Khoisan /ˈkɔɪsɑːn/, or Khoe-Sān (pronounced [kxʰoesaːn]), according to the contemporary Khoekhoegowab orthography, is a catch-all term for those indigenous peoples of Southern Africa who do not speak one of the Bantu languages, combining the Khoekhoen (formerly "Khoikhoi") and the Sān or Sākhoen (also, in Afrikaans: Boesmans, or in English: Bushmen, after Dutch: Boschjesmens; and Saake in the Nǁng language).

Khoekhoen specifically were formerly known as "Hottentots", which was an onomatopoeic term (from Dutch hot-en-tot) referring to the click consonants prevalent in the Khoekhoe languages, as they are in all the languages grouped under Khoesān. Dutchmen in the early Cape settlement would ply Khoekhoen with liquor as an inducement for them to perform a ritual dance. The lyric accompanying the dance sounded in Dutch ears like hot-en-tot.

Sān are popularly thought of as foragers in the Kalahari Desert and regions of Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Northern South Africa. The word sān is from the Khoekhoe language and simply refers to foragers ("those who pick things up from the ground") who do not own livestock. As such, it was used in reference to all hunter-gatherer populations of the Southern African region who Khoekhoe-speaking communities came into contact with and was largely a term referring to a lifestyle, distinct from a pastoralist or agriculturalist one, and not to any particular ethnicity. While there are attendant cosmologies and languages associated with this way of life, the term is an economic designator rather than a cultural or ethnic one.

Khoekhoen is an ethnic designator. It refers to several populations which speak closely-related languages and are considered to be the historical pastoralist communities in the South African Cape region, through to Namibia, where Khoekhoe populations of Nama and Damara people are prevalent ethnicities.

These Khoekhoe nations and Sān are grouped under the single term Khoesān as representing the indigenous substrate population of Southern Africa prior to the hypothesised Bantu expansion reaching the area roughly between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago.

Many Khoesān peoples are the direct descendants of a very early dispersal of anatomically modern humans to Southern Africa before 150,000 years ago. Their languages show a vague typological similarity, largely confined to the prevalence of click consonants. They are not verifiably derived from a common proto-language, but are today split into at least three separate and unrelated language families (Khoe-Kwadi, ǃUi-Taa and Kxʼa). It has been suggested that the Khoekhoeǁaen (Khoekhoe peoples) may represent Late Stone Age arrivals to Southern Africa, possibly displaced by Bantu immigration.

The compound term Khoisan / Khoesān is a modern anthropological convention in use since the early-to-mid 20th century. Khoisan is a coinage by Leonhard Schulze in the 1920s and popularised by Isaac Schapera. It entered wider usage from the 1960s based on the proposal of a "Khoisan" language family by Joseph Greenberg.

During the Colonial/Apartheid era Afrikaans-speaking persons with partial Khoesān ancestry were historically also grouped as Cape Blacks (Afrikaans: Kaap Swartes) or Western Cape Blacks (Afrikaans: Wes-Kaap Swartes) to rather inaccurately distinguish them from the Bantu-speaking peoples, the other indigenous African population of South Africa who also had significant Khoe-San ancestry.

The term Khoisan (also spelled KhoiSan, Khoi-San, Khoe-San) has also been introduced in South African usage as a self-designation after the end of apartheid in the late 1990s. Since the 2010s, there has been a "Khoisan activist" movement, demanding recognition and land rights from the government and white minority which owns large parts of the country's private land.



It is suggested that the ancestors of the modern Khoisan expanded to Southern Africa before 150,000 years ago, possibly as early as before 260,000 years ago, so that by the beginning of the MIS 5 "megadrought" 130,000 years ago, there were two ancestral population clusters in Africa, bearers of mt-DNA haplogroup L0 in southern Africa ancestral to the Khoi-San and bearers of haplogroup L1-6 in central/eastern Africa ancestral to everyone else.

Due to their early expansion and separation, the populations ancestral to the Khoisan have been estimated as having represented the "largest human population" during the majority of the anatomically modern human timeline, from their early separation before 150 kya until the recent peopling of Eurasia some 70 kya. They were much more widespread than today, their modern distribution being due to their decimation in the course of the Bantu expansion. They were dispersed throughout much of southern and southeastern Africa. There was also a significant back-migration of bearers of L0 towards eastern Africa between 120 and 75 kya. Rito et al. (2013) speculate that pressure from such back-migration may even have contributed to the dispersal of East African populations out of Africa at about 70 kya.

