The Khoekhoe[a] (or in the obsolete orthography "Khoikhoi", from Khoekhoegowab Khoekhoen [kx?oekx?oen]; formerly also Hottentots) are the traditionally nomadic pastoralist indigenous population of southwestern Africa. They are 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 ?N?khoe nations.
While it is clear that the presence of Khoekhoen in southern Africa predates the Bantu expansion, it is not certain by how much (possibly in the Late Stone Age). Khoekhoen maintained large herds of Nguni cattle in the Cape region at the time of VOC colonisation in the 17th century. Their nomadic pastoralism was mostly discontinued 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 ?N?khoen (so-called "Damara" or Daman) of Namibia, the !Orana clans of South Africa (such as ?Hõakhoena 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.
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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 ?Awakhoen to the west, and ?Kx'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 to region in the 3rd century CE, pushing pastoralists into the Western areas. The example of the close relation between the ?Uri?'aes (High clan), a cattle keeping population, and the !Uri?'ae?'ona (High clan children), a more-or-less sedentary forager population (also known as "Strandlopers"), both occupying the area of ?Hui?gaeb, 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 distinction between "Khoekhoe naturalists", "San hunter-gatherers" and "Bantu agriculturalists" does not hold up to scrutiny, and appears to be historical reductionism.
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 CE.
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 !Uri?'aekua ("Goringhaiqua" in Dutch approximate spelling), which was one of the so-called Khoekhoe clans of the area that also included the !Uri?'ae?'ona ("Goringhaicona" in Dutch approximate spelling, 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.
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 Khoe?'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.
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. Thi?oab is also believed to be the creator and the guardian of health, while ?Gaunab 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.
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 nomadic pastoral Khoikhoi kraals were dispersed and their organization and culture broken. However, their successors, the trekboers and their Khoikhoi servants, managed flocks and herds similar to those of the Khoikhois. The trekboers had adapted to African-style, extensive pastoralism in this region. In order to obtain optimal pasture for their animals, early settlers imitated the Khoikhoi seasonal transhumance movements and those observed in the larger wild herbivores.