The Khoikhoi or Khoi (called ‘Hottentots’ by early white settlers), are the aboriginal people of South Africa. They are descendants of hunter-gatherers who had become pastoralists and a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group, the native people of southwestern Africa. The Khoikhoi which means 'real people or men of men" are closely related to the Bushmen (or San, as the Khoikhoi called them).

                                      Khoikhoi tribe man from South Africa

 They called Themselves Khoikhoi to distinguish themselves from those who do not own livestock. They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD.When European immigrants colonised the area after 1652, the Khoikhoi were practising extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle. The European immigrants labelled them Hottentots, in imitation of the sound of the Khoekhoe language, but this term is today considered derogatory by some.

                      Khoikhoi girl from Namibia

Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa from Botswana through two distinct routes – travelling west, skirting the Kalahari to the west coast, then down to the Cape, and travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast. Most of the Khoikhoi have largely disappeared as a group, except for the largest group, the Namas. Currently the Nama reside in different parts of Namibia. According to the Namibia Africa Travel and Tourism website, “You’ll find the Nama spread through Namibia; at Sesfontein in Kaokoland, in far south at places like Warmbad, or around Mariental, Tses, Gibeon, Maltahohe, Helmeringhausen and east of Luderitz in the southwestern corner of county.” 

                                     Khoikhoi women

The Nama also reside in parts of South Africa, and Botswana. “The Nama consists of thirteen groups (listed with Nama name and European name in parenthesis) the !Kharkoen (Simon Cooper), /Hoaaran//Aixallaies (Afrikaner), =Aonin (Topnaar), Kai//Kaun, Khauben (Rooi Nasie), /Hai/Khau-an (Berseba tribe), Orlams, //Habobe/Kharloan (Veldskoendraers), //Khau/goan (Swartbooi), !Gami=nun (Bondelswarts), Koenesen (Witbooi), //Okain (Groot Doders) and Kai/Khau-an (Lamberts).

                        Namaque (khokhoi)    Hendrik Witbooi circa 1897

he Khoikhoi were originally part of a pastoral culture and language group found across Southern Africa. Originated in the northern area of modern Botswana, the ethnic group steadily migrated south, reaching the Cape approximately 2,000 years ago. Khoikhoi subgroups include the Korana of mid-South Africa, the Namaqua to the west, and the Khoikhoi in the south. Husbandry of sheep, goats and cattle provided a stable, balanced diet and allowed the related Khoikhoi peoples to live in larger groups than the region's previous inhabitants, the San. Herds grazed in fertile valleys across the region until the 3rd century AD when the advancing Bantu encroached into their traditional homeland. The Khoikhoi were forced into a long retreat into more arid areas.
Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]' South Africa, early 1870s
Samuel Baylis Barnard, inscribed
Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]
South Africa, early 1870s
Albumen print (

Migratory Khoi bands living around what is today Cape Town intermarried with San. However the two groups remained culturally distinct as the Khoikhoi continued to graze livestock and the San subsisted as hunter-gatherers.
The Khoi were the first South Africans/blacks to come into contact with European explorers and merchants in approximately AD 1500. The ongoing encounters were often violent. When the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Diaz went ashore on Mossel Bay in February 1488,probably the first time the Khoikhoi had seen the whites. An altercation followed and the Khoikhoi herders withdrew. The mariners proceeded along the coast, planting the first wooden cross, a sign of their devotion to the Christian God, on the island of St 
Croix in Algoa Bay. Christianity was to feature in every stage of the ensuing European colonization process. 

The Landing of Jan van Riebeeck (1619-77),the Dutch in Cape Of Good Hope,South Africa  in 6th April 1652 . The Khoikhoi (Hottentots) in the painting were the first Africans to meet them.

Vasco da Gama landed in St Helena Bay almost ten years later in 1497. Several of his party were wounded in an encounter with the Khoikhoi. Sailing further, they reached Angra de Sao Bras (now Mossel Bay) where they erected a cross and reported meeting native people who rode on cattle, played flutes, danced and wore ivory armlets. On Christmas Day they discovered a safe port further up the coast, which they named Port Natal. From 1500 Portuguese fleets frequently rounded the Cape, but chose to use Angolan and Mozambican ports as refueling posts. Thus it was accidentally that Antonio de Saldanha entered Table Bay in 1503. Attacked and wounded in an encounter with the Khoikhoi, he sailed on. Francisco d’Almeida (the first Portuguese viceroy in India) was, in turn, killed after going ashore in Table Bay in 1510. 
Khoikhoi (Hottentots) wooden engraving,1844

Having no greater expectation from the Cape than the acquisition of supplies to ensure monopoly on trade with the East, the Portuguese sojourned on South African soil only briefly and sporadically. This was sufficient, however, for Joao da Nova to build a chapel in Angra de Sao Bras (Mossel Bay) in 1501. This early Roman Catholic presence was short lived, with further encounters between Portuguese navigators and the Khoikhoi telling the story of mutual suspicion, plunder, violence and death. Then, in 1635, the Nissa Senhora de Belem was shipwrecked at the mouth of the Umzimkulu River. The captain used some of the wreck to build a new vessel to take the crew to Delagoa Bay. What was left from the wreck was used to build one more chapel.
Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century
KhoiKhoi (Hottentot) Soldier from South Africa

As the sixteenth century drew to a close, the Portuguese trade monopoly with the East began to be challenged by Dutch and English commercial fleets dropping anchor in Table Bay. Consequently, trade with the Khoikhoi expanded (iron barrel-hoops, nails, brass and trinkets for cattle and sheep), and further confrontation and exploitation ensued.
Early European settlers sometimes intermarried with the indigenous KhoiKhoi, producing a sizeable mixed population known at the time as "Basters" and in some instances still so-called, e.g.: the Bosluis Basters of the Richtersveld and the Baster community of Rehoboth, Namibia.

The grounding of the Dutch East Indiaman, Haerlem, off the Cape coast in 1647 set the stage for things to come. Leendert Jansz and some of the crew were ordered by the commander of the accompanying fleet to salvage what they could and await the fleet’s return. 
Khoi Traders
                       Khoikhoi people doing barter trade with the Dutch

Jansz boarded a ship on a return voyage to Holland a year later. On board he met Matthys Proot, an army officer, and Jan van Riebeeck, a merchant accused by the VOC of fraud.16 Proot and Jansz wrote a memorandum or Remonstrantie, dated 26 July 1649, noting the advantages of establishing a permanent refueling station at the Cape for ships trading with the East. Here, they suggested, fresh produce and water could be acquired to counter the death rate among sailors dying from scurvy and related diseases. 
Khoi Khoi woman
The colonists bartered rice, copper, tobacco and trinkets in exchange for cattle, sheep and salt.  In the spring/summer months the Khoi would come down from the West Coast to the Cape Peninsula to graze their animals along the banks of the Liesbeek ( Lies River), then turn towards the Table Valley,  move to the coastal area between what is today Green Point, Sea Point, Camps Bay to Hout Bay.  At this time, the middle seventeenth century, other animals  such as zebra, wildebees, grysbokke and eland were also in competition for the available food source.

Later the Khoi and their animals would cross the mountains leading to the Constantia Valley, then to the Sandvlei/ Muizenberg area and slowly make their way towards Cape Point.  When all the grazing on the Cape Peninsula had been exhausted, the people and their flocks would proceed to other parts of the Western Cape.

In the meanwhile as time passed the settlers had slowly become more self supporting with their own small herds of animals. This is when the interests of the two groups clashed. The result was that with less grazing being available, confrontation was inevitable.  The Commander at the Cape ordered a wild almond hedge to be planted on the outskirts of the settlement.  It would act as a “buffer strip” to keep the different cultural groups apart. As the small settlement extended its range of farming activities, the freedom of the nomadic people to move about as they saw fit, were further disadvantaged.

The Hessequa Khoi lived in the Overberg (over the mountains), moving their herds along the banks of the Breede River. The name Overberg came about when laden ox wagons or those on horse back faced the daunting task of trying to cross the mountains. The area extends from the Hottentots Holland Mountains in the west to Swellendam in the East, the Riviersonderend Mountains in the north  and south to the coast – Hermanus, Gansbaai, Cape Agulhas.  The Chocoqua clan lived in the Boland (high land) and the Swartland.  As time passed  the Khoi began to work on farms after finding it more difficult to gain access to grazing land for their herds. The land being controlled by the farmers and or landowners. They were also employed as herd guards, as wagon drivers. Female Khoi were sometimes employed in the homes of whites.

                       Khoikhoi (Hottentot) women from South Africa, Wooden engraving 19th century
Opposition to their independence and changing lifestyle led to confrontation with the colonists. On 19 May 1659 raids began on the farms of the Cape Peninsula Free Burghers – the First Khoi Khoi Dutch War had begun. But having no fire power/guns, nor the backing of slaves, peace was negotiated with a resultant stalemate. In other words an unsatisfactory draw resulting in neither side being satisfied. This would last for many a long year.
From a Dutch perspective the Cape ‘belonged’ to no one. It was there to be occupied. Van Riebeeck’s diary includes the following brief reference to the native people: 
"Others will say that the natives are brutal and cannibals, from whom no good can be expected, and that
we will have to be continually on our guard, but this is a vulgar error as will be shown further on. We do 
not deny that they live without laws or police, like many Indians, nor that some boatmen and soldiers 
have been killed by them, but the cause is generally not stated by our people in order to excuse 
themselves. We are quite convinced that the peasants of this country, in case their cattle are shot down or 
taken away without payment, would not be a hair better than these natives if they had not to fear the 
Khoikhoi people. By Charles Davidson Bell

Concerned to promote the need for a refreshment station, the memorandum emphasized the friendly 
disposition of the native people and their willingness to trade with Dutch ships. The Company officials responded positively to the proposal, while their limited commitment to anything more than a service to passing ships is seen in the decision to send the disgraced van Riebeeck as merchant and head of the project.18 He was instructed to maintain peaceful relations with both indigenous people and foreign traders who might call at the Cape. These relationships were at the same time bound by a stipulation of the Second Charter of the Netherlands government of 1622, which required the VOC to 
promote and protect ‘public religion’ - namely, the Reformed orthodoxy of the Dutch Reformed 
Church (DRC). The stipulation was a consequence of the Eighty Years’ War between Holland and 
Catholic Spain, which ended shortly before the Dutch occupation of the Cape.19 Described as “a 
struggle in which church and people were thrown together in one mighty exertion of power,” it laid 
the foundation for religio-political Dutch imperialism.

                    Khoikhoi (Hottentots) cook around a forage pot near Bulawayo. Circa 1892

The Kat River settlement (1829–1856) and the Khoi in the Cape Colony 
By the early 1800s, the remaining Khoi of the Cape Colony were suffering from restricted civil rights and discriminatory laws on land ownership. With this in mind, the powerful Commissioner General of the Eastern Districts, Andries Stockenstrom, facilitated the creation of the "Kat River" Khoi settlement near the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony. The more cynical motives were probably to create a buffer-zone on the Cape's frontier, but the extensive and fertile lands in the region did allow the Khoi to own their land and build their 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 Gonaqua Khoi, but the settlement also began to attract numbers from other Khoi, Xhosa and mixed-race groups of the Cape.
                                                               Khoikhoi man

The Khoi were known at the time for being remarkably good marksmen, and were frequent and invaluable allies of the Cape Colony in its frontier wars with the neighbouring Xhosa. In the Seventh Frontier War (1846–1847) against the Gcaleka Xhosa, the Khoi 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 Khoi as having more bravery and initiative than most of his white soldiers.)
Harsh laws were still implemented in the Eastern Cape however, to encourage the Khoi 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 of the Khoi, for the first time, joined the Xhosa rebels.
After the war and the defeat of the rebellion, the new Cape Government endeavoured to grant the Khoi meaningful political rights to avert any future racial discontent. William Porter, the Attorney General, 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", and so the beginnings of the multi-racial Cape franchise was born in 1853. This law decreed that all citizens, regardless of colour, had the right to vote and to seek election in Parliament. This non-racial principle of franchise was later eroded in the late 1880s, and then finally abolished by the Apartheid Government.
Jethrow Louw, a self-identifying Hottentot from Cape Town, South Africa (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler).
Jethrow Louw, a self-identifying Hottentot from Cape Town, South Africa (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler).