"By ~130 ka two distinct groups of anatomically modern humans co-existed in Africa: broadly, the ancestors of many modern-day Khoe and San populations in the south and a second central/eastern African group that includes the ancestors of most extant worldwide populations. Early modern human dispersals correlate with climate changes, particularly the tropical African "megadroughts" of MIS 5 (marine isotope stage 5, 135–75 ka) which paradoxically may have facilitated expansions in central and eastern Africa, ultimately triggering the dispersal out of Africa of people carrying haplogroup L3 ~60 ka. Two south to east migrations are discernible within haplogroup L0. One, between 120 and 75 ka, represents the first unambiguous long-range modern human dispersal detected by mtDNA and might have allowed the dispersal of several markers of modernity. A second one, within the last 20 ka signalled by L0d, may have been responsible for the spread of southern click-consonant languages to eastern Africa, contrary to the view that these eastern examples constitute relics of an ancient, much wider distribution."

Late Stone Age

The San populations ancestral to the Khoisan were spread throughout much of southern and eastern Africa throughout the Late Stone Age after about 75 ka. A further expansion dated to about 20 ka has been proposed based on the distribution of the L0d haplogroup. Rosti et al. suggest a connection of this recent expansion with the spread of click consonants to eastern African languages (Hadza language).

The Late Stone Age Sangoan industry occupied southern Africa in areas where annual rainfall is less than a metre (1000 mm; 39.4 in). The contemporary San and Khoi peoples resemble those represented by the ancient Sangoan skeletal remains.

Against the traditional interpretation that finds a common origin for the Khoi and San, other evidence has suggested that the ancestors of the Khoi peoples are relatively recent pre-Bantu agricultural immigrants to southern Africa who abandoned agriculture as the climate dried and either joined the San as hunter-gatherers or retained pastoralism.

With the hypothesized arrival of pastoralists & bantoid agro-pastoralists in southern Africa starting around 2,300 years ago, linguistic development is later seen in the click consonants and loan words from ancient Khoe-san languages into the evolution of blended agro-pastoralist & hunter-gatherer communities that would eventually evolve into the now extant, amalgamated modern native linguistic communities found in South Africa, Botswana & Namibia (e.g. in South African Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Zulu people.)

Today these groups represent the quantitative majority of extant admixed ancient Khoe-San descendants by the millions.

Historical period

The Khoikhoi enter the historical record with their first contact with Portuguese explorers, about 1,000 years after their displacement by the Bantu. Local population dropped after the Khoi were exposed to smallpox from Europeans. The Khoi waged more frequent attacks against Europeans when the Dutch East India Company enclosed traditional grazing land for farms. Khoikhoi social organisation was profoundly damaged and, in the end, destroyed by 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 (bondservants) or farm workers; many were incorporated into existing Khoi clan and family groups of the Xhosa people.

Georg Schmidt, a Moravian Brother from Herrnhut, Saxony, now Germany, founded Genadendal in 1738, which was the first mission station in southern Africa, among the Khoi people in Baviaanskloof in the Riviersonderend Mountains. Early European settlers sometimes intermarried with Khoikhoi women, resulting in a sizeable mixed-race population now known as the Griqua. The Griqua people too would migrate to what was by that time the frontierlands of the Xhosa native reserves and establish Griqualand East, which contained a mostly Xhosa population.

Andries Stockenström facilitated the creation of the "Kat River" Khoi settlement near the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony. The settlements thrived and expanded, and Kat River quickly became a large and successful region of the Cape that subsisted more or less autonomously. The people were predominantly Afrikaans-speaking Gonaqua Khoi, but the settlement also began to attract other Khoi, Xhosa and mixed-race groups of the Cape.

The so-called "Bushman wars" were to a large extent the response of the San after their dispossession.

