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Tribes of Africa
indigenous people of southern Africa are the San and the
Known to the Europeans as the Bushmen (San) and the Hottentots
Related non-Negroid peoples of small stature, with light brown or
olive skins and features that differed from those of the Bantu
tribes in the northern region of Africa.
The San were Stone Age hunter-gatherers while the KhoiKhoi were
As the two groups are closely related they are commonly called the
The first black or dark-skinned Bantu tribes migrated down from
their homeland around the area of Nigeria and Cameroon in western
Africa through central and southern Africa in small groups and
arrived in what is known as South Africa by about AD300. Why
they left their homeland in droves is not clear today but it is
suggested that existing natural resources could no longer support a
Most of the Bantu tribes took the easier route of the coastal
forests rather than forcing their way through the dense tropical
rainforests of central Africa. Nevertheless, in the many hundreds
of years it took these people to clear a route through the coastal
forests, most of their livestock was lost to tsetse fly.
The Bantu tribes brought with them their skills in metal working
and their mixed farming and cattle-herding methods.
Bantu speaking peoples had settlements on the highveld pastureland
by 500AD. Linguistic and cultural distinctions developed between
the Nguni people, who lived along the coast, and the Sotho-Tswana,
who lived on the highveld. The peoples of the highveld often built
their houses from stone, and in places lived in towns. Some
communities specialised in mining and metal production. However,
fresh pastures then became hard to find and at about this time the
Difaqane, or forced migration was started, when much of the land
became uninhabited as the people fled the onslaught of other
By 1554 as far south as Zululand was populated by both indigenous
tribes and the Bantu tribes, with marriages occurring between the
tribes, and interactions that were both peaceful and, at times, in
A feature of the Bantu culture was its strong social system, based
on extended family of clan loyalties and dependencies, and
generally centred around the rule of a chief.
Some chiefdoms developed into powerful kingdoms, uniting many
former disparate tribes and covering large geographical areas.
One of the earliest Bantu kingdoms to develop was that of the
Gokomere, who settled in the uplands of present-day Zimbabwe. The
Gokomere are thought to be the first occupants of the Great
Zimbabwe site, near present-day Masvingo. Between 500 and 1000AD
the Gokomere and subsequent groups developed gold-mining techniques
in the region and produced progressively finer-quality ceramics,
jewellery, textiles and soapstone carvings.
By the 11th century, the Bantu inhabitants of Great Zimbabwe,
generally regarded as the Shona society, had consolidated their
powerful position and had also come into contact with the
Arab-Swahili traders who had ventured inland from the coast. Great
Zimbabwe thereby became the capital of the wealthiest and most
powerful society in southern Africa, reaching the zenith of its
powers around the 14th century.
16th century, Portuguese traders arrived in the Zimbabwe region on
hearing tales that had been passed on by the Swahili traders of
marvellous riches and golden cities across the vast empire of Mwene
Alliances between the Shona states led to the creation of the Rozwi
state which covered half of present-day Zimbabwe. Rozwi influence
continued until 1834 when Ndebele (also called Matabele) raiders
under the command of Mzilikazi invaded from the south and
assassinated the Rozwi leader.
Mzilikazi created an Ndebele state (Matabeleland) and forced
the Shona towards the Mozambique border where they created their
own state, Mashonaland. Thereafter the two tribes becoming mortal
In 1889 Cecil John Rhodes, an entrepreneur, gold seeker and ivory
hunter, who had amassed fortunes in South Africa from his diamond
mines, received a royal charter to move into Mashonaland, and the
power of the Matabele was for a time, quashed.
In 1896 however, following a failed attack by Rhodes' army against
the Boers in the Transvaal, the Ndebele came back with a vengeance,
and joining forces with the Shona declared Chimurenga, a
crusade-like war, on the Europeans. The revolt was crushed in 1897
and Zimbabwe came under British rule.
To the north of Zimbabwe, between the 14th and 16th centuries,
another Bantu group called the Maravi (of whom the Cheswa became
the dominant tribe) came into southern Africa from present-day
Zaire and spread all over southern Malawi and parts of present-day
Mocambique and Zambia.
At about the same time, the Tumbuka and the Phoka groups migrated
into northern Malawi and became established there.
For several centuries before the Portuguese arrived in Zambia in
the 1790s overland from Angola, Swahili-Arab slave-traders had
penetrated the region from the east coast of Africa. Many people
from the area around Zambia were captured and taken across Lake
Malawi, through Mozambique or Tanzania to be sold in the slave
markets of Zanzibar.