First Khoikhoi-Dutch War
In 1659 the first of a series of armed confrontations over the ownership of land took place between the Dutch settlers and a Khoikhoi clan led by Doman. The dispute was over cattle. In this first anti-colonial Khoikhoi-Dutch War the settlers sought refuge in the fort they had built. The Dutch then erected a series of fortified fences along the Liesbeeck River and an almond hedge in present day Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden to separate the Khoikhoi from their ancestral land and from the Dutch. The Khoikhoi were thus restricted in their movement and were forced to use designated gates when entering the enclosed and fortified areas.

Second Khoikhoi-Dutch War 
In 1673 exploratory excursions by the Dutch into the interior north of the colony, revealed fertile grazing land to the northeast of the Hottentots-Hollands Mountains, which belonged to the Chainoqua, Hessequa, Cochoqua and Gouriqua Khoikhoi chiefdoms. These Khoikhoi tribes had large herds of livestock and were willing to engage in trade with the Dutch. However, the Dutch terms of trade result in warfare and raiding of livestock, as well as between the Khoikhoi chiefdoms. The Dutch East India Company sent Hieronimus Cruse in 1673 to attack the Cochoqua. The attack was executed on horseback and marked the beginning of the Second Dutch-Khoikhoi War. The Dutch took approximately 1800 head of livestock.

Third Khoikhoi-Dutch War 
In 1674 the Dutch East India Company launched a second follow-up attack on the Chocoqua. In that Third Dutch-Khoikhoi War almost 5000 head of livestock in addition to weapons were taken from the Chocoqua. The war continued until 1677 when Governor Bax extracted the submission of the Chocoqua to Dutch rule, that was expressed in an annual tribute of thirty head of cattle. That submission paved the way for Dutch colonial expansion into the land of the Khoikhoi.
Some modern scholars have observed that superior war-making ability was not the only means whereby the Dutch forced the Khoikhoi to submit and concluded that:

Early travellers from Europe named the people of the Cape "Hottentots", (a word that was later used to describe people as subservient and inferior.) There are two possible origins for this word: one describing a dance and the other describing the language:
Augustin de Beaulieu, 1620: "They speak from the throat, and seem to sob and sigh when speaking. Their usual greeting on meeting us is to dance a song, of which the beginning, the middle, and the end is 'hautitou'."
Vasco da Gama, 1497: "..small in stature, ugly of face, and when they speak it seems as if they hiccup."
Cornelis de Houtman, 1595: "I could learn no more from them but that they speak very clumsily, like the folk in Germany .. who suffer from goitre..."

                                      Khoikhoi family

Edward Terry, 1616: " ... their speech it seemed to us inarticulate noise, rather than language, like the clucking of hens, or the gabbling of turkeys..."
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, 1649: "When they speak they fart with their tongues in their mouths, yet, although their speech is almost without seperation of word from word, they understand each other very readily .... they have no knowledge of gold or silver, and properly speaking know nothing of religion..."
Khoi man

Today, in the southwest country of Namibia, the majority of the Khoikhoi people are mixed with one of the Bantu groups known as the Damara – today, they have a mixed-light skin tone, resulting from the light color of the Khoikhoi people and the darker color of the Bantu people. This people group – known as either Damara or Khoikhoi – live around the Erongo region of Namibia. They speak the language known as "Khoikhoigobab" or simply (the more wide spread term) "Damara".

                         Khoikhoi people

Although known as herders or pastoralists, the Khoikhoi also obtained food by hunting and gathering. The sharing of food was an important aspect of village life. Any significant kill was shared, and sheep or cattle killed during ceremonial feasts were eaten by all present. Although wealth was measured in terms of livestock ownership, hunting and gathering was open to all members of the tribe.
Khoikhoi (Namaque) ladies from Maltahohe,Namibia

The Khoikhoi kept large herds of fat-tailed sheep, long-horned cattle, and goats. Livestock were used for milk and were slaughtered only on ritual occasions. Oxen were used as pack animals, especially when camp was moved.

All stock were individually owned. Chiefs and headmen owned a large number whilst servants may have owned no stock whatsoever. Cattle were left to roam as there was no threat from predators. The herds would be taken out every day in search of grazing and returned to the kraal at night. There was probably a strict division of labour among the Khoikhoi, with cattle being men's work and women and children looking after the small stock. During the day, the adults might have remained in the kraal, manufacturing utensils and weapons, or doing domestic chores. Men also went out hunting and the women gathered veldkos (wild plant foods).

 Socio-political structure
Khoikhoi society was hierarchial. Those who owned stock were regarded as 'wealthy'; there were servants (without stock) and those who would work as herdsmen as a form of hired labour. A herdsman would receive a lamb in payment for service. The Khoikhoi lived in villages which consisted primarily of members of the same patrilineal clan. Each village recognised the authority of a headman which was a heriditary position passed on from father to eldest son. Several villages were usually united into a much larger unit called a tribe, which could range in size from a few hundred to several thousand individuals.

                                       Khoikhoi man from Namibia

The village settlement of the Khoikhoi was relatively large, often well over one hundred persons. The basic housing structure was a round hut (matjioeshuis) made of a frame of green branches planted into the ground and bent over and tied together. This was covered with reed mats. It could be dismantled and re-erected in a new location when grazing in the area became depleted. Sometimes the mats were simply removed and rolled up. People left the frames behind if they knew they would be returning to the same site. During the warm weather, it was cool inside with the crevices between the reeds allowing the air to circulate. During winter, the inside could be lined with skins to offer extra insulation against the elements.

Each village encampment consisted of members of the same partilineal clan - a group of male descendants of a particular ancestor - with their wives and children. Villages also included some members of other clans, as well as some dependants or servants. These could be Bergdama, San or even impoverished Khoikhoi.

Each village had a headman, a hereditary position passed on to the eldest son of the founding ancestor for every generation. Headmen made decisions such as when and where to move. They also acted as mediators or judges in criminal or civil disputes.

Several villages were usually united into a much larger unit, called a tribe by some and horde by others. Tribes had a kinship base, and were made up of a number of linked clans, with the seniority of one of the clans being recognised. The head of the senior clan was recognised as the chief of the tribe.

The extent of tribal land was defined less in terms of exact boundaries than with reference to land around key water-holes, and the tribal chiefs controlled outsiders' access to the local resources. The rights granted to outsiders were merely temporary usufruct (users' rights) - the willingness to share local resources in one area might be repaid in another at a later stage.

Men from one clan had to seek wives in another. Because related clans within the tribe were geographically close to one another, it is likely that most men found wives within the tribe. Marriage was a powerful social mechanism to unite different groups. The custom was that the bridegroom had to spend the first months of marriage (until the birth of the first child) living at the village of his parents-in-law. Thereafter, the bride was expected to spend the rest of her marriage in the village of her husband.

The tribal council consisted of the headmen of all the other clans and served as a body which linked the various clans together. Such links were further strengthened in those tribes where the older members of the various clans would act as clan 'representative' and live permanently at the main tribal 'headquarters', the village of the senior clan.
                                          Khoikhoi dancers

Khoikhoi Belief
The Khoikhoi religious belief is based on the understanding of interplay of good,evil, and ambiguity in the world. The supreme God Tsui//Goab, is a beneficent deity- wise, omnipresent and powerful (Shmidt 1975-76). Although the supreme god can cause misfortune to befell human beings, Tsui/Goab is always in constant struggle with /Guanab, the the cunning god of evil, war, sickness and death. Ancestors provided a link between the Khoikhoi and the Tsui//Goab. Subsequent, less important Gods, include trickster god Haitsi-aibib, a folk hero and magician who can change his form at will.
Like many tribes in dry African climates, the Khoikhoi associated rain with the physical manifestation of their "supreme being associated with heaven" (Boyce). New and full moons symbolized to the Khoikhoi people an important time for "rainmaking rites and dancing" (Boyce). They heavily associated the moon with the importance they placed on rain, seeing it as a supreme power.

                                       Khoikhoi dancers

Legend has it that U-tixo, a powerful chief of the KhoiKhoi, and the first Khoi-Khoi ever, was also a renowned sorcerer of great skill. Several times he died and rose again. He made war against a wicked chief called Gaunab who had killed many Khoi-Khoi. In the final struggle U-tixo won, but while Gaunab lay dying he landed a last blow that broke U-tixo's knee, and since then U-tixo was called Tsui-Goub, or "wounded knee." Having been regarded as extraordinarily powerful during life he was invoked after death as one who could still bring help and protection, and with the passing of time, he became regarded as God. In an alternate version, Tsui' Goab was not a man at all, but made the first man and woman from rocks.
One of the most famous heroes, Heitsi-eibib, also known as Heitsi, was the offspring of a cow and some magical grass that the cow ate. He was a legendary hunter, sorcerer, and warrior, who most notably killed the Ga-gorib. He was also a life-death-rebirth figure, dying and resurrecting himself on numerous occasions; his funeral cairns are located in many locations in southern Africa. He is worshiped as a god of the hunt.

                                    Khoikhoi people

A man-eating monster called the Aigamuxa/Aigamuchab is a dune-dwelling creature that is mostly human-looking, except that it has eyes on the instep of its feet. In order to see, it has to go down on its hands and knees and lift its one foot in the air. This is a problem when the creature chases prey, because it has to run blind. Some sources claim the creature resembles an ogre.
Ga-gorib was a legendary monster who sat by a deep hole in the ground and dared passers-by to throw rocks at him. The rocks would bounce off and kill the passer-by, who then fell into the hole. When the hero Heitsi-eibib encountered Ga-gorib, he declined the monster's dare. When Ga-gorib was not looking, Heitsi-eibib threw a stone at the monster and hit it below its ear, causing it to fall in its own pit.
In an alternate version of this story, Ga-gorib chased Heitsi-eibib around the hole until the hero slipped and fell inside. Heitsi-eibib eventually escaped and, after a struggle, was able to push the monster into the pit.
Gorib is "the spotted one" (meaning leopard, cheetah, or leguaan) in Central Khoisan languages, so the Ga-gorib probably has some connection with this formidable species. The element "ga-" remains to be explained. Possibly, it is a negative; "not-a-leopard," not only on comparative morphological grounds, but also because its adversary himself has many symbolic connotations of the leopard, such as rain, and stars.
Hai-uri was an agile, jumping creature who is partially-invisible and has only one side to its body (one arm and one leg). It eats humans and is comparable to the Tikdoshe of the Zulu people and the Chiruwi of Central Africa. Bi-blouk was an alternate, female version of Hai-uri.

                               KhoiKhoi (Nama) people of Namibia

The central theme of almost all Khoikhoi ritual was the idea of transformation, or transition from one state to another. Most rituals marked the critical periods of change in a person's life - birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage and death. The transition rites formed part of the social process.
Khoikhoi woman with her baby hanging on her back

The ritual and festive activity which took place when a child was born often recurred in other Khoikhoi rituals. Prior to delivery, the mother to be was taken to a hut where she remained for at least seven days after delivery. Both she and the child were seen to be vulnerable and so certain avoidance were practiced. No men were allowed to enter the hut, the mother and baby had to avoid inessential contact with water. For the first three months, the child was fed on goats or cows milk and not from the mother's milk. A special fire was also lit in the hut. After this period of seclusion, both were ceremonially reintroduced into society. Their bodies were smeared with cow dung, fat and buchu (a fragrant plant). The rituals of incorporation were accompanied by a feast in which members of the kraal and blood relations from other kraals participated.