At the start of the 18th century, the Khoikhoi in the Western Cape lived in a co-operative state with the Dutch. By the end of the century the majority of the Khoisan operated as 'wage labourers', not that dissimilar to slaves. Geographically, the further away the labourer was from Cape Town, the more difficult it became to transport agricultural produce to the markets. The issuing of grazing licences north of the Berg River in what was then the Tulbagh Basin propelled colonial expansion in the area. This system of land relocation led to the Khoijhou losing their land and livestock as well as dramatic change in the social, economic and political development.

After the defeat of the Xhosa rebellion in 1853, the new Cape Government endeavoured to grant the Khoi political rights to avert future racial discontent. The government enacted the Cape franchise in 1853, which decreed that all male citizens meeting a low property test, regardless of colour, had the right to vote and to seek election in Parliament. This non-racial principle was later abolished by the apartheid Government.

In the Herero and Namaqua genocide in German South-West Africa, over 10,000 Nama are estimated to have been killed during 1904–1907.

The San of the Kalahari were described in Specimens of Bushman Folklore by Wilhelm H. I. Bleek and Lucy C. Lloyd (1911). They were brought to the globalised world's attention in the 1950s by South African author Laurens van der Post in a six-part television documentary. The Ancestral land conflict in Botswana concerns the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), established in 1961 for wildlife, while the San were permitted to continue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

In the 1990s, the government of Botswana began a policy of "relocating" CKGR residents outside the reserve. In 2002, the government cut off all services to CKGR residents. A legal battle began, and in 2006 the High Court of Botswana ruled that the residents had been forcibly and unconstitutionally removed. The policy of relocation continued, however, and in 2012 the San people (Basarwa) appealed to the United Nations to force the government to recognise their land and resource rights.

Following the end of Apartheid in 1994, the term "Khoisan" has gradually come to be used as a self-designation by South African Khoikhoi as representing the "first nations" of South Africa vis-a-vis the ruling Bantu majority. A conference on "Khoisan Identities and Cultural Heritage" was organised by the University of the Western Cape in 1997. and "Khoisan activism" has been reported in the South African media beginning in 2015.

The South African government allowed Khoisan families (up until 1998) to pursue land claims which existed prior to 1913. The South African Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner, Thami Mdontswa, has said that constitutional reform would be required to enable Khoisan people to pursue further claims to land from which their direct ancestors were removed prior to 9 June 1913.


In 2019, scientists from the University of the Free State discovered 8,000-year-old carvings made by the Khoisan people. The carvings depicted a hippopotamus, horse, and antelope in the 'Rain Snake' Dyke of the Vredefort structure, which may have spiritual significance regarding the rain-making mythology of the Khoisan.

Violence against the Khoisan

Herero and Namaqua Genocide

In the Herero and Namaqua genocide, about 10,000 Nama, a Khoekhoe group, and an unknown number of San people were killed in an extermination campaign by the German Colonial Empire between 1904 and 1908.

Forced relocation in Botswana

In Botswana, many of the indigenous San people have been forcibly relocated from their land to reservations. To make them relocate, they were denied access to water on their land and faced arrest if they hunted, which was their primary source of food. Their lands lie in the middle of the world's richest diamond field. Officially, the government denies that there is any link to mining and claims the relocation is to preserve the wildlife and ecosystem, even though the San people have lived sustainably on the land for millennia. On the reservations they struggle to find employment, and alcoholism is rampant.


The "Khoisan languages" were proposed as a linguistic phylum by Joseph Greenberg in 1955. Their genetic relationship was questioned later in the 20th century, and the term now serves mostly as a convenience term without implying genetic unity, much like "Papuan" and "Australian" are. Their most notable uniting feature is their click consonants. They are categorized in two families, and a number of possible language isolates.

The Kxʼa family was proposed in 2010, combining the ǂʼAmkoe (ǂHoan) language with the ǃKung (Juu) dialect cluster. ǃKung includes about a dozen dialects, with no clear-cut delineation between them. Sands et al. (2010) propose a division into four clusters:

Northern ǃKung (Sekele), spoken in Angola around the Cunene, Cubango, Cuito, and Cuando rivers (but with many refugees now in Namibia), North-Central ǃKung (Ekoka), spoken in Namibia between the Ovambo River and the Angolan border, Central ǃKung, spoken around Grootfontein, Namibia, west of the central Omatako River and south of the Ovambo River Southeastern ǃKung (Juǀ'hoan), spoken in Botswana east of the Okavango Delta, and northeast Namibia from near Windhoek to Rundu, Gobabis, and the Caprivi Strip.