And in the 1820s the effects of the Difaquane rippled through to
Zambia with Matabele (Ndebele) migrants entering western Zimbabwe
and threatening the Makololo people, who then moved into southern
Zambia displacing the Tonga people. The Makololo also took
advantage of a period of unrest among the Lozi people on the upper
Zambezi and occupied their territory of Barotseland.
In 1850 the celebrated British explorer, David Livingstone,
travelled up the Zambezi River with the aim of introducing
Christianity and combating the slave trade. His work and writings
inspired missionaries, explorers, hunters, and prospectors alike,
including Cecil John Rhodes. Again Rhodes' company was given the
backing of the British government, partly to help combat slavery
and also to prevent further Portuguese expansion in the region.
Meanwhile, in the west of the region (present-day Namibia), during
the 16th and 17th centuries, another Bantu group called the Herero
migrated from the Zambezi valley and occupied the north and west of
the country, coming into conflict with the San, and particularly
with the KhoiKhoi, with whom they competed for the best grazing
lands and water sources.
Eventually most indigenous groups (including the Damara people,
whose origins are unclear) submitted to the aggressive Herero. Only
the Nama people, thought to be descended from the early KhoiKhoi
groups, held out against the Herero.
At about the same time, another Bantu group, the Owambo, probably
descended from people who had migrated from eastern Africa over 500
yearsearlier, settled in the north along the Okavango and Kunene
Rivers in present-day Namibia and Botswana.
The power of the Bantu kingdoms started to falter in the late 18th
and early 19th centuries, when two events occurred which both had a
tumultuous effect on the whole of the southern African region.
These being, the rapid increase in the number of permanent settlers
from Europe, and the major dispersal of indigenous and Bantu
tribes, called the Difaqane (forced migration) by the rising Zulu
The Bantu peoples could more accurately be called 'Bantu-speaking
peoples' since the word 'Bantu' actually refers to a language-group
rather than a specific race.
However, it has become a conventional term of reference for the
Black African peoples of southern, eastern, and western Africa,
even though the grouping is as ill-defined as 'American' or
In fact, the Bantu 'race' or 'ethnic group' is made up of many
sub-groups or 'tribes' each with their own language, customs and
The term 'migration' when used in this context refers not to a
specific 'long march' or sudden upheaval, but to a sporadic and
very slow spread of the Bantu peoples over a period of many
hundreds of years.
A migration in this sense was made up of numerous short moves (from
valley to valley, or from one cultivation area to the next), with
the dominant groups slowly absorbing and assimilating other groups
in the process.
The movements inevitably had a knock-on effect too, as groups being
invaded from one side expanded in the other direction.
Historians believe that there were at least three main routes
followed by the migrating Bantu -
Some spread from Zaire to the Tanzanian highlands and the Indian
Ocean coast, and then southwards down the coastal plains through
present-day Mocambique and into KwaZulu/Natal.
Others kept to the higher ground of the interior and spread through
western Tanzania into Zambia.
While others are believed to have come south through Zaire directly
into Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and western
know that the world is made up of separate continental plates which
originally started off as one conglomerate earth mass known as
continental movement took millions of years to arrive at the
geographical state which we know today. Although (modern) man did
not 'arrive' on the planet until about 200,000 years ago when the
continental shifts had already taken place. Although there is
speculation, and not yet sufficient paelentologic evidence to
suggest otherwise, it is generally accepted that Africa is the
birthing place of humankind and thus belongs to us all.
Certainly, up until the year 1869 when the Suez Canal was built,
Africa was joined to the European landmass in the
Egyptian/Arabian desert area thus making one huge country. Egyptian
and African intermarriages must have undoubtedly taken place.
Africa north was frequented on many an occasion by the Arab
explorers and traders who made their way along the eastern African
coastline setting up settlements and trading outlets and many of
the people on the eastern African coast claim descendancy from the
Lady : circa 1890
Although the European peoples seldom ventured south of the areas
around the Meditteranean Sea, the continent of Africa was known to
both the Greeks and Romans. It is probable that the descendants of
northern Africa are made up from European and African
However, since the early 15th century the Europeans sought a better
trade route to the eastern European lands of China and India in
search of spices, opium, silks, and other goods.