South Africa Hottentot Initiation Rituals Including Circumcision and Animal Sacrifice

The key elements of all Khoikhoi ceremonies involved a period of seclusion associated with vulnerability and danger. During these periods certain things, notably water, were avoided, whilst others, such as fire and buchu were associated with protection. The ceremonies also involved a clear process of reincorporation into society, but as persons with new roles.

Domestic stock seem always to have been associated with protection. During initiation ceremonies, stock were killed and the momentum, part of the animal's intestine, was hung around the neck of individuals to show that they were going through change or transition.

Khoikhoi woman cooking with outdoor oven, Leliefontein Reserve, Africa

The rituals also reveal something about social relationships and status in Khoikhoi society. Wealthy stock-owners gained prestige by their ability to provide stock for the feasts they hosted. Marriage involved the transfer of cattle.

The emphasis on transition rituals to mark an individual's change in status shows clearly how important age was in defining status in Khoikhoi society. This emphasis can also be found in kinship terms used by the Khoikhoi. Specific terms were used to refer to older or younger siblings. There were also specific terms to differentiate maternal aunts who were older from those younger than the mother.

                      Khoikhoi girls from Namibia

An awareness of the way in which cattle were a part of the social and political life of Khoikhoi society is crucial to understanding the differences in worldview. To the Khoikhoi, cattle were not seen as a product to be bought and sold, they had ritual and social significance far beyond monetary value. When the Khoikhoi started to trade some of their stock, a contradiction within the trading partnership with the Dutch began. Theft, coercion and non-productive exchange (livestock for alcohol, copper, beads etc) loss of stock produced a downward spiral that the Khoikhoi could not break. The breakdown of the social and economic values of the Khoikhoi went hand in hand with greater dependency, and increasing reliance by the Khoikhoi on the Dutch as mediators in disputes, and in growing Dutch interference in the raiding patterns between groups of Khoikhoi.

German South West Africa, Hendrik Witbooi

KhoiKhoi People Famous for Exhibiting Steatopygia
Steatopygia is a genetic characteristic of the Khoisan and the Bantu peoples as well as some black/African race. Steatopygia is a high degree of fat accumulation in and around the buttocks. The deposit of fat is not confined to the gluteal regions, but extends to the outside and front of the thighs, forming a thick layer reaching sometimes to the knee. It is especially prevalent in women, but also occurs to a lesser degree in men. In most populations of Homo sapiens, females are more likely than men to accumulate adipose tissue in the buttock region. In some populations, males thus have more adipose tissue (plumpness) in the buttocks than women. It has also been observed among the Pygmies of Central Africa and the Onge-tribe of the Andaman Islands. Among the Khoisan, it is regarded as a sign of beauty: It begins in infancy and is fully developed by the time of the first pregnancy
Steatopygia would seem to have been a characteristic of a population that once extended from the Gulf of Aden to the Cape of Good Hope, of which Khoisan and Pygmies are remnants. While the Khoisan are most noticeable examples, it occurs in other parts of Africa, and occurs even more frequently among male Basters than among Khoikhoi women. It is also observed among Andamanese Negrito women.


Sadiah Qureshi

Christ’s College, Cambridge

In 1995 a campaign began to “Bring back the Hottentot Venus”. The request to repatriate to South Africa the remains of a Khoisan woman held at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris initiated a charged political row between the French and South African governments. President Nelson Mandela himself made personal requests on behalf of the South African people to François Mitterand, and subsequently to Jacques Chirac, for the return of the woman’s remains to her ancestors for a humane burial. The request has taken eight years to fulfill. The woman at the centre of this political bargaining is now called Sara Baartman. Unfortunately, no record of her original name exists and she is better known by her epithet, the ‘Hottentot Venus’, to her contemporaries, present-day historians, and political activists. Baartman is, even after nearly two centuries, amongst the most famous human ethnological exhibits. Displayed in England and France in the early nineteenth century as a curiosity, her breasts, buttocks and hypertrophied labia aroused considerable interest, prurient and scientific. 

After her death the interest continued: Georges Cuvier dissected her corpse in the name of science and immortalized her as a biological specimen. Until as late as the 1970s, a full cast of her body and skeleton was on exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme, where her remains were subsequently held in storage before finally being repatriated in April 2002. The nature of Baartman’s story, and the power of the racial and gender politics invested in its retelling, has led — not surprisingly, and perhaps inevitably — to modern writers and artists appropriating her as a focal point for discourses upon race, gender, empire, and specifically Western representations of black female sexuality. The attempt to reclaim her physically is metaphorically paralleled by the movement to reclaim her image, as black artists are beginning to explore representations of their own sexuality in the modern media through work evoking the infamous breasts and buttocks.

The burgeoning literature spawned by the fascination with Baartman’s story ensures her a continued fame; yet it is, in many senses, deeply unsatisfactory. The overwhelming analytical emphasis on race and gender has led to relatively little attention being focused upon the material processes involved in Baartman’s objectification, exhibition, and politicization, making much of the literature appear poorly historicized or preoccupied with political ends. Richard Altick and Bernth Lindfors discuss Baartman with reference to the entertainment scene of the nineteenth century. Their acknowledgement that Baartman’s original appearance conforms to long-standing traditions, including displays of the anatomically curious and political caricature, is an essential step in contextualizing Baartman’s story. However, Altick is now historiographically dated and often appears insensitive. Anne Fausto-Sterling and Londa Schiebinger discuss nineteenth-century writings on the Khoikhoi and thus reveal how the group achieved such fame and excited the interests of countless travellers and naturalists. Sander Gilman’s frequently cited work is amongst the most explicit in linking Baartman’s exhibition solely to interest in her sexuality; unfortunately its emphasis upon female genitalia and use of explicit visual material with little supporting discussion can appear voyeuristic. However, the most problematic feature of the current literature is its treatment of race as an historically timeless concept and its role in the construction of deviance in the early nineteenth century. The dominant position currently implies that not only was there one image of the black, but that Baartman was representative of this image.

 In contrast, this article attempts to contextualize her tale by examining the mediation of issues such as race, gender and empire through the material practices. It examines the formation of imperial collections, human performance within the public entertainments of nineteenth century London, the creation of Baartman the natural historical specimen, live and dead, and finally the making of Baartman as a modern cultural icon. This provides an historically sensitive account of her display and reveals why Baartman’s story continues to inspire the powerful ideology surrounding her legacy.

                                                           Representation of Sara Baartman


Throughout the history of colonial occupation at the Cape, many representations of indigenous peoples have been used to facilitate their subjugation. Wildness and savagery characterized depictions of the Khoikhoi during the seventeenth century, quickly establishing them as the ‘link’ between ape and human in nature’s great hierarchy. Images suggestive of cannibalism and depicting the consumption of raw flesh, alongside women with simian proportions and pendulous breasts, were characteristic. The indigenous language further reinforced the supposed wretchedness of the Khoikhoi, since it included a number of click sounds that Europeans found particularly bestial. 

In conjunction, travelogues categorized Africa in terms that appeared to be objective whilst actually creating and perpetuating the myth of a brutish and ‘uncivilized’ people believed to be without, or worse still, incapable of religion. Such stereotyping underpinned the view that colonial expansion was not only desirable for the nation but also beneficial to the colonized peoples. The process of appropriation implicit in these forms of categorization was of fundamental importance in constructing Africa as a commodity available for colonial advantage.

                                              Vénus Noire (2010) by Abdellatif Kechiche

Flora, fauna and people were all commodities to be collected. The agricultural relevance of botanical knowledge fuelled nationalist interest in plants, whilst animals caged in menageries provided the public with entertainment and evidence of imperial success. Missionaries abroad stimulated great interest in indigenous populations; conversion presented an opportunity to effect a reclamation of souls in the interests of both the Christian faith and empire. Converted peoples were also often displayed in England as evidence of missionary beneficence in spreading civilization. Sara Baartman arrived on England’s shores within this traffic of animals, plants and people destined for display as objects representing colonial expansion and as a means of economic gain; she served as both an imperial success and a prized specimen of the 'Hottentot’. Brought over in 1810 by Alexander Dunlop, the surgeon of an African hip and exporter of museum specimens from the Cape, she sailed from the Cape to Liverpool upon the strength of a promise to help her earn her fortune. Dunlop hoped to dispose advantageously of her to a collector and made an offer to William Bullock, later proprietor of the Egyptian Hall, who refused the woman outright. It is possible that Baartman may have been a slave or labourer, or descended from parents with such a status; although the Khoikhoi had not been systematically enslaved since the foundation of the colony they were continually subjugated. Often referred to as Saartjie (‘little Sara’ in Dutch) in contemporary accounts, her very name hints at such a situation; in the nineteenth century diminutives were often used to differentiate slaves or collared people from their white counterparts, effectively assigning them the status of children. It is also likely that the name was given to her by Peter Cezar, for whom she worked as a servant after being brought to the Cape by Dutch farmers, when her father, a drover, was killed.

Alexander Dunlop’s status as a collector with trade contacts, and his offer of Baartman to Bullock, a museum entrepreneur, is not incidental. Although Bullock did not purchase Baartman, a decision he regretted following the success of her exhibition, Dunlop’s choice to make Bullock the offer, and their positions within the network of suppliers and consumers, indicate that the processes involved in Baartman’s commodification are analogous to those involved in animal importation. Dunlop provided a crucial point of contact for individuals like Bullock, who relied upon their exotic investments for commercial success. Dunlop used his position as a naval surgeon to deal in specimens just as other navy employees supplied menagerie proprietors. Similarly, not only were the same trade routes used, but the same practical problems were involved in keeping Baartman alive for the purpose of financial gain. And, just as caged animals represented imperial conquests, Baartman represented the product of British activity in the Cape and the acquisition of fresh territory just four years earlier. It may be tempting to argue that the slave trade provides a better analogy, since it involves recognized human commodities. However, the analogy with transporting live rare animals is preferable precisely because Baartman’s value lay in her perceived uniqueness as a rare live specimen of the exotic. Although slaves were more profitable alive, the sheer number of slaves available for trade effectively erased their individuality and encouraged their inhumane treatment during transportation; 

viewed as being relatively expendable, the effort consumed to maintain their lives would not have approached Dunlop’s investment in his ward. 

Dunlop eventually found a buyer in Hendrick Cezar. Baartman’s sale to a showman strengthens the case for analysing interest in her in economic terms, and in relation to the trade in live exotic stock. Doing so clarifies the processes involved  in her treatment as a commodity and in her route to becoming a displayed object. Cezar made his investment with the intention of exhibiting his purchase; thus, the next section examines Baartman’s place within the London entertainment scene to locate her within a culture of display.


For a metropolitan resident seeking amusement, London provided a host of possibilities: theatres, museums, pleasure gardens, panoramas, circuses, menageries, freak shows and fairs.14 Despite the apparent differences between these modes of entertainment, a closer examination actually reveals a common set of practices that underlie the shows of London. For example, the European collecting practices already discussed underlay the acquisition of many materials that were exhibited in the shows, including humans, animals, and objects. These exhibits then formed the basis for theatrical, zoological and museological display and performance. The present section embeds Baartman’s display within the context of London’s entertainment milieu by drawing analogies between ethnological human display, and exhibitions of human curiosities and animals.

