until their lands were invaded by White colonists first in the guise of traders and merchants, then as political masters.

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