The Khoi (Khoe) family is divided into a Khoikhoi (Khoekhoe and Khoemana dialects) and a Kalahari (Tshu–Khwe) branch. The Kalahari branch of Khoe includes Shua and Tsoa (with dialects), and Kxoe, Naro, Gǁana and ǂHaba (with dialects). Khoe also has been tentatively aligned with Kwadi ("Kwadi–Khoe"), and more speculatively with the Sandawe language of Tanzania ("Khoe–Sandawe"). The Hadza language of Tanzania has been associated with the Khoisan group due to the presence of click consonants.

Physical characteristics and genetics

Charles Darwin wrote about the Khoisan and sexual selection in The Descent of Man in 1882, commenting that their steatopygia, seen primarily in females, evolved through sexual selection in human evolution, and that "the posterior part of the body projects in a most wonderful manner". Historically, some females were observed by anthropologists to exhibit elongated labia minora, which sometimes projected as much as 10 cm below the vulva when standing. Though well documented, the motivations behind this practice and the voices of the women who perform it are rarely explored in the research.

In the 1990s, genomic studies of the world's peoples found that the Y chromosome of San men share certain patterns of polymorphisms that are distinct from those of all other populations. Because the Y chromosome is highly conserved between generations, this type of DNA test is used to determine when different subgroups separated from one another, and hence their last common ancestry. The authors of these studies suggested that the San may have been one of the first populations to differentiate from the most recent common paternal ancestor of all extant humans.

Various Y-chromosome studies since confirmed that the Khoisan carry some of the most divergent (oldest) Y-chromosome haplogroups. These haplogroups are specific sub-groups of haplogroups A and B, the two earliest branches on the human Y-chromosome tree.

Similar to findings from Y-chromosome studies, mitochondrial DNA studies also showed evidence that the Khoisan people carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. The most divergent (oldest) mitochondrial haplogroup, L0d, has been identified at its highest frequencies in the southern African Khoi and San groups. The distinctiveness of the Khoisan in both matrilineal and patrilineal groupings is a further indicator that they represent a population historically distinct from other Africans.

Research and academic centre

On 21 September 2020 the University of Cape Town launched its new Khoi and San Centre, with an undergraduate degree programme planned to be rolled out in coming years. The centre will support and consolidate this collaborative work on research commissions on language (including Khoekhoegowab), sacred human remains, land and gender. Many descendants of Khoisan people still live on the Cape Flats.


Khoekhoen (singular Khoekhoe) (or Khoikhoi in the former orthography; formerly also Hottentots) are the traditionally nomadic pastoralist indigenous population of southwestern Africa. They are often grouped with the hunter-gatherer San (literally "Foragers") peoples. The designation "Khoekhoe" is actually a kare or praise address, not an ethnic endonym, but it has been used in the literature as an ethnic term for Khoe-speaking peoples of Southern Africa, particularly pastoralist groups, such as the !Ora, !Gona, Nama, Xiri and ǂNūkhoe nations. While the presence of Khoekhoen in Southern Africa predates the Bantu expansion, according to a scientific theory based mainly on linguistic evidence, it is not clear when the Khoekhoen began inhabiting the areas where the first contact with Europeans occurred (possibly in the Late Stone Age). At that time, in the 17th century, the Khoekhoen maintained large herds of Nguni cattle in the Cape region. They mostly gave up nomadic pastoralism in the 19th to 20th century. Their Khoekhoe language is related to certain dialects spoken by foraging San peoples of the Kalahari, such as the Khwe and Tshwa, forming the Khoe language family. The main Khoekhoe subdivisions today are the Nama people of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa (with numerous clans), the ǂNūkhoeǃhaos of Namibia, the !Orana clans of South Africa (such as ǀHõakhoena or AmaNgqosini), the Xirikua or Griekwa nation of South Africa, and the AmaGqunukhwebe or !Gona clans which fall under the Xhosa-speaking polities. The Xirikua clans (Griqua) developed their own ethnic identity in the 19th century and settled in Griqualand. They are related to the same kinds of clan formations as the Rehoboth Basters, who could also be considered a "Khoekhoe" people.