Figure 1


Shortly after Baartman’s arrival in London in 1810, at no. 225 Piccadilly, members of the public were invited to view the “Hottentot Venus” for two shillings (Figure 1). Advertised as possessing the “kind of shape which is most admired among her countrymen”, she wore a “dress resembling her complexion” and so tight that her “shapes above and the enormous size of her posterior parts are as visible as if the said female were naked ... the dress is evidently intended to give the appearance of being undressed”. She wore beads and feathers hung around her waist, the accoutrementsassociated with her African ancestry, and, on occasion, would play a small stringed musical instrument. The show took place upon “a stage two feet high, along which she was led by her keeper, and exhibited like a wild beast; being obliged to walk, stand, or sit as he ordered.”

Charles Matthews, comedian, who “was all his life a great sight-seer”, frequented the London neighbourhood in pursuit of the latest curiosities.Upon visiting Baartman: 

"He found her surrounded by many persons, some females! One pinched her; one 

gentleman poked her with his cane; one lady employed her parasol to ascertain 

that all was, as she called it, ‘nattral.’ This inhuman baiting the poor creature 

bore with sullen indifference, except upon some provocation, when she seemed 

inclined to resent brutality.... On these occasions it took all the authority of the 

keeper to subdue her resentment."

Matthews effectively located Baartman within the arena of human curiosities by relating his meeting alongside visits to several other “living curiosities” starring in London’s shows; the Spotted Boy; the elegant dwarf Count Boruwalski; the Living Skeleton; Daniel Lambert, a 36-year-old weighing above 50 stone (700 lb / 317 kg); and Miss Crackham, a young lady measuring just 22½ inches tall whose stage name,the “Sicilian Fairy”, encapsulated both her size and frailty. The association between ethnological exhibits and humans with an anatomical curiosity was not uncommon as they were often exhibited together. Charles Dickens illustrated the variety a single show could encompass in Sketches by Boz: “The dwarfs are also objects of great curiosity, and as a dwarf, a giantess, a living skeleton, a wild Indian, and a ‘young lady of singular beauty, with perfectly white hair and pink eyes,’ and two or three natural curiosities, are usually exhibited together, for the small charge of a penny, they attract very numerous audiences.” Matthews’s reference to a “keeper” echoes numerous primary sources and suggests the exhibition revolved around the dynamics implicit in zoological display. Baartman may not have been physically caged but her patrons’ reactions are strongly reminiscent of contemporary accounts of visits to the local menagerie, where the animals were frequently teased and agitated by enthusiastic visitors. Menageries formed part of the same spectrum of public entertainment as freak shows. Displays of humans also included numerous ethnological exhibitions, each relying on the curiousness of the alien to draw crowds. Ethnological exhibitions not only represented imperial activity but disturbingly blurred the human/animal boundary. Both occupied a privileged epistemological position in their respective surroundings, be they iron bars or the theatrical stage, since animals were selected to be examples of their specific kinds just as ethnological exhibitions relied upon the claim that the peoples displayed were representative of a nation or race to generate interest.

Shocking as it may be to contemporary sensibilities, Baartman’s exhibition and treatment by her show’s patrons was not unique. Exhibitions of living foreign peoples were accessible and highly profitable forms of entertainment throughout the nineteenth century. Baartman’s display was the first of the new century and the forerunner of numerous displays of foreign peoples including Sámi (“Laplanders”, 1822), South Americans (1822), Esquimaux (c. 1820s), Native Americans (1840s), San (“Bushmen”, 1847), “Aztecs” (1853), African “Earthmen” (1853), and Zulus (1853). Like Baartman, these exhibits were collected within the networks of supply and demand created by the public interest in exotic animals and objects. Often they were imported by merchants as entrepreneurial speculations. Public interest in these shows was stimulated by a range of factors including ethnic “singularity”, physical peculiarities such as the diminutiveness of the San, and the subjects’ political relevance as Britain’s colonized subjects or military opponents. The political relevance of exhibits often proved the most attractive, and in Baartman’s case, the most enduring reason for fame. Baartman’s exhibition aroused intense public interest when abolitionists objected to her display on humanitarian grounds. On 12 October 1810, the Morning Chronicle, a reforming newspaper, published a letter of indictment from “AN ENGLISHMAN” who believed: “It was contrary to every principle of morality and good order” to allow the show, as it connected “offence to public decency, with that most horrid of all situations, Slavery”. Cezar responded with two letters where he forcefully argued that “has she not as good a right to exhibit herself as an Irish Giant or a Dwarf?”. He sought further justification by claiming that since the British acquisition of the Cape, he had been “constantly solicited to bring her to this country, as a subject well worthy of the attention of the Virtuoso, and the curious in general”.

 The abolitionist interest prompted a court case: Baartman’s self-appointed protectors argued that the exhibit was both indecent and, crucially, that Baartman was being held against her will. In conjunction with the African Association, the abolitionists also arranged for Baartman’s repatriation to her native Cape. Ultimately, the court found in favour of the defendant, Cezar, upon the presentation of a contract between Baartman and Dunlop. Although it is highly probable the contract was drawn up hastily in the light of the court case, and that Baartman may not even have seen it, the judge felt it inappropriate to press charges and the show continued.

Court records and newspaper reports of the case provide almost all the available biographical information about Baartman. However, the case’s greater significance lies in the critical insight it provides as to why Baartman, of all the curiosities on show, caused such a sensation. Advertisements for the exhibition began appearing in the London newspapers as early as late September 1810, and occasioned little or no response. However, by mid-October abolitionists began to take an interest and there followed a flurry of references, political and satirical, with a number of articles reporting the court proceedings, which began in late November. It is Baartman’s politicization and not her exhibition that proved unusual. There was little mention of her whilst she remained a curiosity — the turning point in her status came with abolitionist interest in her repatriation. Examining the chronology of the ‘Hottentot Venus’ phenomenon thus provides a salutary lesson in how to contextualize Baartman’s exhibition. Much of the current literature relies on the premise that Baartman caused an immediate sensation in the metropolitan public’s imagination because of her perceived anatomical differences (and thus its role in reinforcing a racialist division between black and white). However, contextualizing her in relation to other displays of “living curiosities” demonstrates that this is not accurate. In one sense, all human curiosities are reified; although each possesses an individualizing trait, ultimately he or she confirms the typological basis of alterity. In this respect, Baartman’s steatopygia is no different to Daniel Lambert’s extraordinary weight or the Sicilian Fairy’s diminutive proportions; rather, they are analogues. This aspect of Baartman’s tale has been obscured by the political significance ascribed to it, facilitating her appropriation into a spectrum of causes, be they abolitionist or feminist.

Baartman’s early politicization is contingent upon the considerable presence of black peoples in Regency London. However, this has been barely addressed in the current literature Such an acknowledgement does not deny that racial prejudice existed, but it does change the dynamics of interaction between Baartman and her show’s patrons. It is difficult to estimate the ethnic composition of the population, but an estimate of 20,00028 has been tentatively proposed for as early as 1764, and this is likely to have to have grown by the time of Baartman’s exhibition (the 1801 census records a total population of 958,863). This population appears to have been the largest non-white group in residence. In the eighteenth century an ornately dressed young black page was an indispensable accessory for a lady of fashion. Slavery provides a valuable means of assessing the visibility of London’s black population. Until the emancipation of English slaves in 1807, most resident black people were in bondage. The popularity of slaves as servants ensured that even in isolated country residences blacks had begun to penetrate the domestic space of the propertied. 

In the nineteenth century many continued in domestic service after having achieved their freedom. Black people managed to settle in London, working and intermarrying with the local population: at the level of the lower classes considerable assimilation occurred. Black faces appear with surprising regularity in depictions of London’s underworld, where they are found intermingling freely. Indeed one anti-abolitionist felt it necessary to vehemently attack “the lower classes of women in England, [who] are remarkably fond of the blacks, for reasons too brutal to mention”. Some, such as Robert Wedderburn and Olaudah Equiano, having achieved their own freedom, began to campaign for the emancipation of others and achieved prominence as political activists. Those less fortunate might turn to begging and some achieved fame for this alone, such as Charles M’Gee and Joseph Johnson, whose hat was unmistakably modelled after a ship. Furthermore, Londoners’ experience of blacks was inextricably tied up with performance over a broad range of social situations; black performers ranged from the casual busker in the street to professional musicians and the theatrically inclined. A substantial proportion earned their living as musicians and actors, with some achieving celebrity status: for instance, Billy Waters, a one-legged talented fiddler, and Ira Aldridge, an acclaimed actor. This excludes the significant number of white actors and musicians who painted themselves black to perform, thus strengthening the association between blacks and performance. Minstrels, for example, could regularly be found in the streets where they serenaded passers by. Of particular relevance are those employed within freak shows, such as the Spotted Boy, a young boy famous for the striking white patches mottling his skin, or Amelia Harlequin, a “white Negress”, who appeared at Bartholomew Fair in 1788. The one exception to the visibility of black people is that of black women. They were a much rarer sight than black men but were still not unknown.

Given the significant number of resident black persons, it is fallacious to assume, as has often been done, that Baartman’s status as an imperial spectacle was ensured by her colour alone, as an overwhelming number of visitors flocking to see her would already have had firsthand acquaintance with a black person, however limited or negative. Her colour may have placed her in a minority but it did not immediately relegate her to the status of wholly alien. Attempts to frame Baartman’s display as anomalous also ignore both its continuity with exhibiting human curiosities and its resonance with the longstanding association between blacks and entertainment. However, Baartman’s attraction did lie partly with her ethnic origin.

Despite metropolitan racial heterogeneity it is important to remember that not all of Britain’s subjects were equally represented. For example, London’s black population was the largest resident population of coloured peoples; however, most of these individuals were originally slaves and thus of African American, Caribbean or West Indian extraction. Able to speak English, dressed in European attire and often converts to Christianity, they were relatively integrated into British culture, whether as servants or more equally as amongst the lower classes. Yet, when Sara Baartman arrived upon these shore even Londoners with considerable experience of London’s black population would have been extremely unlikely to have had any acquaintance with a resident Khoikhoi woman. It is easy to forget that these differences existed, since accounts of ethnological display often imply that a different colour alone is sufficient to relegate ethnological exhibits to the status of exotic. This not only ignores the racial heterogeneity of London but also ethnic differences between peoples of the same colour, differences of which the public was not only aware but which showmen capitalized upon. Sara Baartman could be made to correspond with the large resident population of blacks, it is true, but this was not a given. Thus, the court case regarding her exhibition attracted such attention precisely because it neglected her distinctive ethnicity in order to argue for incorporating her into the wider debates on slavery and the status of the black. Although slavery was abolished in Britain in 1807, it was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833. Thus, Baartman’s exhibition occurred at precisely the moment when the abolitionist issue was gathering strength and pro-slavery campaigners were actively creating an image of the Black that erased ethnic differences between culturally diverse black peoples so as to lend force to their political agenda. Given the centrality of Baartman’s ethnic origin in ensuring her status as both a rare sight and a political pawn, it is entirely plausible that patrons of her exhibition were paying to view difference but not difference resulting from race alone; rather, they were paying to view an exhibit with immediate political relevance.

Little is known of Baartman’s career in England following the court case and before her appearance in France. Manchester parish records indicate that in December 1811, “Sarah Bartmann a female Hottentot from the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, born on the Borders of Caffaria, [was] baptized this Day by permission of the Lord Bishop of Chester in a letter from his Lordship to Jos. Brookes Chaplain”.Baartman was also exhibited in Manchester, possibly Bath, and Limerick in Ireland. Curiosities were often exhibited in the provinces, and it is tempting to speculate that these recorded appearances formed part of a provincial tour in order to exhaust the economic possibilities of Cezar’s investment. If this was the case it is feasible that the may have become unprofitable in Britain and thus forced across the Channel. The next section examines the move and the final days of her life, which were spent in Paris.


