The ‘Khoe & San’ way of Life

The ‘Khoe & San’ way of Life


The original article, entitled the “KHOISAN way of life” , was written to celebrate the Khoe people in the area of Barrydale and Swellendam. The material was drawn from a variety of Internet published articles, and it has become obvious that the research was really not thorough enough – and fell into the trap of the current term “fake news”! It is with humility and apology that I am publishing extracts from a post by Patric Tariq Mellet who has corrected the misperceptions which I unwittingly continued to be a proponent of. Thank you for teaching me a lesson – and for giving me opportunity to set the record straight.

Update to this article (9 / 9 /2019)

“The frequently misused name  “Khoisan’ was devised by  Nazi German zoologist, Leonard Schultz who erroneously classified Khoe and San as ‘Khoisan’ who “share physical and linguistic characteristics” ….

Schultz the Zoologist passed himself off as an anthropologist “because there were too few animals to study in Namibia”. The terminology and fakery associated with this term and notion of “one race” is very harmful to the San and to the Khoe…. and carries huge injustice with it.

We should use the over 25 beautiful San names of the San in 7 Southern African Countries and not this poisonous academic label. Likewise we should learn to use the up to 40 beautiful names of the various Khoe groups (like Hessequa) too. Besides the independent Khoe groups already mentioned there are also Tswana Khoe, Sotho Khoe, Xhosa Khoe, Pedi Khoe etc… They also each have their own names. For instance there are at least 10 Khoe groups within the Xhosa each with their own names as recorded in the Iziduko clan name system.”

“The term is also rejected because it transgresses into the realm of “Crimes Against Humanity” under the crime of assimilation of one people into another as provided for in the Rome Statute of the ICC. One cannot just go around merging one people into another for political purposes. The San have rights and the Khoe have rights. One also cannot create a people that never existed before Schultz invented the term.”

“The term Khoisan is also historically incorrect. The San have a different and much older history than the Khoe who only emerged in south-western Zimbabawe between 200 BC and 300 AD and then migrated all over Southern Africa. They reached the Eastern Cape by 650 AD and Western Cape by 1050 AD. The Khoe emerged as a result of a coming together of Herders of East African descent with Nile Basin roots and the Zimbabwean San known as the Tshua. They are not related to the Cape San (!Kwi, !Xun, /Xam or Nju) except for some very specific groups such as the Kareetjie Mense; the San in South Africa remain the most endangered in that there are only 1500 local SA San and 6000 San migrants people.

The San peoples lived not just in SA but right up to Angola, Congo and Tanzania and their languages are not the same family of languages as the Khoe.

‘It is also an uncomfortable but true historical fact that the San were persecuted by all the Khoe groups including acts of genocide. They were also pushed off their traditional coastal habitats by Khoe migrant herders

Patric Tariq Mellet

People of the Trees

The Khoe people who lived in the Swellendam region were known as the Hessequa which  means “people of the trees”.  They were a clan of herders; farming fat tailed sheep and long horn cattle. The Hessequa moved freely across the western area of the Overberg and lived on the banks of the Breede River where they grazed their large herds. Every settlement was controlled by a captain and at times up to 17 captains would set up camp with their nomadic dwellings at the settlement of the most powerful Hessequa chief.

Lang Elsie

Two Hessequa captains and their followers lived in the area where Bontebok National Park is now situated. The Park’s rest camp is named after the first of them, a remarkable female captain by the name of Lang Elsie, so called because of her height. She oversaw 14 separate settlement groups. Between 1734 and 1800 she lived with her followers at the southern part of the Park, grazing their stock all the way to the Buffeljags River.

Visitors to the park can still see the open werf area where Lang Elsie’s kraal of woven reed huts was situated.

Matriarchal Society

It is not often recognized that the Khoe and San way of life comprised a matriarchal social structure: the women were boss. All cultural attributes were carried down from the women to the children. While the man was out hunting, the young sons would remain at home, and the mother would teach each male child how he must treat his wife one day – she is the matriarch, and he must serve her. When the men returned from the hunt, they would be relegated to a corner, because their work was done. The women would then skin the animal and prepare the food, and then serve the man, not in a subservient capacity, but simply to give him his reward.

Khoe and San history and heritage is beautiful and we all need to respect it and celebrate it. Hessequa, Cochouqua, Gorachouqua, Goringhaiqua, Attaqua, Chainouqua, Griguriqua, Niqua, and Gonaqua-Gqunukhwebe history and heritage should be understood and honoured by all and their rights respected.

Patric Tariq Mellet

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