Early history

The broad ethnic designation of "Khoekhoen", meaning the peoples originally part of a pastoral culture and language group to be found across Southern Africa, is thought to refer to a population originating in the northern area of modern Botswana. This culture steadily spread southward, eventually reaching the Cape approximately 2,000 years ago. "Khoekhoe" groups include ǀAwakhoen to the west, and ǀKx'abakhoena of South and mid-South Africa, and the Eastern Cape. Both of these terms mean "Red People", and are equivalent to the IsiXhosa term "amaqaba". Husbandry of sheep, goats and cattle grazing in fertile valleys across the region provided a stable, balanced diet, and allowed these lifestyles to spread, with larger groups forming in a region previously occupied by the subsistence foragers.
Ntu-speaking agriculturalist culture is thought to have entered the region in the 3rd century AD, pushing pastoralists into the Western areas. The example of the close relation between the ǃUriǁ’aes (High clan), a cattle keeping population, and the !Uriǁ’aeǀ’ona (High clan children), a more-or-less sedentary forager population (also known as "Strandlopers"), both occupying the area of ǁHuiǃgaeb, shows that the strict distinction between these two lifestyles is unwarranted, as well as the ethnic categories that are derived. Foraging peoples who ideologically value non-accumulation as a social value system would be distinct, however, but the distinctions among “Khoekhoe pastoralists”, “San hunter-gatherers” and “Bantu agriculturalists” do not hold up to scrutiny, and appear to be historical reductionism.

Arrival of Europeans

Khoe-speaking peoples traded with seafarers from all over the globe for centuries, going back into ancient times, and this undoubtedly included some Europeans, perhaps even Roman vessels, but Portuguese explorers and merchants are the first to record their contacts, in the 15th and 16th centuries AD. The ongoing encounters were often violent. In 1510, at the Battle of Salt River, Francisco de Almeida and fifty of his men were killed and his party were defeated by ox-mounted !Uriǁ’aekua ("Goringhaiqua" in Dutch approximate spelling), which was one of the so-called Khoekhoe clans of the area that also included the !Uriǁ’aeǀ’ona ("Goringhaicona", also known as "Strandlopers"), said to be the ancestors of the !Ora nation of today. In the late 16th century, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch and English but mainly Portuguese ships regularly continued to stop over in Table Bay en route to the Indies. They traded tobacco, copper and iron with the Khoekhoe-speaking clans of the region, in exchange for fresh meat.

Local population dropped after smallpox contagion was spread through European activity. The Khoe-speaking clans suffered high mortality as immunity to the disease was rare. This increased, as military conflict with the intensification of the colonial expansion of the United East India Company that began to enclose traditional grazing land for farms. Over the following century, the Khoe-speaking peoples were steadily driven off their land, resulting in numerous northwards migrations, and the reformulation of many nations and clans, as well as the dissolution of many traditional structures.

"Khoekhoe" social organisation was thus profoundly damaged by the colonial expansion and land seizure from the late 17th century onwards. As social structures broke down, many Khoekhoen settled on farms and became bondsmen (bondservants, serfs) or farm workers; others were incorporated into clans that persisted. Georg Schmidt, a Moravian Brother from Herrnhut, Saxony, now Germany, founded Genadendal in 1738, which was the first mission station in Southern Africa, among the Khoe-speaking peoples in Baviaanskloof in the Riviersonderend Mountains.

The colonial designation of "Baasters" came to refer to any clans that had European ancestry in some part and adopted certain Western cultural traits. Though these were later known as Griqua (Xirikua or Griekwa) they were known at the time as "Basters" and in some instances are still so called, e. g., the Bosluis Basters of the Richtersveld and the Baster community of Rehoboth, Namibia, mentioned above.

Arguably responding to the influence of missionaries, the states of Griqualand West and Griqualand East were established by the Kok dynasty; these were later absorbed into the Cape Colony of the British Empire.

Beginning in the late 18th century, Oorlam communities migrated from the Cape Colony north to Namaqualand. They settled places earlier occupied by the Nama. They came partly to escape Dutch colonial conscription, partly to raid and trade, and partly to obtain herding lands. Some of these emigrant Oorlams (including the band led by the outlaw Jager Afrikaner and his son Jonker Afrikaner in the Transgariep) retained links to Oorlam communities in or close to the borders of the Cape Colony. In the face of gradual Boer expansion and then large-scale Boer migrations away from British rule at the Cape, Jonker Afrikaner brought his people into Namaqualand by the mid-19th century, becoming a formidable force for Oorlam domination over the Nama and against the Bantu-speaking Hereros for a period.

