The Khoikhoi of the Richtersveld

A New Group of People

©Shem Compion
About 2000 years ago, a new group of people entered the picture. They were closely related to the Bushmen, with one major difference. They were pastoralists; nomadic farmers who shlepped around the countryside with herds of domesticated fat-tailed sheep.
Later, they would also cultivate crops, keep cattle and, in colonial times, incorporate goats into their menageries. They still hunted wild game, preferring to keep their livestock for ceremonial purposes, but the arrival of the Khoikhoi nevertheless heralded the dawn of a new era.
The origin of the Khoikhoi is somewhat uncertain. Early colonial writers claimed that they came from Asia, moving south around the time of the great flood. Some even said they had Hamitic or Jewish origins.
At the turn of the century, the historians Stow and Cooke hypothesised that they came from the great lakes district in central Africa before migrating down the west coast of the subcontinent.
But modern historians, such as Richard Elphick, have made more reliable linguistic studies of the Khoikhoi and it is now accepted that they originated in the Zambezi Valley of northern Botswana.

The Transition

©Shem Compion
Here, the pastoralists made the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a culture that kept domesticated animals. This kind of farming ‘technology’ originated in the middle east about 10 000 years ago. It reached the northern Sahara around 7000 years ago and continued to spread down the African continent, where it was adopted by the Bantu tribes of West Africa.
These people, in turn, carried the pastoral tradition with them when they began to migrate south, reaching East Africa around 4000 years ago and southern Africa sometime later.
It is thought that the Khoikhoi picked up the pastoralism habit from these Bantu tribes. However, there are some theorists who claim that the Khoikhoi developed a pastoral tradition all on their own, but this is still being debated by those feisty academics.
In any case, once the Khoikhoi had embraced this new concept of farming, they took their sheep and migrated south, crossing the Orange River near its confluence with the Vaal between 2000 and 1600 years ago. From this point, they began spreading out into the eastern, southern and western Cape.
The Negroid Bantu tribes, for their part, arrived in Southern Africa a short time later and settled along the eastern seaboard and on the interior plateau.

Distinct Tribes

In time, the Khoikhoi would establish themselves as a number of distinct tribes, each with their own territories and dialects. These political units were organised around a hierarchical system, based on chieftains, headmen and family clans. So, for example, you had the Cochoqua and Guriqua in the south west, the Chainoqua, Hessequa, Gouriqua, Attaqua and Houteniqua in the east and the Goringhaiqua, Gorachouqua and Goringhaikona around the Cape Peninsula.
At the mouth of the Orange River, the Khoikhoi spilt into two groups. The Great Namaqua settled north of the river in what became Namibia. The Little Namaqua populated the area to the south, establishing five clans between the Orange River and present-day Vanrhynsdorp. These people gave the region its modern name and are the antecedents of the present-day Nama people, who are still resident in the Richtersveld.

By David Fleminger