In 1814, Baartman began to be exhibited in Paris by the animal trainer S. Réaux; the show caused a sensation and ran for eighteen months. In the spring of 1815 Baartman spent three days at the Jardin des Plantes under the observation of the professors of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. Here she posed nude for the images that appeared in the first volume of Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s and Frédéric Cuvier’s Histoire naturelle des mammifères. Now iconic, they are the first images to greet the reader and the only portraits of a human in this lavishly illustrated work; the others depict an array of mammals, including numerous species of apes and monkeys. 

                                        Khoikhoi Griqua women. Circa 1910

Baartman’s poses in these images are striking; she appears rigid with the air of a stuffed specimen rather than a live model. Instead of portraying a classical pose, the artist presents views framed similarly to the other mammalian specimens in the volume and which are analogous to the anterior and lateral profiles used in zoological illustration. The delicate colouring is clearly intended to be realistic; details such as the hair, veining of the areola tissue, and nails contribute clinical precision. Minimal scenery hints at a geographical location without interfering with the human/animal subject. A scale emphasizes the intention of anatomical accuracy. These cues indicate an aspiration towards visual objectivity and embody period conventions. Artistic representations of blacks could employ obvious artifice; however, in ethnographic illustration an artist’s role was supposedly that of a passive recorder, the only legitimate input being the choice of subject or physical perspective. Baartman’s expression is the sole feature that adds a sense of humanity; poignantly addressing the viewer directly, it draws away from her physical form.

In December 1815, Baartman died from an illness Georges Cuvier diagnosed as “une maladie inflammatoire et eruptive”. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire applied to the authorities on behalf of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle to retain the corpse on the grounds that it was a singular (singulière) specimen of humanity and therefore of special scientific interest. The application was approved and the body removed to the Muséum where Cuvier conducted the autopsy and triumphantly published a detailed account of Baartman’s anatomy.

The report reveals a tension between acknowledging Baartman’s humanity (she is not even named), and the expectation of bestial habits borne from the belief that she represents an inferior human form. Cuvier begins by relating observations he made while she was still alive, before discussing her cadaver’s anatomical form. He notes that her personality was sprightly, memory good, and that she could speak tolerably good Dutch, a little English and had even learnt some French during her stay in Paris. His account of her dancing in the fashion of her country, and ability to play the ‘guimbarde’, a stringed instrument, ascribes a sense of vivacity to Baartman that is unusual. He adds that her shoulders and back are graceful, her arms slender, her hands charming and her feet pretty. However, his physiognomical description barely hides his disgust. Features such as the jutting of the jaws, fatness of lips and short chin recall the Negro, while the large cheeks, narrow eyes, and flattened base of the nose echo Mongolian characteristics. Physiognomy was commonly used in the nineteenth century to establish an individual’s character and to demonstrate racial and class superiority; thus Cuvier’s extended discussion of Baartman’s face serves to confirm her already lowly status. Cuvier also cannot help categorizing her with numerous species of monkey since her ears are small and weakly formed, as with the orangutan, and she frequently juts her lip outwards in a like manner; likewise, her skull resembles a monkey’s more than any other he has examined. Even her vivacity is translated into rapid and unexpected movements like those of a monkey.

                                                            Khoikhoi (Hottentot woman

This tension rests partly in Cuvier’s theory of anatomy. Cuvier emphatically classifies Baartman as a “femme de race Boschimanne”, as opposed to a different species or a Hottentot. His anatomical investigation established that her steatopygia was simply the excessive accumulation of fatty tissue, and that her so-called tablier was an extension of the inner labia, and thus also an over-development of a feature common to all women rather than a mark of a different species. The San were commonly believed to be the most degraded of humans and were often likened to orangutans. Vituperation characterizes contemporary accounts: one story of Dutch settlers on a hunting excursion relates how they shot a San man and ate his flesh believing they were eating large game rather than a human. Cuvier’s anatomical observations testified to Baartman’s humanity but his decision to categorize her as a Boschimanne, rather than Hottentote, suggests that for Cuvier Baartman was as close as possible to an ape. This is crucial since Cuvier oppose Lamarck’stransmutationary theory, preferring a relatively stable view of species. He categorized humans as a single species but believed there were three physically distinguishable races, Caucasians, Ethiopians and Mongolian. Thus, Cuvier attempted to reconcile perceived animality with humanity by classifying Baartman as a Boschimanne, the lowest rung in his human hierarchy, and through preserving her as a racial type, rather than as an anomaly or separate species, erased her individuality whilst implicitly legitimating his politics of anatomy.

Cuvier’s report also addresses contemporary accounts of Khoikhoi genitalia. The interest began with accounts in travel narratives that Khoikhoi men had a single testicle, and that the women possessed protruding buttocks and a tablier. The tablierbecame subject to numerous contradictions, with no one able to decide if it was natural or the result of artifice. Curiosity abounded as to the cause and function of the enlarged buttocks, some proposing that it was an adaptation allowing the women to carry their children on their backs. Both sexes were the subjects of speculation, but the attention devoted to the women is extraordinary. Many writers bemoaned the difficulty of persuading the Khoikhoi to appear naked. François Le Vaillant, known for his images of Khoikhoi women, relates the lengths to which he pleaded with a Khoikhoi woman to reveal herself. Finally achieving success, he writes: “Confused, abashed and trembling, she covered her face with both her hands, suffered her apron [tablier] to be untied, and permitted me to contemplate at leisure what my readers will see themselves in the exact representation which I drew of it.” These images frequently present Khoikhoi women reclining, naked except for long robes that unfold along their length to reveal breasts and parted legs exposing the elongated labia. In some the women are more accommodating and hold their labia apart as an invitation to intimate examination. Both the text and images attempt to represent the women as coy but compliant in their invasion; however, for a modern reader, it is difficult not to view them as anything other than deeply disturbing, pornographic and, frankly, distastefully voyeuristic. Such accounts conferred prestige upon Cuvier’s verification of the existence and nature of the tablier. During the examination at the Jardin des Plantes both Henri de Blainville and Cuvier pleaded with Baartman to allow an examination of her tablier, with de Blainville even offering her money; but she refused and took great care to preserve her modesty. Cuvier only succeeded when her cadaver lay before him. His meticulous description of the tablier, including its length, thickness, and appearance folded and unfolded, takes up a long passage that is as graphic and violating as Le Vaillant’s images, and makes it clear that Cuvier’s attempted scientific resolution of the tablier mystery was a personal triumph. 

Cuvier’s autopsy report is well known and has long been established as the basis for his vilification as a racist scientist in the literature on Baartman; however, during the nineteenth century a number of articles appeared in Britain, France and Germany concerned with the comparative anatomy of the European and Khoisan. Within this body of research, Cuvier’s and de Blainville’s early articles were the only works to focus primarily on Baartman. In later discussions of Khoisan anatomy Baartman was often used as an example, but this was within a much broader discussion on human physical difference. By the 1830s, for example, interest had shifted away from individual specimens and by the early twentieth century a single organ, the brain, was often the preferred means of comparison. In these later studies, Frederick Tiedemann and Edward Spitzka used Baartman’s brain to draw conclusions regarding the relationship between intelligence and ethnic origin. The belief that she represented peoples on the lowest level of human capability is again evident; for example, one writer describing the brain of a San woman demonstrated the simplicity of her anatomy by arguing that “In this point the Bushwoman’s brain is more apelike than even that of the Hottentot Venus”. The starkest reiteration of Baartman’s status as an intermediary between ape and human is perhaps the illustration used by Edward Spitzka. Here, a simple line drawing of her brain identified her as a medical specimen, whilst the use of just her brain, hovering between that of a physicist and orang-outang, established her as the definitive decontextualized object used to affirm a racialized human hierarchy. However, Baartman’s brain was one of many obtained from museum collections and was not the primary subject of either paper. Similarly, James C. Prichard incorporated a brief discussion of Baartman’s skeleton into his encyclopaedic natural history of humans. Most of these papers have been cited, if not fully analysed, within the literature on Baartman, but their importance has been overstated. Baartman’s appearance within medical texts has often been used to frame her as not only central but essential for any discussion regarding medical debates on Khoisan anatomy in the nineteenth century. For example, Fausto-Sterling has argued: “The encounters between women from Southern Africa and the great men of European science began in the second decade of the nineteenth century when Henri de Blainville … and Georges Cuvier met Baartman and described her for scientific circles, both when she was alive and after she was dead.” This approach is fairly typical of the literature on Baartman in tracing the ‘scientific’ debates, as opposed to ‘traveller’s tales’, regarding the tablier to Baartman and the French encounter. However, evidence exists that intellectual debate outside the travel literature existed before Baartman ever graced an exhibition venue. 

Between 1799 and 1802 William Somerville, later the husband of the mathematician and science writerMary Somerville, was stationed at the Cape. Holding office as both a public servant and garrison-surgeon he took advantage of the opportunity to observe the indigenous population, including the local women. This was notan easy task as Somerville noted: “It is but justice to the modesty of the Hottentots to say that I have constantly found as many difficulties in the part of the women to submit to the exposure parts which a closer inspection required, as in all probability would have occurred in persuading an equal number of females of any other description to undergo examination.” However, he managed to persuade his patients to submit to closer inspection since his “profession” was of “singular utility in removing those scruples which arose from a sense of decency”. Somerville described these observations in a paper which he deposited at the Royal Society in 1806 and later published in 1816. Although available only in manuscript form, the paper demonstrates that detailed medical literature regarding Khoisan anatomy was available prior to both  Baartman’s exhibition and Cuvier’s autopsy. That this research was also known is demonstrated by an article in The lancet in 1832 which specifically cited Somerville’s paper. Furthermore, this research is not only British but also independent of Baartman’s exhibition; thus, through ignoring publications in English, Baartman’s formative role in the debates on female Khoisan anatomy has been overstated.

Baartman’s preserved remains became the artefacts the Musée de l’Homme displayed. Astonishingly, given the centrality of the Musée in perpetuating Baartman’s role as an ethnological icon, and in the political row over her remains, no attempt has been made to understand her significance from a museological perspective. The next section discusses the role of Baartman’s remains in securing her career postmortem.


Cuvier produced several body casts and a wax mould of the tablier whilst preserving her decanted brain, stiff skeleton, and dissected genitalia. Her skeleton and cast were displayed within the halls of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle alongside two other human skeletons and the numerous other objects of comparative anatomical interest that were part of the collections.58 Here she entertained visitors until her skull was stolen in 1827. Anonymously returned within a few months, the restored skull and skeleton continued to arouse the interest of visitors until the remains were moved to the Musée de l’Homme when it was founded in 1937. The new museum was devoted to displaying the considerable anthropological collections the French had accumulated. High above the entrance gilded letters announced the founders’ intention to display rare and beautiful things gathered from the far reaches of the world in a learned manner, in order to educate the eye of the beholder. Here, among the items on display from the anthropology laboratory, Sara Baartman awaited visitors’ curious gazes.

The extraordinary exhibit of Sara Baartman’s skeleton and plaster cast greeted any visitor passing case  at the Musée de l’Homme up until the late 1970s. Both her skeleton and body cast stood side by side and faced away from the viewer. Above her head rested images of black people. The display exemplified her perceived value as a scientific specimen. The painted tones of the body cast simulated skin whilst the knowledge it was moulded directly from her corpse and the presence of her skeleton contributed to the illusion of objectivity. The positioning of the skeleton and cast, in profile and facing away from the viewer, emphasized her steatopygia whilst reinforcing its status as the primary reason for interest in her body. The juxtaposition of the apparently ‘normal’ skeleton with the cast, and its ‘anomalous’ form, also drew attention to the steatopygia. The cast presented her bare body as if naked, save a diminutive piece of fabric between her legs, placing her sexuality at the core of the interest in her body. The presence of the photographs above her head, presumably of a Khoikhoi man and woman, provided the only visual reference to her people: an attempt to contextualize a display that otherwise explicitly failed to acknowledge her dispossession. The photographs of the man indicated an attempt to legitimate the exhibit’s worth; he stood undressed and in the classic lateral and profile poses of anthropological investigation, thus providing further visual cues to attempted objectivity.