Kat River settlement (1829–1856) and Khoena in the Cape Colony

By the early 1800s, the remaining Khoe-speakers of the Cape Colony suffered from restricted civil rights and discriminatory laws on land ownership. With this pretext, the powerful Commissioner General of the Eastern Districts, Andries Stockenstrom, facilitated the creation of the "Kat River" Khoe settlement near the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony. The more cynical motive was probably to create a buffer-zone on the Cape's frontier, but the extensive fertile land in the region allowed people to own their land and build communities in peace. The settlements thrived and expanded, and Kat River quickly became a large and successful region of the Cape that subsisted more or less autonomously. The people were predominantly Afrikaans-speaking !Gonakua, but the settlement also began to attract other diverse groups.

Khoekua were known at the time for being very good marksmen, and were often invaluable allies of the Cape Colony in its frontier wars with the neighbouring Xhosa politics. In the Seventh Frontier War (1846–1847) against the Gcaleka, the Khoekua gunmen from Kat River distinguished themselves under their leader Andries Botha in the assault on the "Amatola fastnesses". (The young John Molteno, later Prime Minister, led a mixed commando in the assault, and later praised the Khoekua as having more bravery and initiative than most of his white soldiers.)

However, harsh laws were still implemented in the Eastern Cape, to encourage the Khoena to leave their lands in the Kat River region and to work as labourers on white farms. The growing resentment exploded in 1850. When the Xhosa rose against the Cape Government, large numbers Khoeǀ’ona joined the Xhosa rebels for the first time. After the defeat of the rebellion and the granting of representative government to the Cape Colony in 1853, the new Cape Government endeavoured to grant the Khoena political rights to avert future racial discontent.

Attorney General William Porter was famously quoted as saying that he "would rather meet the Hottentot at the hustings, voting for his representative, than meet him in the wilds with his gun upon his shoulder". Thus, the government enacted the Cape franchise in 1853, which decreed that all male citizens meeting a low property test, regardless of colour, had the right to vote and to seek election in Parliament. However, this non-racial principle was eroded in the late 1880s by a literacy test, and later abolished by the Apartheid Government.

Massacres in German South-West Africa

From 1904 to 1907, the Germans took up arms against the Khoikhoi group living in what was then German South-West Africa, along with the Herero. Over 10,000 Nama, more than half of the total Nama population at the time, may have died in the conflict. This was the single greatest massacre ever witnessed by the Khoikhoi people.



The religious mythology of the Khoe-speaking cultures gives special significance to the Moon, which may have been viewed as the physical manifestation of a supreme being associated with heaven. Thiǁoab (Tsui'goab) is also believed to be the creator and the guardian of health, while ǁGaunab is primarily an evil being, who causes sickness or death. Many Khoe-speakers have converted to Christianity and Nama Muslims make up a large percentage of Namibia's Muslims.

World Heritage

UNESCO has recognised Khoe-speaking culture through its inscription of the Richtersveld as a World Heritage Site. This important area is the only place where transhumance practices associated with the culture continue to any great extent. The International Astronomical Union named the primary component of the binary star Mu¹ Scorpii after the traditional Khoekhoe language name Xami di mûra ('eyes of the lion').

List of Khoekhoe peoples

The classification of Khoikhoi peoples can be broken down roughly into two groupings: Northern Khoikhoi & Southern Khoikhoi (Cape Khoi).

