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Khoikhoi , also Koikoin , Khoekhoen , "true people", is a collective term for a group of culturally and linguistically closely related peoples in South Africa and Namibia . Together with the San , they populated western southern Africa when the first Europeans arrived. While the San were traditionally hunters and gatherers, the Khoikhoi mainly operated seasonal ( transhumant ) migrant grazing with cattle. Both are indigenous peoples of Africa and are grouped under the name Khoisan . As the only ethnic group of the Khoikhoi, the Khoisan-speaking Nama have survived in Namibia. Their sub-tribe Orlam speaks an Afrikaans dialect that has incorporated many elements from the Khoi languages.

Concept history

The Cape people originally referred to themselves as Khoi ( people ). The separation of the Khoi into two different groups, the Khoikhoi and the San , introduced by Europeans , goes back to the 17th century. In order to differentiate the residents, physical and economic characteristics were used for classification. The livestock-keeping population was referred to as “ Hottentots ” and the hunters and gatherers as “ Bushmen ” ( Bosjesmannen ), regardless of whether these societies saw themselves as homogeneous groups. The separation on the basis of economic aspects was, however, supported by the more affluent group (khoikhoi) who saw the gathering as a “minor” activity. The Khoikhoi therefore referred to the hunters and gatherers (Bushmen) as San to illustrate this difference. The original term Khoi is reproduced today in ethnological research with the term Khoisan .


Drawing of a Khoikhoi settlement, around 1717

The Khoikhoi lived mainly as nomadic shepherds . Accordingly, they were organized in smaller groups, which, due to their economic basis and the associated way of life, saw themselves as a homogeneous unit.

According to one controversial assumption, the Khoikhoi could be descended from the San. According to this theory, the Khoikhoi split in 200 BC. After an encounter with Bantu groups in the north of what is now Botswana from the San. From the Bantu the Khoikhoi learned how to keep livestock, which made them less dependent on hunting and more sedentary than the San.

The Khoikhoi remained nomads despite their newly acquired knowledge . They could stay in one place longer, but as soon as the pastures in the area were exhausted, they too had to move on. For this reason, larger groups or even state structures could not be formed. The Khoikhoi people were instead divided into clans , which were loose ties between wandering groups.

The khoi, related to the San, outnumbered them at the time the Europeans reached them. Today the relationship is reversed. The San resisted the advancing Europeans, but after the first battle they often withdrew from the area. The Khoi, however, fought to the last. During the colonization by the Dutch, the Khoikhoi of the Cape region were almost exterminated. Some joined the San. They were and are often employed as shepherds on many farms.

The Nama in Namibia are Khoi who fled there from South Africa at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries .

Colonial times

Group of imprisoned Khoikhoi, colored postcard, 1904

The Nama fought against German colonial rule in the 1903–1908 uprising . The German Schutztruppe imprisoned most of the Nama in the concentration camps on Shark Island and in Swakopmund , where the prisoners had to do forced labor . In these camps there were poor climatic, comfortable and hygienic conditions, which - coupled with malnutrition - led to mostly fatal diseases. According to the UN Convention of 1948 , these acts are now classified as genocide , similar to that of the Herero . Historians estimate that more than half of the then 20,000 Nama were killed.

Sarah Baartman

Sarah Baartman , a Khoi, was brought to Europe as a young woman in 1810 and exhibited there because of her anatomical peculiarities - her buttocks are particularly large due to fat deposits ( steatopygia ) and elongated inner labia (then known as the so-called " Hottentot apron "). After her death in 1816 it was dissected and partially preserved. Their physical characteristics served as a biological basis for racial theories that were constructed to legitimize colonialism . It was not until 1974 that her remains were removed from the public exhibition of the Musée de l'Homme , and it was not until 2002 that, at the urging of South African President Nelson Mandela, they were brought back to their homeland and solemnly buried.

Todays situation

The future of the Khoi is uncertain as they have not been able to keep themselves isolated like the San. In South Africa, especially in the Cape Town region , there are still 2400 carboys, of which around 150 maintain their ancient culture.

In Namibia the number is around 3400, of which 1700 have remained true to their tradition. The Nama Khoi have 100,000 members, the majority of whom are still nomadic.

In Botswana, their number decreased from 2900 to 1900 after they emigrated to Namibia. Almost 100 are still living as they were a thousand years ago.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Dieter Haller (text), Bernd Rodekohr (illustrations): Dtv-Atlas Ethnologie . 2nd Edition. dtv, Munich 2010. p. 167
  2. ^ Hottentotten In: Brockhaus Enzyklopädie 2002 digital , Bibliographisches Institut & F. A. Brockhaus AG, 2002.
  3. Orlam In: Brockhaus Enzyklopädie 2002 digital , Bibliographisches Institut & F. A. Brockhaus AG, 2002.
  4. ^ Alan Barnard : Anthropology and the Bushman. Berg, Oxford 2007, p. 5
  5. ^ South African Government Information: The significance of Sarah Baartman. Retrieved April 9, 2020 .


  • Werner Jopp: The early German reports on the Cape and the Hottentots up to 1750 ; Phil. Diss., Mach.-writ .; Göttingen 1960 (important ethnographic study, unprinted; in the reference inventory of the Institute for Ethnology of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen , only available via interlibrary loan) (OPAC: [1] )
  • Richard Elphick: Kraal and castle. Khoikhoi and the founding of white South Africa ; Phil. Diss .; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977; ISBN 0-300-02012-0 (important work on the early history of contact between the Khoikhoi and the Dutch, up to approx. 1710)
  • Werner Jopp (Ed.): Unter Hottentotten 1705–1713. The notes of Peter Kolb ; Series: Adventurous old travelogues; Tuebingen 1979; ISBN 3-86503-139-0
  • Tilman Dedering: Hate the Old and Follow the New. Khoekhoe and Missionaries in Early Nineteenth-Century Namibia. Franz Steiner, 1997

Web links

Commons : Khoikhoi  - collection of images, videos and audio files