A nineteenth century caricature of Sarah Baartman (Saartji Baartman), or the Hottentot Venus

Baartman’s exhibition proved popular until it elicited complaints from a number of feminists who complained of its degrading representation of women. The modern campaign of criticism witnessed the removal from public exhibition of Baartman’s skeleton in 1974 and body cast in 1976 and their relegation to the museumstorerooms. Following her removal, the Musée de l’Homme installed an exhibition on the history of Man devoted to celebrating human diversity. Here Baartman’s tale appeared in a section devoted to the history of scientific racism and was embedded in a much larger historical context. Ironically, Baartman’s replacement with an exhibition celebrating diversity indicates an awareness of the complexity of display but, by failing to problematize the very use of museological space, still privileges the role museums might play in retelling her tale. Especially revealing are the comments of Philippe Mennecier, an assistant curator at the Musée de l’Homme, who continued to argue against her repatriation because “we never know what science will be able to tell us in the future. If she is buried, this chance will be lost ... for us she remains a very important treasure”, thus continuing to legitimate her putative value as an artefact, albeit one hidden from the public gaze.

Museums necessarily divorce objects from their original context; in doing so they ascribe meanings such objects would otherwise never easily obtain. The object implicitly occupies an epistemologically privileged position in the putatively neutral space of museological display, since it gains the capacity to augment a visitor’s knowledge; at one extreme, display invests the object with a power to speak of its own accord. Thus, framed within an ethnographic museum, Baartman spoke to viewers, objectively, neutrally, on behalf of the perceived peculiarities of the Khoikhoi form: after all, the suspicion remains that one need only look to know what the fuss was really all about. The exhibit crystallized Baartman’s function as an ethnographic metonym, a role exploited in all forms of her display in a chain linking her to all Khoisan women and Africa. Her role as an exemplar of Khoisan anatomy reinforced by the synechdochal nature of the museum itself: objects are decontextualized and re-presented as substitutions for the whole, thus embedding the associations institutionally. At the Musée de l’Homme this is with the explicit intention of exhibiting humanity itself. Baartman remained in storage until March 1994 when the body cast formed part of an exhibition of nineteenth-century ethnographic sculpture at the Musée d’Orsay. The Musée also included the nude lithographs of Baartman that had originally appeared in the Histoire naturelle des mammifères and a watercolour painting of her skull. Her display was embedded within the artefactual context of nude images of black women that were contrived to emphasize the proportions of their buttocks, and numerous sculpted busts, figurines and photographs depicting foreign peoples in both romanticized and degrading images that exemplified a range of conventions used in ethnographic material in the nineteenth century. Once again Baartman’s display aroused both curiosity and considerable criticism, and this resulted in her removal in June of the same year. She was then placed in storage again until her final repatriation in 2002.

Baartman’s display is a testament to the historical obsession with Khoisan bodies that continued long after her death. In the nineteenth century, for example, many Khoikhoi women were treated as taxidermic material, their skins stripped and stuffed to preserve them as specimens of the anomalous. Sir John Herschel, during his visit to the Cape in the mid-1830s, noted that he had seen a “Hottentot woman’s skin — stuffed ... with all the extraordinary peculiarities attributed to these nymphs by travellers”. Francis Galton provides one of the most memorable indications of the lasting obsession with the Khoikhoi body in an account of his visit to the Cape in 1851. Observing a Khoikhoi woman in the distance, he writes:

"I profess to be a scientific man, and was exceedingly anxious to obtain accurate 

measurements of her shape; but there was a difficulty ... I did not know a word 

of Hottentot ... I therefore felt in a dilemma as I gazed at her form, that gift of 

bounteous nature to this favoured race which no mantua-maker, with all her 

crinoline and stuffing, can do otherwise than humbly imitate. The object of my 

admiration stood under a tree, and was turning herself about to all of the compass, 

as ladies who wish to be admired usually do. Of a sudden my eye fell upon my 

sextant; the bright thought struck me, and I took a series of observations ... and 

registered them carefully upon an outline drawing for fear of my mistake; this 

being done, I boldly pulled out my measuring tape, and measured the distance 

from where I was to the place where she stood, and having thus obtained both 

base and angles, I worked out the results by trigonometry and logarithms."

Nude photos of Koikhoi women with steatopygia were collected by the white colonialist

As late as 1911 a frustrated Dorothy Bleek complained of the Khoisan that: “It is exceedingly difficult to get photos of the natives without their clothes on.” By the end of the nineteenth century the “natives” had been made the unwilling subject of numerous investigations and photographic documentaries.68 European interest in and ethnographic preservation of the Khoisan body has lead to the accumulation of thousands of artefacts: today, more than 2,000 skeletons remain in South African museums alone. Lying in publicly inaccessible storerooms, they bear witness to the fate of many others who, like Baartman, were collected and preserved by museums the world over as objects. These bones formed exhibits that are only just being removed as museums reassess the politics of their display. The South African Museum still has a diorama of the Khoisan hunting, cooking, and enjoying the African grasslands.These displays subtly encode racialized ideologies by claiming to provide privileged and objective views into a people’s lifestyle, rather than anthropological interpretations born of a particular methodology.

Courtesy:National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland

The historically privileged position of museological space is demonstrated by the exhibit “Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit” which toured America, Australia and London in 1992. A male and female Amerindian lived inside a golden cage and were claimed to originate from an island that had been overlooked for over five centuries. A fake Encyclopaedia Britannica entry, map of the island, and chronology of live Western ethnological exhibitions contextualized the display. The only means of obtaining further information was from the protective zoo guards. The pair performed ‘traditional tasks’ ranging from making voodoo dolls, undergoing weight training, watching television, and working at a laptop computer. For a small fee, the lady performed a ‘traditional’ dance to rap music and the man momentarily revealed his ‘primitive’ genitalia. The installation was previously unadvertised and, crucially, presented as a museum exhibit rather than performance art, thus forcing visitors to reflect upon their relationship with the caged people aided only by the didactic information given. Coco Fusco, who performed as the ‘Amerindian’ woman, writes: “As we assumed the stereotypical role of the domesticated savage, many audience members felt entitled to assume the role of the colonizer.” Many paid the requisite fee to view ‘primitive’ genitalia or watch the ritual dance, some walking away when their expectations of ‘authenticity’ were unfulfilled.
 Others questioned the guards in an attempt to verify the exhibits’ provenance and, once convinced, easily assumed positions of control and superiority, some even hurling abuse or sexually harassing the pair. Many participants, after realizing that the performance was not an ‘authentic’ display, became angry and upset. Unable to cope with the implications of their behaviour, visitors castigated the exhibitors for their ‘immoral’ deception of the public.
Khoikhoi (Hottentot) woman from South Africa exhibiting steatopygia

The performance raises many interesting issues, but especially relevant here are the power that an observer possesses to construct the significance of a subject and how location shapes meaning. The lack of self-reflexivity on the part of the audience is partly the consequence of staging the performance in a museum. It bears witness to the underlying assumption that museums ought, in some sense, to communicate the ‘truth’ and is suggestive of the power this invests in them as cultural institutions. When reading of Baartman’s treatment, one can easily assume that as modern citizens of multicultural societies we are free from, or at least less tainted by, the racial prejudices that fed her inhumane treatment. The curiosity for the exotic we now show is supposedly cloaked in a culturally sensitive appreciation of ethnic diversity. However, without the benefit of hindsight to justify our moral superiority, the situation becomes more complicated. Museums the world over have preserved skin and bone as objects for ethnographic exhibition, and the interest in Baartman demonstrates the need to reassess the use of such collections and the need to consult with indigenous peoples in the process. And here lies the key to the historical importance of human ethnographic exhibition. The display of Sara, and countless others like her, has shaped our identity, and although now hidden away, it continues to do so.

(Sarah Baartman “the Hottentot Venus”:  In September 1910, Sarah first performed for a European [British] audience in Picadilly.  Dressed in skin-tight body-stocking, beadwork, feathers and face paint, she was presented as a representation of African womanhood before a primarily-male audience.  Her beauty- likely unremarkable to Khoikoi men- was distorted and commodified in the eyes of her European audience.  Her skin color granted her audience permission to gaze openly- particularly at her bottom.)

In many ways, Sara Baartman is not an unusual woman, despite all the attention she has inspired. Throughout her life, processes can be identified that contributed to her objectification, allowed her trade as a human commodity, underlay her exhibition as a curiosity, aroused scientific interest, and reified her as a museum artefact. None of these events is in itself exceptional in the sense that they occur only in her tale. Rather, an historicization of her collection and display embeds her within a range of related contexts. The collection of animals and their display in menageries is analogous to human ethnological display, for both depend upon an appetite for consuming exotic displays. Baartman’s exhibition in Piccadilly relates her to the human curiosities upon display in the vicinity, from obese giants to emaciated dwarves. That the exhibition took place in London is of further significance because of the political presence of abolitionists and London’s demography. The museological context is crucial in Baartman’s political significance, as it highlights that every display needs to be situated because of the role of artefactual context in creating meaning and thus shaping reception. Baartman’s display within an ethnographic museum is also echoed in numerous other displays in which ethnographic objects serve as tangible metonymic fragments of foreign cultures.
The question therefore remains, why has Baartman become such an icon?
Although Baartman’s biographical details are scarce and uncertain, historians are able to make significant inferences and thus piece together a relatively coherent story. Crucially, enough is known about Baartman to individualize her — she is far from being an anonymous skeleton whose plight we might pity. Instead, she is a named person, and this facilitates a sense of identification with her as an ancestor, or empathy with her treatment as a human. A significant factor is the lack of agency Baartman inevitably possesses in any retelling of her story, since all the surviving records are accounts of her, rather than diaries or letters from her. Consequently, it is precisely the difficulty in recovering her agency that makes her amenable to employment as a cipher, even her minimal presence being enough; unfortunately this only contributes further to her dispossession. The ease with which she can be politicized can be seen in her lifetime as well as today. The campaigns for Baartman’s repatriation, as waged by the abolitionists and modern Africans, depend upon the ascription to her of political significance. Her political significance for discussions of representation of black sexuality has been central in establishing her cultural status. In Lyle Ashton Harris’s photograph Venus Hottentot 2000 the famous breasts and buttocks are evoked through the use of metallic prostheses worn by the model, Renée Valerie Cox, who stares directly at the viewer against a background that borrows the colours of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA flag (Figure 2).
                                                                             Figure 2:                 
 Discussing the image, Harris states:
"This reclaiming of the image of the Hottentot Venus is a way of exploring my
 own psychic identification with the image at the level of spectacle. I am playing
 with what it means to be an African diasporic artist producing and selling work
in a culture that is by and large narcissistically mired in the debasement and 
objectification of blackness. And yet, I see my work less as a didactic critique 
and more as an interrogation of the ambivalence around the body."
Artist: Renee Cox
This is her representation of Saartjie Baartman, the South African woman who was lured to Europe with promises of becoming famous but was instead put on display like a wild animal because of  her body features. 