Northern Khoikhoi

The Northern Khoikhoi are referred to as the Nama or Namaqua and they have among them 11 formal clans:

  • Khaiǁkhaun (Red Nation) at Hoachanas, the main group and the oldest Nama clan in Namibia
  • ǀKhowesen (Direct descendants of Captain Hendrik Witbooi) who was killed in the battle with Germans on 29 October 1905. The |Khowesin, reside in modern-day Gibeon under the leadership of Ismael Hendrik Witbooi the 9th Gaob (meaning captain) of the |Khowesen Gibeon, situated 72 km south of Mariental and 176 km north of Keetmanshoop just off the B1, was originally known by the name Khaxa-tsûs. It received its name from Kido Witbooi first Kaptein of the ǀKhowesin.
  • ǃGamiǂnun (Bondelswarts) at Warmbad
  • ǂAonin (Southern Topnaars) at Rooibank
  • ǃGomen (Northern Topnaars) at Sesfontein
  • ǃKharakhoen (Fransman Nama) at Gochas. After being defeated by Imperial Germany's Schutztruppe in the Battle of Swartfontein on 15 January 1905, this Nama group split into two. Part of the ǃKharakhoen fled to Lokgwabe, Botswana, and stayed there permanently,[21] the part that remained on South West African soil relocated their tribal centre to Amper-Bo. In 2016 David Hanse was inaugurated as chief of the clan.
  • ǁHawoben (Veldschoendragers) at Koës
  • !Aman at Bethanie which was led by Cornelius Frederick
  • ǁOgain (Groot Doden) at Schlip
  • ǁKhauǀgoan (Swartbooi Nama) at Rehoboth, later at Salem, Ameib, and Franzfontein
  • Kharoǃoan (Keetmanshoop Nama) under the leadership of Hendrik Tseib[23] split from the Red Nation in February 1850 and settled at Keetmanshoop.
  • Among the Namaqua are also the Oorlams who are a southern Khoikhoi people of mixed-race ancestry that trekked northwards over the Orange River and where absorbed into the greater Nama identity. The Oorlams themselves are made up of 5 smaller clans:

  • ǀAixaǀaen (Orlam Afrikaners), the first group to enter and permanently settle in Namibia. Their leader Klaas Afrikaner left the Cape Colony around 1770. The clan first built the fortress of ǁKhauxaǃnas, then moved to Blydeverwacht, and finally settled at Windhoek.
  • ǃAman (Bethanie Orlam) subtribe settled at Bethanie at the turn of the eighteenth century. Kaiǀkhauan (Khauas Nama) subtribe formed in the 1830s, when the Vlermuis clan merged with the Amraal family. Their home settlement became Naosanabis (now Leonardville), which they occupied from 1840 onward. This clan ceased to exist after military defeat by Imperial German Schutztruppe in 1894 and 1896.
  • ǀHaiǀkhauan (Berseba Orlam) subtribe formed in 1850, when the Tibot and Goliath families split from the ǃAman to found Berseba.
  • ǀKhowesin (Witbooi Orlam) subtribe was the last to take up settlement in Namibia. They originated at Pella, south of the Orange River. Their home town became Gibeon.
  • These Namaqua inhabit the Great Namaqualand region of Namibia. There are also minor Namaqua clans that inhabit the Little Namaqualand regions south of the Orange River in north western South Africa.

    Southern Khoikhoi (Cape Khoi)

    The southern band of Khoekhoe peoples (Sometimes also called the Cape Khoi) inhabit the Western Cape and Eastern Cape Provinces in the south western coastal regions of South Africa. They are further divided into 4 subgroups, Eastern Cape Khoi, Central Cape Khoi, Western Cape Khoi and Peninsular Cape Khoi.

    The Eastern Cape Khoi

    • Hoengeyqua
    • Damasonqua
    • Gonaqua

    Central Cape Khoi

    • Inqua
    • Houtunqua
    • Gamtobaqua (possible historical subgroup of the Houtunqua)
    • Attaqua
    • Gouriqua
    • Chamaqua

    Western Cape Khoi

    • Chainuoqua
    • Cochoqua
    • Hessequa
    • Chairiguriqua

    Peninsula Cape Khoi

    Goringhaiqua: The Goringhaiqua are a single tribal authority made from the two houses of the Goringhaikona & Gorachouqua

    Early European theories about Khoekhoe origins

    European theories about the origins of the Khoekhoe are historically interesting in their own right. Of the European theories proposed, notable is that summarised in the commissioned Grammar and Dictionary of the Zulu Language. Published in 1859, this put forward the idea of an origin from Egypt that appears to have been popular amongst men of learning in the region. The reasoning for this included the (supposed) distinctive Caucasian elements of the Khoekhoe's appearance, a "wont to worship the moon'", an apparent similarity to the antiquities of Old Egypt, and a "very different language" to their neighbours. The Grammar says that "the best philologists of the present day ... find marked resemblances between the two". This conviction is echoed in an introduction to the Zulu language, which avidly often comments upon the language's various resemblances to Hebrew.

