Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

Khoi is a collective term used by 20th century scholars for several San-speaking people who internally identified themselves by various “clan” names such as “Chochoqua,” “Goringhaiqua,” or “Gorachoqua.” They lived mostly around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Traditional subsistence activity largely centered on cattle and sheep herding, but hunting and gathering were also important. With the expansion of European settler agriculture in the 17th century, the Khoi suffered from land alienation and smallpox epidemics which forced them to retreat to more remote and arid regions. By the beginning of the 18th century, as a consequence, the Khoi could no longer live as an economically self-sufficient people. This led to their subsequent incorporation into settler society as domestic and farm workers.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Southern Africa


South Africa


OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Khoi Collection (FX13) documents, all of them in English, cover cultural and historical information, circa 1600 to 1930s. The most comprehensive and primary source to consult is the work of anthropologist I. Schapera (1930, no. 15). This document was originally published as one of the sections in a four-part comprehensive ethnographic survey of the San and Khoi peoples. It covers several aspects of Khoi culture and society including social organization, habits and customs, economic life, political structure, religious beliefs and magic, art and folklore.  The earliest first hand account of Khoi society in the collection is the book by Alfred Schultze, a German zoologist, who conducted fieldwork for three years among the Nama in 1903-1905 (Schultze 1907, no. 1). Schultze provides detailed description of Nama physical features, flora and fauna, material culture, economic activities, food habits, family life, kinship and life-cycles. The work also includes a wide variety of information relating to Nama folklore, language, music and games.

Three of the documents in the collection are articles by W. Hoernlé, a widely read South African anthropologist whose works provided the data for Radcliffe-Brown’s 1924 theoretical essay on the “Mother’s Brother in South Africa.” These articles discuss selected themes including rites of passage and conception of taboo (Hoernlé 1918, no. 3), social organization (Hoernlé 1925, no. 4) and religious beliefs and taboo relating water (Hoernlé 1923, no. 6), as observed during Hoernlé’s fieldwork among Nama in 1912-1913. The collection also includes a document compiled by a South African medical officer, P. W. Laidler, who provides a first hand account of Nama medical practices which include herbal infusions, poultices, cupping, massage, and avoiding danger by using charms and magic (Laidler 1928, no. 7).

The remaining documents in the collection revisit issues raised by previous researchers based on information from literature. A. Barnard extracts information from different sources including historical accounts, early ethnography, recent studies and oral tradition to provide new insights on Nama history with particular reference to their historical and cultural relations with other ethnic groups in the region (Barnard 1992, no. 16). Andrew Smith, an archeologist, argues against earlier views which stressed the fragile nature of Khoi economic system to suggest a broader ecological perspective that also shows the effects of psycho-sociological stress from loss of traditional pasture lands which, according to the author, left the Khoi prone to trauma from alcoholism and epidemic disease (Smith 1983, no. 17). R. S. Viljoen reconsiders the role and function of medicine and medical practices in the pre-colonial times to argue that Khoi herding and gathering practices were accompanied by a sound culture of medicine and health (Viljoen 1999, no. 18). Finally, P. Carstens introduces new materials, mostly drawn from unpublished works of Hoernlé, on the status of women to argue that Nama patterns of inheritance show a good deal of variation because they were rooted in the sociological dynamics of individual families, as opposed to fixed rules that privileged men and patrilineal ties (Carstens 1983, no. 19).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. For additional information on other San-speaking peoples of southern Africa, see the San Collection (FX10).

Overview by

Teferi Adem

!Aisena - illness - use "MORBIDITY (164)" with  "THEORY OF DISEASE (753)"

Captain – title given by the colonial government to co-opted chiefs or headmen - use "INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (648)" with "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" and/or "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"  

!Gan - servant - use "LABOR SUPPLY AND EMPLOYMENT (464)" with "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

Gei !Keis - great offense - use "RELIGIOUS OFFENSES (688)"

Has or hare - supernatural power transferring women into an animal - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)" or  "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

!Hauti - tribe - use "TRIBE AND NATION (619)"

!Hau-!nati - literally, tribes-within - use "CLANS (618)" with "LINEAGES (613)" or "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)"

Matjieshuis) – round hut made of a frame of saplings that was covered with reed mats - use "DWELLINGS (342)" and/or "ARCHITECTURE (341)"

!Nau - a state of particular vulnerability and danger  - use "AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)"

Sammas - literally, “breast-gift”, gift presented by the groom to the bride’s mother - use "MODE OF MARRIAGE (583)"

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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