The emphasis upon identifying with Baartman as an ancestral self and her treatment as representative of the negativity of modern depictions of black sexuality is typical of her modern politicization. 
Sara Baartman is now explicitly proposed as a symbol of the colonial treatment of Africans, a role exemplified by her repatriation. Her skeleton, preserved organs and body were finally returned to South African custody in April 2002, in a white wooden box draped with an African cloth accompanied by the air of gospel songs.The following August the funeral took place in the town of Hankey, nearly 500 miles 
east of Cape Town, where she is believed to been born, and coincided with national Women’s Day. Thousands attended the funeral. Before the burial, herbs were set on fire to purify Baartman’s remains as part of a traditional ceremony. Her coffin, decorated with aloe wreaths, was then lowered into the ground as a choir sang gently. 
The attempts to restore Baartman’s dignity through a symbolic purification that erases the processes of objectification and her burial, not as celebrity but as a local woman returned to her home, are both desirable and valuable. However, Baartman’s employment as a symbol of subjugated peoples mirrors the problems with the existing literature since her use as a focal point for discussions of race and gender, her lack of agency, and politicization contribute to the risk of re-establishing her as a curiosity merely renamed as cultural icon. Baartman’s iconic status depends upon her perceived value as emblematic of both nineteenth-century black experiences and of European debates on physical differences as markers of racial difference. However, this cultural status has been supported by a failure to recognize the heterogeneity of black experience on the part of Europeans and blacks, both of whom differentiated a wide range of ethnicities within people of the same colour. The growing literature also lacks perspective by exaggerating the formative role of European debates on Khoisan anatomy within wider racialized debates on human difference. As Zine 
Magubane has recently argued, “if we compare the amount of ink spilled, the volume of studies, and the number of corpses examined, it becomes apparent that Irish male skulls were of far more interest, and caused far more speculation about the nature of racial differences than steatopygious African backsides ever did”. Examining the material processes involved in Baartman’s commodification, objectification, display 
and preservation not only offers new perspectives upon her story but crucially avoids ahistorically reifying her to support political agendas. Indeed, a thorough contextualization and recapturing of her agency may provide a more effective and legitimate basis for her cultural status through demonstrating the elements of her treatment that are representative of colonized peoples’ experiences. Such a history would strengthen the sentiment of Baartman’s funeral address in which African president Thabo Mbeki maintained that “The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people.... 
                                                   Sara Baartman`s memorial tomb

It is the story of the loss of our ancient freedom ... [and] of our reduction to the state of objects who could be owned, used and discarded by others”. The power of Sara Baartman’s tale depends upon the level of inhumanity she has suffered; if this is to be directed honestly in her politicization we need to historicize it, and recognize that it is, in many senses, unexceptional.


Videos of Saarje "Sara" Baartman

Who Is Saartjie Baartman? 

Black Venus - The life of Saartjie (Sara) Baartman. Part 1

Black Venus - The life of Saartjie (Sara) Baartman. Part 2

Eva the Hottentot
Author: A.M. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2)
Web master: M.A. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2 j1)
Picture of male and female khoikhoi in traditional clothing.
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Genetic Enrichment Page 1
My Genetic Enrichment Page 2 -My Genetic Enrichment - EVA the Hottentot

Indigenous Roots back to EVA
The nearest I have come to royalty or chiefdom is through Eva, who was an indigenous Khoi-Khoi (Hottentot). One might pose the question what entitles one to be an Indigenous person or First Nation person. Do I qualify or not? I have three traceable descents from Eva.
EVA * 1642, died 1674 X Pieter van Meerhof => Petronella Meerhof => Magdalena Zaayman => Anna Elisabeth Bockelenberg => b1 Johannes Bruyns => b1c5 Jacobus Theodorus Bruyns => b1c5d5 Hendrik Willem Bruyns => b1c5d5e5f2 Christiaan Jacobus Theodorus Bruyns => b1c5d5e5f2g? Magdalena Johanna Maria Bruyns => b4c2d1e6f5g5 Nicolaas Jacobus Janse van Rensburg => my father => me
Eva => Petronella Meerhof => Pieter Zaaiman => b?c5 Engela Catharina Zaaiman => b2c6 Willem Jacobus Pelzer => b2c6d2 Levina Catharina Pelzer => b6c1d3e3 Willem Johannes Kruger => b6c1d3e3f1 Johanna Elisabeth Kruger => ? Johanna Elisabeth van der Westhuyzen => b6c3d1e7f6g?h1 Johanna Elisabeth Kuhn => my father => me
Eva => Petronella Meerhof => Pieter Zaaiman => b?c5 Engela Catharina Zaaiman => b2c3 Anna Maria Jacoba Pelzer => b5 Frederika Elisabeth Griesel => b7c5d3 Anna Maria Kruger => ? Johannes Lodewikus van der Westhuyzen => 3 Andries Marthinus van der Westhuyzen => ? Johanna Elisabeth van der Westhuyzen => b6c3d1e7f6g?h1 Johanna Elisabeth Kuhn => my father => me 
Eva - A Person who Lost everything
Eva also known as Krotoa was born c 1642 at the Cape. She was a member of the Goringhaikona. Strandloper (beachcomber), Khoikhoi also referred to as Hottentot, (this particular tribe consisted about fifty individuals according to V.C. Malherbe, "Krotoa, called 'Eva': A Woman Between"). Her uncle Herry also know as Autohoemao was the captain of this tribe. Eva rode on the back of an ox - denoting a high station amongst Khoikhoi. Like the biblical Eva she can be considered to be the 'stammoeder' of the Afrikaner (at least mine). Her union in marriage with Pieter van Meerhoff was the commencement of the Afrikaner, having their roots in Europe but they are also the seed of Africa. Like the first Eve, clothing and being naked was also an issue in Eva's life. Discarding her European clothes, when visiting her relations at the kraal, some have virtually equated it with the Great Fall.
Eva - Part of Van Riebeeck's family
Eva was uprooted from her tribal family life. The effect was losing a family and gaining a new family at the same time. Eva was ten or eleven when she became part of the Commander of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck's household {see picture of Van Riebeeck (30k)}. They educated her in the Christian and European ways. Eva soon mastered Dutch and also Portuguese and she became a vital link between the little group of Company officials and the local tribes. She became the interpreter between the VOC and the local tribes, see picture of male and female Hottentot (46k). Being part of the Van Riebeeck household, Eva became Van Riebeeck's confidant when it came to relating to the indigenous tribes. One of the other tribal leaders Oedasoa, was married to Eva sister. See picture of native village(39k). Another picture of Cape Khoi from Johannes Nieuhof, Gedenkwaardige Braziliaanse zee-en landreis, 1665. The Hottentot language consisted of many click sounds, and it was considered beyond the capability of Europeans to learn. Some joked that they stutter and stammer, other said they sound like turkeys. The name Hottentot was a derogatory term used by the Dutch, imitating the way the Khoikhoi spoke. (The bushman also had these sounds and later the Xhosas adopted the click sounds in their speech). Since the Dutch found the Khoikhoi language so difficult, the 'tolk' interpreter, thus became a key person.
Historical Marriage to Pieter van Meerhof
Eva was baptised on 3rd May 1662 at the fort. She was the first Hottentot to convert and marry a European. On 2nd June 1664 she was united in marriage to the adventurer and brilliant surgeon Pieter van Meerhof. Van Meerhof took part in six expeditions in search of Monomotapa. During these early years with all the activities, involvement and attention that they received were happy days for them. Both these ceremonies would have been conducted in the first fort, which was demolished by van der Stel. (C. Poelstra, Bouwstoffen voor de Geschiedenis der NG kerken in ZAvol II, p. 23 refers to an entry on 2nd April 1663 "Sybelius wederen, een predikatie gedaen, ende gedoopt eem bejaerde vrouspersoon, de eerste van dese ingeboren lantsluiden, genaemd Hottentoos; is genaemt met den naam van Eva"). Eva is described as "een fraei, nuchter borst van aensien" she was beautiful in appearance (Resolusies van die Politieke Raad, vol I, p. 316).
In May 1665 "Van Meerhof was appointed superintendent of the convicts on Robben Island - a responsible post for Van Meerhof but a confining one for Eva. Eva was use to the bustle and excitement of the fort" Elphick, p. 201. While on Robben island she lost all contact with other women, this was a place of loneliness for her see Malherbe p. 49. The isolation and loneliness on this island was also experienced by the wife of Sacharias, the previous superintendent of Robben Island, namely Maria van Bengal. Maria van Bengal's loneliness was acknowledge, with the Company sending a slave women "as a servant and companion of the married woman who has hitherto been obliged to live such a lonely life" Malherbe, p. 49. It has been suggested that it was on Robben island that Eva took up drinking. While they were living on Robben Island, Eva fell off a stool and had to have treatment.
Pieter van Meerhoff was asked to go on another expedition, this time to Madagascar, while Eva remained on Robben Island. The expedition sailed on two ship Westwout and Poelsnip it was a slave trading expedition. Van Meerhoff was murdered by the local people in Madagascar before 27th February 1668. On the 27th February 1668 Eva and her children returned from Robben Island to Table Bay. The ships Poelsnip and Westwoutarrived back at the Cape on 30th September 1668. It is rather ironical that she inherited slaves from her husband as a consequence of his death on a slave purchasing expedition, Robert-H Shell, Children of Bondage, p. xxxvi. On 23rd October 1669 Eva gave this slave, Jan Vos, to the church. She most probably did not want to manage the slave on her own, Shell, p. 112, we do know that she was even having difficulty managing herself.
Her Children1. Jacobus born c 1661, died 1685 on the ship back to the Cape from Mauritius
2. Pieternella born c 1663, married Daniel Zaaiman
3. Salamon born 1666
4. Jeronimus baptised 23 November 1670
5. Anthonij baptised 6 August 1673

On the 8th February 1669 the church decided to remove Eva's children from her neglect. Eva was thrown into the "donkergat", the dark hole serving as a jail, on 10th February since she tried to take her children back the night before. The authorities placed the children with Jan Reyniersz, previous serving deacon with the church, and his wife until they were able to find more permanent arrangements. On 1st March 1669 the children were removed and placed with Barbara Geems.
On the 26th March 1669 Eva was banished from Robben Island.
Alcohol, Eva and Khoikhoi Culture
With the death of her husband, Eva's world seemed to collapse and her morals followed suite. Living a loose life and being a drunkard became a way of life. There has been much psycholigical speculation on what happened to Eva. Some have suggested that she had a nervous breakdown. Other have said she was rebelling against the European culture imposed on her and she was reverting back to her tribal ways. Her abuse of alcohol is used to condemn her in this regard. These type of speculations and accusations, neglected to as whether alcohol was a part of the Hottentot life style prior to the arrival of the Europeans? First of all there were no grapes previously at the Cape. When the Dutch arrived and traded with various commodities, the Hottentots wanted to trade brandy, indicating that this was not a commodity they had access to, Malherbe, p. 24. It was the Dutch who provoked them to drink in excess. The records indicate that the Dutch placed very strong drink at the disposal of the Hottentots, thus amusing themselves at the expense of the Hottentots. Strong alcohol was not part of their culture, refer to Malherbe, p. 38. This is collaborated by Elphick, p. 207 when he writes "Virtually the first European cultural traits that Khoikhoi adopted were a taste for tobacco and alcohol." Eva was not returning to her tribal ways, since alcohol was not indigenous but something foreign.
Sex, Eva and Khoikhoi Culture
With regard to living a loose moral life. Often people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, have an emotional vacuum and attach themselves to others. On occasions, others take advantage of this vulnerable time in a person's life. Eva had sexual encounters on the island after Van Meerhoff's death, this is verified by the fact that she conceived children on the island. When Eva's sister died "she displayed great grief at the news". One can only speculate what effect the death of her husband had on her. Her life was one of loss, even her adopted family, Van Riebeeck, left her.

