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Indigenous People of South Africa

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  • Krotoa 'Eva' van Meerhof SM/PROG (c.1641 - 1674)
    Add yourself to the list of Krotoa's Grandchildren on Geni Please see Timeline Tab for a breakdown of her Life Events Feel free to add information or other interpretations as well. [Sharon Apr 2013] ...
  • Maria van der Horst, PROG (c.1766 - 1821)
    Maria was a Baster Khoi Koi woman of slave descent who had 7 children with Coenraad de Buys
  • Autshumato 'Herry' Chief of Goringhaicona (b. - 1663)
    Names: Autshumao Died: 1663 In summary: khoikhoi leader and interpreter of the Gorinhaikonas. Autshumao also known as Herry the strandloper (beach walker), he was chief and interpreter of the G...
  • Elisabeth Voogd van de Caap (c.1703 - c.1777)
    Read page 10 at Note document on father of Diederik. b1 Diederik Niemand (Dieter) Born about 1697 Cape, South Africa; Bapt. 16 May 1765; [G1/8/1-p8] [KAB VC604-p8 – Note 2] [SAG Vol 6 page 274] Nam...
  • Zara Hottentot (c.1647 - 1671)
    "Sara was a Khoikhoi girl, a servant for wages, who practised concubinage with various Europeans, grew up in a settler home, spoke Portuguese and Dutch, attended Christian services, and who, on 18 Dece...

The San and KhoeKhoen People

.... embracing the Khoi, San, Bushmen, Khoikhoi, !Kung

Information gleaned from a number of sources - see listing at the end of the project

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What's in the Name?

There is a lot of controversy over the words used to refer to the Stone Age people of southern Africa. They did not have a generic name for themselves, and it was the arrival of the Europeans that initiated the classification of the indigenous people into generic groups. The following is an alphabetical list of associated names that have been used with some notes.

  • Bushman Bosjemans or Bossiesmans used to describe those living as hunter-gatherers. One explanation is that this name is a direct translation of 'Sonqua' - 'Son' meaning bush and 'qua' meaning man in the Nama language. The term 'Bushman' is widely considered to be insulting. [1]
  • Hottentot Hotnot The Europeans who visited the Cape used this term. There are various theories about the origins of the word - Listen!
    • in 1616 Edward Terry, an English traveller, said that the word referred to the click sounds in the language used by the herders.
    • The name was possible one from in a song sung by the herders during a traditional dance
    • There is a Dutch word - 'Hottentotoo' meaning stammering which might also be the source.
  • !Kung also spelled ǃXun refers to people living the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, Botswana and in Angola, who speak the ǃKung language. They are generally classified as part of the Khoisan language family, and refer to themselves as the Zhun/twasi, "the real people," and are also referred to as the !Kung San. See The !Kung of the Kalahari Desert and Wikipedia Page
  • Khoina was the name the Cape herders used when referring to themselves - adding 'na' to the noun 'Khoi' to denote the plural was apparently a common feature of the south-western Cape language groups. [1] The word is repeated to give the plural, which has led to KhoiKhoi and Khoekhoen ' These people appear to be related to the San In language and in physical type - they speak a variation of the Khoisan, or Click, language
  • Khoisan Khoesan, Khoe-San and Kwena iare unifying names for two ethnic groups - the foraging San and the pastoral Khoi. See Wikipedia and The Khoisan
  • San In 1881 Theophilus Hahn wrote that 'Sonqua' is derived from the root 'sa-' (plural 'san') and means 'native', 'aborigine' or 'established inhabitant of the land'. The Nama word 'San' means foragers was used by the Namaqua to describe their hunter-gatherer neighbours, and has become a widely used name to describe the hunter-gatherer's of the Cape. [1]
  • Sonqua, var. Soaqua,Souqua, Sanqua Sometimes Ubiqua. These were names used by the Khoekhoen in the south-western Cape to describe the bands of herdless people living from hunting and gathering. The French writer Olfert Dapper when he visited the Cape in 1668 refered to the Sonqua as an indigenous people 'who have no cattle, but live by shooting rock rabbits [and] big game'. [1]


Hunter gatherers lived throughout Southern Africa long before white settlement at the Cape in 1652. The genetic origins of of the San, who were people of the later Stone Age, can be traced back to the beginning of modern humanity. They lived hunting game with bows and arrows, foraged for food. They formed kinship groups in territories right across the region - affected mainly by climate and the availability of food and water.