    San religion

    The San religion is the traditional religion and mythology of the San people. It is poorly attested due to their interactions with Christianity.

    Gods and mythical figures


    The ǀXam prayed to the Sun and Moon. Many myths are ascribed to various stars.

    • ǀKágge̥n (sometimes corrupted to "Cagn") is Mantis, a demiurge and hero in ǀXam folklore. He is a trickster god who can shape-shift. He and his wife ǀHúnntuǃattǃatte̥n.
    • ǀHúnntuǃattǃatte̥n (also known as or corrupted to "Coti"), the Dassie, adopted !Xo, Porcupine, as their daughter.
    • !Xo, Porcupine, as their parents ǀKágge̥n and ǀHúnntuǃattǃatte̥n, married Ichneumon, son was the Ichneumon.
    • /Kwammang-a, a dangerous stranger carnivore, married !Xo, son was the Ichneumon.
    • Ichneumon, a small, furry carnivore, mongoose.
    • ǂKá̦gára and ǃHãunu are brothers-in-law who fought with lightning, causing massive storms in the east.


    ǃXu is the Khoikhoi word ǃKhub 'rich man, master', which was used by some Christian missionaries to translate "Lord" in the Bible, and repeated by San people in reporting what the Khoikhoi told them. It is used in Juǀʼhoan as the word for the Christian god. It has been misinterpreted as the "Bushman creator".


    To enter the spirit world, trance has to be initiated by a shaman through the hunting of a tutelary spirit or power animal. The eland often serves as power animal. The fat of the eland is used symbolically in many rituals including initiations and rites of passage. Other animals such as giraffe, kudu and hartebeest can also serve this function.

    One of the most important rituals in the San religion is the great dance, or the trance dance. This dance typically takes a circular form, with women clapping and singing and men dancing rhythmically. Although there is no evidence that the Kalahari San use hallucinogens regularly, student shaman may use hallucinogens to go into trance for the first time.

    Psychologists have investigated hallucinations and altered states of consciousness in neuropsychology. They found that entoptic phenomena can occur through rhythmic dancing, music, sensory deprivation, hyperventilation, prolonged and intense concentration and migraines. The psychological approach explains rock art through three trance phases. In the first phase of trance an altered state of consciousness would come about. People would experience geometric shapes commonly known as entoptic phenomena. These would include zigzags, chevrons, dots, flecks, grids, vortices and U-shapes. These shapes can be found especially in rock engravings of Southern Africa.

    During the second phase of trance people try to make sense of the entoptic phenomena. They would elaborate the shape they had 'seen' until they had created something that looked familiar to them. Shamans experiencing the second phase of trance would incorporate the natural world into their entoptic phenomena, visualizing honeycombs or other familiar shapes.

    In the third phase a radical transformation occurs in mental imagery. The most noticeable change is that the shaman becomes part of the experience. Subjects under laboratory conditions have found that they experience sliding down a rotating tunnel, entering caves or holes in the ground. People in the third phase begin to lose their grip on reality and hallucinate monsters and animals of strong emotional content. In this phase, therianthropes in rock painting can be explained as heightened sensory awareness that gives one the feeling that they have undergone a physical transformation.

    A San trance dance featuring the San of Ghanzi, Botswana appeared in BBC Television's Around the World in 80 Faiths on 16 January 2009.

    Rock art

    Pictographs can be found across Southern Africa in places such as the cave sandstone of KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North-Eastern Cape, the granite and Waterberg sandstone of the Northern Transvaal, the Table Mountain sandstone of the Southern and Western Cape. Images of conflict and war-making are not uncommon. There are also often images of therianthrophic entities which have both human and animal traits and are connected to the notion of trancing, but these represent only a fraction of all rock art representations.

    Most commonly portrayed are animals such as the eland, although grey rhebok and hartebeest are also in rock art in places such as Cederberg and Warm Bokkeveld. At uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park there are paintings thought to be some 3,000 years old which depict humans and animals, and are thought to have religious significance.

Food for Thought

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