By this time sea-faring ships had been built capable of carrying
heavy loads and people, sailors were more willing to undertake long
arduous journeys, and their governments were more willing to fund
In 1486, Captain Diego Cao managed to reach a point on the south
western African coast, in present-day Namibia, where he erected a
stone cross, which was to serve as a navigational aid for
subsequent Portuguese explorers, and is still called Cape Cross
Other countries heard of the success of Vasco de Gama when he
managed to reach India in 1498 and companies, such as the Dutch
East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC)
were established to also secure a trade route.
By the end of the 16th century ships from England and the
Netherlands were beginning to challenge Portugal on the trade
routes between Europe and the East Indies, and the bays around the
Cape of Good Hope at the southern most tip of Africa became regular
stopover points where the crews could replenish their fresh water
supplies and fresh food supplies.
At first the Europeans had little contact with the indigenous
African tribes of Africa south, other than to trade goods with them
for the fresh produce. The Portuguese found them particularly
hostile and vouched instead to procure fresh produce from an island
off the coast, called Robben Island.
In 1647 a Dutch ship was wrecked in Table Bay, just north of the
Cape, forcing the crew to build a make-shift fort until they were
rescued a year later.
The directors of the Dutch East India Company were inspired by the
fortitude and resilience of their employees to have survived this
long in a land which they considered to be hostile and
uninhabitable, and decided to set up a small 'refuelling station'
at the Cape.
And so in 1652, an expedition consisting of mainly Dutchand a
fewGermans, led by Jan Van Riebeeck, reached Table Bay and took
over the little 'fort' establishing gardens and small farms so that
they could both survive and supply the passing ships.
In 1688 they were joined by a group of about 150 French fleeing
religious persecution, called the Hugenots.
there were no plans to establish a European colony in Africa south,
the European settler population continued to slowly increase.
After about a century, some of the Europeans began to consider
themselves as African by birth and resented being controlled by the
governments in their home-lands who had little knowledge of
conditions and life-style in Africa or concern for their welfare,
and thus they began to leave the settlement at the Cape. These
people were the first of the trekboers (pioneer farmers) or Boers,
while other people from the colony made frequent trips inland to
explore the area venturing each time further and further into the
Inevitably these early trekboers and explorers clashed with the
indigenous Khoisan. Petty thieving of cattle constantly occurred,
and many Khoisan died from shot-gun wounds, and diseases hitherto
unknown to the Khoisan. Many Khoisan fled further into the
interior, some worked willingly for the European settlers on the
farms, while the most belligerent were captured and forced into
labour for their misdemenours.
major Bantu group which encountered the trekboers were the Xhosa in
the region to the west of the Great Fish River during the 1770s.
Peace between the two groups did not last and at least 9 frontier
wars between the trekboers and the Xhosa were fought, known as
In 1795, when Dutch power was fading in Europe during the
Revolutionary Wars, British forces were posted to the Cape with the
aim of securing the route to India and to prevent it from falling
into French hands. In 1802 it was given back, but was again taken
over by the British in 1806. In 1814 the Cape was ceded to Britain.
By this time the population at the Cape colony had 20,000 European
settlers, 15,000 Khoisan and 25,000 slaves of various origins
including Indonesians, Malaysians, and Madagascans.
Photo: SA India
In 1820 the British decided to end the Frontier (Kaffir) Wars once
and for all and sent out 5,000 British Settlers to the area around
the Great Fish River to act as a buffer between the trekboers and
the Xhosa. These settlers were duped by the British government into
believing they were needed to found a British colony and were
promised great tracts of land in which to farm. However, they found
in reality that they were wedged between two forces fighting for
control and superiority, and that living and farming in Africa was
much harder than they imagined. Many moved into the small towns to
pick up the trades that they had followed in Britain, and places
like Grahamtown began to develop into trading and manufacturing
Over the next 100-150 years the European influence expanded rapidly
as more settlers arrived, when minerals such as gold and diamonds
were discovered. And Europeans spread further and further into the
interior, challenging the supremacy of the Bantu peoples who by
this time, through wars of their own, had formed into more cohesive
In 1834 the combination of the abolition of slavery and the Sixth
Frontier War heightened disenchantment among many of the Boers
living in the eastern Cape. Reports filtered through from further
north that it was an ideal place to live, so they mustered their
families together into what is known as The Great Trek. By mid 1837
approximately 5,000 Voortrekkers as they came to be known had
crossed the Orange River with the intent on founding a new homeland
where they could be independent and beyond the British sphere of
control, hopefully enjoy access to ports beyond the British
control, and live on peaceful terms with the Bantu tribes they
Two options were favoured by the Voortrekkers - one was to venture
inland towards the open grasslands, and the other was to make for
the plains around Port Natal and Delagoa Bay. Under the leadership
of Hendrik Potgieter, one column headed toward the Transvaal area,
and the other column went with Piet Retief to Port Natal to seek an
audience with the newly appointed Zulu King, Dingane, for rights to
settle in the area. Dingane had succeeded his half-brother, Shaka,
who had been assassinated by Dingane.