The assertion that she was returning to her native ways, were penned in rather derogatory terms even at the time of her misdemeanor. The records state, "With the dogs she returned to her own vomit, until finally, in death, she put out the fire of lust, affording a clear illustration that nature, no matter how tightly muzzled by imprinted moral, principles ... reverts to its inborn qualities" Elphick, p. 202 quoting KA 3988 DR July 29, 1674 pp. 140 ff. It should be asked what were the moral customs of the Khoikhoi? Elphick p. 204 quotes from Dapper, VRS 14, pp 65-67, and supports it with Guy Tachard, Voyge de Siam, p 95; Peter Kolb, Naaukeurige en uitvoerige beschriving van de Kaap de Goede Hoop, p. 125 " When (a Khoikhoi man and women) are caught in illicit intercourse, they are both whipped ... and (sometimes) ... permitted to marry each other. In case this does not take place, they wait to see if the girl becomes pregnant. Once she is pregnant, the marriage must be hastened on, no matter how bad a person the lover is, in order to restore the honour of the girl; for it is a great scandal there to have an illegitimate child; although sometimes it does actually occur". If a married women among Khoikhoi committed adultery, it was punishable by death. The morals of the Khoikhoi people were not loose, this is supported by the very small number of unions and liaisons between the Europeans and Khoikhoi women. It was the Europeans moral who were loose and most miscegenation took place with slave women. Between 1660-1705 there were 191 Germans who married or lived with these 'non-whites'. Of these 114 were Cape born, 29 from Bengal, 43 from other parts of Asia, and 5 from Madagascar and Africa, information from Elphick and Gilliomee, p. 129. The logic of the arguments used against Eva does not live up to the facts, even though she did live it up.
Reaching out to her Familial Bond
Negative comments were made by the Dutch about her wearing animal skins when she visited her own people. The practicality of the 'karos' garment made of animal skins, should be remembered. The Dutch themselves in later years used animal skins for blankets and even clothing. Imagine what would have been said about her when she visited her tribal people and continued to wear her European clothes. Picture of Hottentot village 1706 (78k). Culturally Eva seemed to be very well adapted and sensitive, and tried to be appropriate for the cultural context. "Eva was the only person at the Cape who was totally at ease in the very different cultures of the fort and kraal; in coming years her dual culture was to become a curse which, along with other misfortunes, would finally destroy her" Elphick, p. 108. Instead of seeing her as weak, one can see her as reaching out to maintain familial bonds.
Eva had a sister who was the wife of Goeboe the son of chief Sousoa the king of the Chainouquas tribe, until this sister was carried away by Oedasoa. Eva also had a uncle Eijcouqua who belonged to the Chainouquas tribe, he had a grandfather who was alive named Heestkhama (H.B.Thom, Journal of Jan van Riebeeck, vol III, p. 270). Thus she became the wife of chief Oedasoa of the Cochoquas tribe, also know as Saldanhars. This sister had not seen Eva since the birth of Eva, until this reunion on 29th October 1658 (Thom, vol III, p. 362). When she was reunited with her sister Malherbe, p. 31 provides us with what happened, "At the first meeting of these two women joy prevented Eva from addressing the other, and for the same reason she was unable to serve as interpreter for our people. She perpetually had her arm round the shoulder of her sister, Oedasoa's wife, a sign that they had great pleasure in each other's company". When her Uncle Herry also know as Autohoemao was banished on 10th July 1658 to Robben Island, she went and visited him. To condemn Eva for trying to maintain family contact, since she was cut off from, them is rather harsh.

Eva heard about the death of her mother, on 7th July 1659 (Journal of Jan van Riebeeck) her mother lived with Herry's people, the Kaapmans (Thom, Vol II, p. 290, 362).
A year later Eva heard about the death of her sister on 1st August 1660, her grief is described as follows: "Eva, who lived in the Commander's house, displayed great grief at the news" (Thom, vol III, p. 247) When Oedasoe visited the castle to trade, he brought his daughter Namies with him, she is described as a women very well shaped, pretty and not darker than a fairly white mestico (Thom, vol III, p. 276).
Eva had significant family bonds with many of the various tribes. No wonder she played such a key role between the Company and the Hottentots.
Some historians with an anti-Christian bias suggests that religion was imposed on her. The facts seems to indicate the opposite. Once when she came back to the fort out of her own choice, she wanted to learn more about God. When she shared with her sister about God, her sister listened with tears, whereas Doman and the Kaapmans laughed at her when she spoke about God. (H.B. Thom, vol II, p. 263)
Critics: Revelation of Self and Eva
Many historians and anthropologists who have written about Eva reveal more about their own biases or what can be considered a socially acceptable interpretation for their time. These people have to write what their mentor requires and what has to be considered politically correct for the time. Therefore often more is revealed about the author and their culture, than about the individual being researched and the historical context. For example:
1. Molsbergen, Tijdens de O. I. Compagnie, concludes his article with sermonization about the evils of sin and that one can't judge the company with the way they buried her since she resorted to 'suicide', by inference by her life style. This was the typical condemning attitude of certain religious groups of the day, suicide was considered one of the worst sins with no possible salvation. Molsbergen erroneously describes what happened to the the Hottentot Sara as if it happened to Eva. Molsbegen description of the treatment by the authorities of her corpse does not apply to Eva. Molsbergen, p. 36 "De Kaapsche Regering besloot bij officieele resolutie te doen sleepen, om daar de zondares met haar hoofd en een gaffelvormigen paal ten afschrik te doen hangen tusschen hemel en aarde. Hier zien we alweer de parallel met het misdrijf." This description of the treatment of the corpse are described by Molsbergen, in the language of preachers of his day, where they describe the death of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners, being hung between heaven and earth. Molsbergen continues "Toen ze drie weken later van die vork viel, werd, ter uitvoering van het vonnis, het lijk opnieuw er op gelegd". G.C. de Wet, DSAB, vol II, p. 223. states that Eva was buried in the church inside the castle the day after her death.
2. D.B. Bosman "Uit die Biografie van 'n Hottentotin in beskawing", Huisgenoot, 3 July 1942 and 10 July 1942, sees Eva as a native that can't be civilized, "n eksperiment in beskawing", in other words the experiment has failed. He concludes by quoting Valentyn regarding the Hottentots "maar op die end weer teruggegaan het tot hulle ou Hottentotse gewoontes en kleredrag". Bosman reflects the prevailing racist attitude during the apartheid era. A common slur of the time were, 'you can take a native out of the bush, but you can't take the bush out of the native'.
3. Others see everything in terms of a black-white struggle and interpret Eva in terms of the black and white struggle, they reflect the struggle of their own times on to Eva. It is as if they are suffering from being colour blind and can see history only through their own eyes.
4. J.C. Wells, "Eva's Men: Gender and Power in the establishment of the Cape of Good Hope, 1652 -74", The Journal of African History, vol 39, 1998, no 3, notices this phenomenon of historians who 'construct' Eva according to their own subjectivity's, yet Wells herself falls into this trap. Wells puts on her late twentieth century glasses and focuses on 'gender and power' and imposes 'gender inclusive language'. In the first paragraph of the article by Wells p. 417 she uses the term Khoena rather than Khoikhoi, since Khoena means 'people' and Khoikhoi literally means 'men of men' to refer to the Hottentots. Her rationale is to be "gender inclusive" and the previous term of "Khoikhoi is the choice of (male) scholars". Wells' focus on gender power is clearly a twentieth century perspective of society and she applies it to history. Wells' assertion that Van Riebeeck had an affair with Eva, is another example of an author being influenced by the prevailing times, where any relationship is questioned with Freudian sexual obsession, one is found guilty by the mere association and wispers of sexual misconduct. The weakness in her argument is that Pieter van Meerhof and Eva started a close relationship in 1659, soon after Van Meerhoff arrived. Eva and Pieter van Meerhof already had two children by 1663, see Wells, p. 430. Elphick, p. 201 mentions (quoting KA 397, DR Nov 16, 1663) that she had two illegitimate children by European patrimony. This was supposed to be the time of her relationship with Van Riebeeck. Furthermore Van Riebeeck had a good relationships with Van Meerhoff. Would this have been the case if Eva was Van Riebeeck's 'concubine'. Pieter and Eva had three children. I am surprised that Wells does not continue her wild assertions of Eva and Van Riebeeck by a suggesting that Eva bore a child of Van Riebeeck, since this was the supposed period of their sexual relationship.
The Final Episode
Eva died on 29th July 1674. See picture of Cape in 1679 (22k). And she was buried in the little church at the new Castle (E.C. Godee Molsbergen, Jan van Riebeeck en Zijn Tijd). In 1674 Governor Johan Bax moved into the new Castle. In Van Riebeeck's days they held church in the fort. With the building of the castle a large room served as a chapel in the castle (A.F. Hattersley, An Illustrated Social History of South Africa, p. 12, 13). The writer is not aware whether the room which was used as a chapel in the castel has been identified. The mother church at Cape Town was only opened in 1704. See early drawing of Cape with Castle, notice the gallows (29k).
Eva's life was one of continual loss, she was first separated from her biological family. Then her adopted family, Van Riebeeck, left and she experienced another loss. After Van Riebeeck's departure her standing within the Company suffered a blow. "As more and more Khoikhoi mastered the Dutch language she was no longer indispensable as an interpreter" Elphick, p. 201. With her husbands appointment to Robben Island she lost female contact and the glamour of the high society. Finally she lost her husband. Little wonder that she lost control of her life, and died a tragic death at the young age of 32.
In 1677 Bartholomeus Borns and his wife Theuntje Bartholomeus van der Linde took two of the children, Petronella and Salomon with his family to Mauritius. Petronella got married in Mauritius to Daniel Zaayman and on 26th January 1709 arrived back at the Cape. The author does not know what happened to the other children of Eva. The writer is a descendant of Eva and this daughte, Petronella via three lines.
Some Khoikhoi words have been passed down and is still in use amongst Afrikaners:
aitsa - fright or surprise; soe - heat; sies - disgust; eina - pain/ouch; ga -disgust; abba - carry a child on the back; karos - blanket made of skins; the word hoeka, van hoeka se tyd - from time way back, gogga - insect, dagga - marijuana, gamka - lion, koup - dry place, tankwa - good winter grazing, dwyka - river .
The hottentots were hunter gatherers/pastoralists. The only agricultural activities that they entered, was growing dagga. There was a struggle for land between the Company and the Hottentots, both needed pastoral land. The Company established a number of Blockhouses to control movement of cattle, three of them was called Kijk-uyt (Look out), Keert-de Koe (stop or turn the cow), and Houdt den Bul (Keep the bul). In 1659 the company requested horses and dogs to assist them with looking after their animals (E.C. Godee Molsbergen, Jan van Riebeeck en Zijn Tijd). As early as 1600 the Hottentots asked: if they went to Holland whether they would be permitted to occupy European land.
Some contrasts with the Bantu
Their language had more consonants compared to the Bantu languages which had a prolific use of vowels. The Hottentot women milked their cows, whereas the Bantu women were not allowed near the cattle pen. The Hottentot build their housing with the kraal surrounding it, the Bantu build their houses surrounding the cattle kraal. The Hottentot's houses were domed shaped thus no walls and their doors were made of a mat, on the other hand the Bantu made their houses with walls and they had a door. The Hottentot and Bushman have a yellower colour skin, and smaller eyes. The Hottentot and Bushmen's hair is like peppercorn dots and rather sparse. The Bantu did not engage in rock painting either. (Refer also to J. MacKenzie, Ten Years North of the Orange River)

When the original claims was made that Afrikaners had a small percentage of non-white ancestry, it caused a major polemic. The above reaffirms this claim, with the presence of non-white blood amongst Afrikaners in my own ancestry.
Some books that may be of help in relation to Afrikaners and Slaves and Khoikhoi:



  1. The Black Woman Mother Of The Black Race. Her destruction Is The Destruction Of The Black Race.

  2. who wrote this article? i would love to cite it for my uni work x


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