‘Khoisan’ is a unifying name for two groups of peoples of Southern Africa, who share physical and linguistic characteristics distinct from the majority of the region.
People of the Trees
The Khoi people who lived in the Swellendam region were known as the Hessequa which means “people of the trees”. They entered the Overberg region some 2,000 years ago. 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.
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.
It is not often recognized that the KhoiSan 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.