Who were the Khoikhoi?
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Khoikhoi and San

The Khoikhoi and the San are two groups of people who we can first place archaeologically in South Africa about 25,000 BC. Like everyone else in the world at that time, they were hunters and gatherers. At that time they were already creating the rock paintings and rock carvings that they continued to paint right up to modern times. We have datable evidence of other rock paintings from about 11,000 BC, and then there are a lot of paintings and carvings from between 7800 and 5600 BC. There's another datable painting from about 800 BC. The Khoikhoi and the San spoke a language called !Kung.

Sometime before 400 AD, both the Bantu and other people living to the north, in central Africa, began to push the Khoikhoi and the San out of their usual land. Some of these invaders were farmers, and some were sheep and cattle herders, and because they farmed and herded there were more of them than there were Khoikhoi or San. And in addition the invaders had iron spears and iron arrowheads. Both the Khoikhoi and the San were pushed into deserts and less desirable land, that was no good for farming.There are a lot more paintings which can be dated to around the time of the invasions, between 200 BC and 500 AD.

In response, some of the Khoikhoi in Zimbabwe and the Cape began to herd sheep. Archaeologists find the bones of the sheep starting about this time, and also the Khoikhoi began to show sheep in their paintings. Before then, there were no sheep in South Africa. So the sheep probably came down from North Africa with the invaders.

Here's a video of some San people grating a root to get water out of it
(sorry about it turning sideways)

The Khoikhoi seem to have begun to herd cattle (cows and bulls) around the same time, and there seem to have been big herds of cattle in many parts of South Africa by about 1000 AD. Possibly people started herding cattle in South Africa because of warmer weather related to the Medieval Warming Period. For some reason they did not paint pictures of the cattle.

The San, on the other hand, who lived in south-east Africa, did not herd either sheep or cattle, but kept on hunting and gathering in the Kalahari Desert, in modern Botswana.

Beginning about 1400 AD, the Little Ice Age made southern Africa much cooler than it had been before. Nobody knows yet how this affected local towns and villages though.

Bibliography and further reading about the Khoikhoi and the San, check out this book on Amazon.com or at your library:

The Bushmen of the Kalahari by H.P. Steyn (1989)

Or check out this article in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

West African History
North African History
Egyptian History
History of Meroe and Kush
East African History
Central African History
South African History
Ancient Africa
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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