The arrival of the Bantu speaking people immigrants from 250 AD had quite an impact on San traditional life. The new people were agro-pastoralists who needed land to support their crops and cattle herds. This took them into the traditional hunting grounds of the San. Over many centuries the iron age and San groups integrated - resulting in some bantu speaking people adopting the click sounds of the San languages.

Because the San and the Khoekhoe were competing for resources (water, game, pasture) there were conflicts, but the vast area and relatively small numbers of the people meant that they existed side by side relatively easily.

The arrival of the first Europeans in the 17th Century changed things, and the survival of the San was seriously threatened. As the Colonists increased their hold on the Cape, and required more and more land to serve their purposes, the San were gradually pushed out of their traditional territories. They needed to either defend their lifestyle and territory, or become incorporated in the community of the settlers. Many chose to defend their grounds, but others were drawn into the new lifestyle.

The result was that the hunter-gatherers virtually disappeared. Those who survived remained in Namibia and Botswana.


The San's resistance to the invasion of their lands began long before the Cape was Colonised.

In 1488 the Portugese explorer Bartholomew Dias, landed in the Cape at Mossel Bay, after the wind had blown his vessel around the Cape of Good Hope. The Portugese had taken women as hostages in West Africa and dropped these people off one at a time at different spots on the coast of Southern Africa to act as facilitators between them and local people. The Dias landing party traded with the Khoe for sheep and used water from the Khoe supply. An altercation arose as a result and Dias shot one of the Khoe hosts with a crossbow, killing the man.

In 1497 the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama clashed with the Khoe in Mossel Bay opening fire with a cannon. In 1503 Antonio de Saldanha, another Portugese traveller, decided to focus his efforts on taking on supplies at Robben Island. For 150 years Robben Island was the preferred stop over for Portugese, French, Dutch and English vessels, playing an important role as a bridgehead for Europeans in their interactions with the wary indigenous people on the mainland.

In 1510 the Portugese under Francisco d' Almeida went ashore at Table Bay and tried to steal cattle and kidnap some Khoe children, following a clash on the previous day when some Khoe had attacked a man called Barros. d'Almeida and fifty of his officers and men lost their lives.

The first major encounter was in 1701 when a group of San attacked a farm owned by Gerrit Cloete and stole forty cattle. A second attack on the Company's post near Twenty Four Rivers took place a month later. The Company responded by sending out a Commando of forty men to recover the cattle. Their instructions were to arrest the offenders and to take them to the Castle for trial and punishment. Those that resisted were to be shot.

Over the 2nd half of the 18th Century the colonists expanded into the hinterland, with some of the farmers adopting a nomadic way of life. They moved away from the south western Cape in search of grazing for their herds and were known as the trekboers. As they moved North and East of Cape Town there were more and more clashes with the San. A warning delivered by one of the San leaders - Koerikei - that they would fight and kill the herdsmen was ignored, and the trekboers continued their push into the interior. The result was many fierce encounters with the San who were systematically dispossessed of their lands and resources. The San were considered a nuisance standing in the way of the trekboers who annihilated the herds of game - an important source of food for the San. The VOC had little control over these activities - financially stretched and remote from the areas of conflict they did little to protect the San.

By 1774 the Company appointed a commandant to take steps against the San as the conflict reached an alarming level. A large expeditionary force made up of burghers, KhoeKhoen and Bastaards(children of burghers who took Khoekhoe wives) was sent o search out San - the objective being to capture or kill as many as possible. The official reports say that 503 San were killed and 239 captured in the first of several large scale operations. Subsequent excursions virtually annihilated the San in the south-western Cape. In 1836 a return compiled by the Graaff-Reinet magistracy covering lat decade of the VOC rule (1786-1795) shows that 2 504 San were killed and 669 captured along the Graaff-Reinet frontier alone. In the same time the records show that the San killed 276 colonists and stile 19 161 cattle and 84 094 sheep. The historian J S Marias suggests that the majority of the San killed were in fact armed Khoekhioe herdsmen, and that the returns of stolen stock were "notoriously unreliable." [1]

(to be continued)


"The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20 000 years. The term San is commonly used to refer to a diverse group of hunter-gatherers living in Southern Africa who share historical and linguistic connections. The San were also referred to as Bushmen, but this term has since been abandoned as it is considered derogatory.

There are many different San groups - they have no collective name for themselves, and the terms 'Bushman', 'San', 'Basarwa' (in Botswana) are used. The term, 'bushman', came from the Dutch term, 'bossiesman', which meant 'bandit' or 'outlaw'.

This term was given to the San during their long battle against the colonists. The San interpreted this as a proud and respected reference to their brave fight for freedom from domination and colonization. Many now accept the terms Bushmen or San".


