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Joidan Williamson

Professor Tina Katsanos

LBST 2102

27 March, 2017

Khoisan-South Africa

An indigenous people or culture are referred to as aboriginal peoples, native peoples or

first peoples. They are ethnic groups who are descended from the original inhabitants of a region.

Majority of groups are identified as indigenous when they maintain traditions and other cultural

related activities associated with a given place. (Khoisan) Some indigenous people are settled in

a given area and continue a nomadic lifestyle. (Khoisan) Indigenous societies are established in

every continent of the world. I will particular be looking at South Africas first peoples; the


The total population of South Africa is around 50 million, but of that only 1% is

estimated to be composed of indigenous groups. (Aarslev, Alix, and Wessendorf) The Khoisan

people were one of the first indigenous groups in South Africa. The term Khoisan is used by

anthropologist to help distinguish the aboriginal people of southern African from their black

African farming neighbors. (San Heritage) They were originally called Khoe-San because they

were comprised of the groups San and Khoekhoe. (Aarslev, Alix, and Wessendorf) The original

San people lived for about 100,000 years before other blacks and European settlers arrived. The

San include the indigenous inhabitants of Southern Africa and became the predominant

inhabitants of Southern Africa. (Khoisan) The distinct origin of the Khoekhoe is debated. When

the Khoekhoe appeared around 2,000 years ago they saw people who were similar in appearance
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to themselves, but they had a different culture. (San Heritage) Over time, some Khoekhoe

abandoned pastoralism and embraced the hunter-gatherer economy of the San, probably due to a

drying climate, and are now considered Khoe-San. (Khoisan) The Khoe-San communities

displayed a wide range of socio-economic and cultural practices and lifestyles. This brought

changes in South Africa which allowed Africans the right to self-identify and embrace their

African heritage and identify as either San, Khoekho, Khoe-San or Khoisan. (Aarslev, Alix, and

Wessendorf) The titles are used interchangeable depending on the area of context.

The Khoisan people have contributed to todays society in many different ways. Their

most major contribution is their development of the click language. The click language is a

distinctive linguistic characteristic with an extensive use of click consonants. (Traill) Many of

the surviving click languages are endangered. Some of the languages are almost extinct due to

unstoppable social, linguistic, economic, and demographic forces. (Traill) These forces continue

to banish and consume indigenous language and ethnic components. Many places house

bilingual Khoisans, and they intend to make it a dominant language. In some southern Africa

places a variation of Khoisan language influenced the dominant language such as some

Afrikaans and Bantu languages with a number of distinctive Khoisan Features. (Traill) Khoisans

original and unique use of clicks in their language has caused speculation that these unfamiliar

sounds might reflect an earlier stage in the evolution of language. (Traill) Some anthropologist

believe that the Khoisan hunters might have used the clicks to camouflage their presences while

they stalked their pray. In an environment heavily inhabited my insects and other species the

click language could easily blend in with their background. One perplexing feature of the

Khoisan languages is that, despite some consistency in their use of clicks, they differ

significantly among themselves in aspects such as sentence structure, word formation, and
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vocabulary. (Traill) There is also some assumptions that there may be some relations to other

ancient African languages. The origin of Khoisan click consonants and their uniquely African

provenance therefore remains a mystery.

The Khoikhoi people had a central theme around the idea of transformation. The rituals

were a change in a persons life from birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage, and death. (Neville)

The ritual activities took place when a child was born. The mother and child are taken to a hut

were no men are allowed and a special fire was lit. Both had to avoid inessential contact with

water. After three months of isolation, both were ritually reintroduced into civilization. Their

bodies were smeared with cow dung, fat and Buchu (a fragrant plant). (Neville) The rituals

consisted of feast and dances. Khoikhoi ceremonies involved a period of isolation connected

with endangerment and vulnerability. Also water was avoided whereas fire and buchu were

associated with protection. (Neville) They are reincorporated into society not as there old selves

but as people with new roles. During initiation ceremonies stock were killed and animal

intestines were hung around individuals necks that showed they were going through a transition.

(Neville) The rituals revel also a persons social status and how the Khoikhoi emphasized how

important age was in defining status. The rituals remind me of the Rights of Passage we learned

in class before. The fact that the Khoisan people have a ritual that demonstrates transformation is

similar to separation, transition, and incorporation. The separation is similar to the mother and

child being isolated from the tribe for three months. The transition is when the mother and

child have to go without water but are lit a special fire during their isolation. Lastly the

incorporation involves the ceremony were the tribe feast and welcomes the mother and child

back into society, because they have official transformed. The Rights of Passage was a very
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interesting piece in our class and thats part of the reason why I choose it. The Khoisan

transformation ritual follows the Rights of Passage perfectly.

The two once vibrant and culturally-rich tribes are now almost extinct, which is a sad part

of South Africa history. The Khoisan culture had been pushed to the boarder of our society, but

they have left and incredible mark on society.

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Works Cited

Alix, Lola G., Kathrin Wessendorf, and Soren J. Aarslev. "Indigenous peoples in South

Africa." South Africa. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2016. Web. 07

Apr. 2017.

Khoisan. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Apr. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Neville, Carolyn. "The Khoikhoi and the San." The Khoikhoi and the San. David Boyce Future

Perfect Corporation, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

San heritage. The advent of the human race. N.P., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Traill, Anthony. "Khoisan languages." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.,

10 Mar. 2005. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.