This paper is extremely interesting and discusses the suicide of Sara/Zara the Hottentot woman at the Cape.

To follow up

Bauer/Bouwer - Johann Adam.

From Würzburg, Germany. * 1743, Arr. 1762 as young sailor. Farmhand 1762-63, Sailor again in 1763, house-carpenter 1764-66, burger 1766. A carpenter, later (1776) farmer in the distr. of Swellendam. Married Johanna Cornelia, a bastard Hottentot.

In 1776 banished for incest with his step-daughter. (Cl 1148: 71 ; Rq. 1766: 80; CJ 738 nr. 20.)

From Cape of Good Hope - First Marriages and Baptisms (1642-1665) by Mansell G Upham

Enslavement of Cape aborigines was prohibited by the VOC. There were only 2 recorded "Hottentot" baptisms -

  • Eva Meerhoff born Krotoa (c. 1643-1674) baptised 3 May 1662
  • Florida the 'foundling' on 3 March 1669 together with Eva's children.


Baartman was already a married woman when she experienced one of these extermination raids on her community;. she lost her husband and family in this the raid, and eventually she migrated to the urban center of the Cape Town for survival, where she worked as a servant to a Boer farmer named Peter Cezar.

It was at Cezar’s home where his brother, Hendrik Cezar, first noticed Baartman during a visit to the house and later conceived of the “Hottentot Venus” show during his visit. The show, which would take place in London at the famous Piccadilly Circus, would exploit European interests in African natives, especially in the “Hottentots,” who had already become mythical in the European imagination. The Hottentot Venus show would also capitalize on the prurient interests in so-called primitive sexuality, described in the tall-tale accounts of explorers who fabricated stories of “Hottentot” women’s oversized buttocks and mysterious “Hottentot apron,” an extra flap of skin covering the vaginal area.

Hendrik Cezar formed a partnership with a British ship surgeon, Alexander Dunlop, who both entertained the idea of Baartman’s exhibition. They convinced Baartman to enter into a contract on the “Hottentot Venus” show, in which she would share in the profits of her exhibition. They left the Cape for London in 1810 and arrived in September of that year. Dunlop eventually dropped out of the business transaction when a local merchant purchased a giraffe skin from the two men but refused to invest in Baartman. Nonetheless, Cezar advertised the show and billed Baartman as a “most correct specimen of her race.” The “Hottentot Venus” exhibition, which took place at 225 Egyptian Hall at the Piccadilly Circus, was instantly popular and inspired bawdy ballads and political cartoons, thus demonstrating how the icon of the Hottentot Venus became a fixture in the culture. This image created a fetish out of her backside, and it possibly served as the basis for a fashion development: with the mid- to- late—nineteenth-century bustle, which gave the illusion of a large bottom.

The show also provoked outrage, as various witnesses complained about seeing Baartman in a cage. These witnesses also described Baartman appearing nearly nude and being threatened with violence by her exhibitor. These complaints soon led to the intervention of the African Institution, an abolitionist organization that brought Hendrik Cezar to trial for practicing slavery and public indecency. Baartman testified on her own behalf, but she did not corroborate stories of being held against her will and only complained about not having enough clothes to wear. The courts eventually dismissed the case but mandated that Cezar discontinue in the show’s indecency. As a result, the show disappeared from London but may have surfaced in the English countryside.

In 1814, Cezar and Baartman arrived in Paris, where Cezar abandoned her to an animal trainer named Reaux. Baartman continued in the “Hottentot Venus” show, which caused the same sensation in Paris as it had in London. Baartman later attracted the attention of three revered natural scientists, including the infamous George Cuvier. In March 1815, Baartman was subjected to scientific observations; she was already an alcoholic at the time, and the scientists enticed her with alcohol and sweets to pose nude. Baartman refused, however, to reveal what they had hoped to witness: a view of her “Hottentot apron.”

In less than a year after this scientific inquest, Baartman died from complications of alcoholism. Upon her death, Cuvier acquired her cadaver, using it to write his 1817 scientific thesis unveiling the mystery of her “apron.” In this thesis, Cuvier compared her genitalia with those of apes and crafted racist scientific theories, which circulated for more than a century, on African women’s oversexed and subhuman status.

The tale of Sarah to be continued...

Further Reading

Early interactions between Europians and indigenous people at the Cape by First Indigenous Nations Civic Association of South Africa. Early clashes between the San and Khoe

Richard B. Lee 111 pages

Sources and References

  • [1] Alan Mountain 'The First People of the Cape' 2003

Interesting internet web pages to visit

Written by Andre van Rensburg

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