Whilst Shaka had been amicable to the British Settlers at Port
Natal and generally had respect for the British, Dingane did not.
Dingaan viewed the Europeans with suspicion - their ways were alien
to Zulu tribal life; they tended to want more land for their
individual farms than was necessary; and because they had things
like medicine and guns which he could not explain, he called them
The Difaquane or Mfeqane, or Difacane, (forced migration or
'crushing') was a time of immense upheaval and suffering among the
tribes of southern Africa.
Its origins date back to the early 19th century when the Nguni
tribes in the KwaZulu/Natal area underwent a dramatic change from
loosely organised collection of chiefdoms into a centralised state,
based around a highly disciplined and powerful warrior army. This
process was not peaceful and many chiefdoms resisted being forced
into paying allegiance to the warrior army chief. Wars broke out
between the tribes.
The process began under a chief called Dingiswayo, and reached its
peak under the military commander Shaka. The powerful new kingdom
was called Zulu.
When Dingiswayo began to assert his authority, first over the
Mthethwa and then over the region as a whole, he also decided to
bring the hundreds of domestic clan feuds to an end, by asserting
an overall military control over the area around the coastal
lowlands and further inland to the heart of the country around the
middle Umfolozi River. This strategy was intended to end the
inter-tribal bickering, but was also necessary to provide a counter
to the expanding Ndwandwe, Ngwane and Hlube tribes to the
The Zulu warriors and their chief were described as being ruthless,
and not surprisingly, tribes in the path of the growing armies
fled. They in turn became aggressors upon their neighbours. Some
travelled great distances, causing waves of disruption and terror
throughout southern Africa.
Displaced tribes from Zululand include the Matabele, who settled in
Zimbabwe, and the Ngoni who reached Tanzania on their migration,
but finally settled in present-day Malawi and Zambia.
Two notable survivors of the destruction were the Swazi and the
Basotho peoples, both of whom used the tide of refugees to their
advantage and forged the powerful nations that became Swaziland and
Mfecane or Difaqane
- like the epicentre of an earthquake, the creation of the Zulu
Kingdom and the militarism upon which it was based sent shock waves
throughout southern Africa; its effects and ramifications were felt
much farther afield up into central Africa as far as modern
Tanzania and lasted for decades.
ways, it was like the blasting of a cue ball into a rack of
billiard balls which were then sent careening in all
- by the
end of the process, the surviving northern Nguni had either been
incorporated into the Zulu state or had been driven
refugees and smashed chieftaincies were set in motion; some groups
were small and not well organised, although even they were often
desperate and starving; other groups were organised and powerful
southern Nguni along the coast (Transkei) were subjected to
successive waves; many of the refugees were taken in by the Xhosa
as dependent clients where they became known as Mfengu (Fingos).
This almost certainly increased the population pressure in the
Transkei and eastern Cape areas which was further increased by the
British pushing back the Xhosa during the Wars with the Xhosa
(1770s until 1877-78). The British also gathered a force to repel
one group of invaders from Natal who made their way through
the British engaged the Mfengu as allies who played a major role in
the wars in which the Xhosa were repeatedly defeated. They were
rewarded with land and cattle taken from the Xhosa. This produced
long term hostilities which are remembered even to this
fled from Natal up into the high veld area where their raiding and
desperate attacks disrupted life and societies there. The Sotho and
Tswana peoples were peaceful and totally unprepared for the
onslaught of waves of fierce and desperate invaders. Chieftaincies
there were disrupted, destroyed or in their turn set in motion
attacking others. One of the best known of the latter was led by a
woman, MaNtatisi and the group were referred to as 'Manatees'. We
know of them because they launched a number of attacks on peoples
where missionaries were located in the area from Kimberly
northwards. Eventually, the remnants returned to their original
area where the north eastern corner of the Cape meets
- in the
turmoil, an outstanding man, Moshoeshoe, was able to use two
hilltop fortresses to provide an island of refuge and relative
safety. There he collected and received refugees of many peoples
and welded them into a kingdom known as Basotholand
breakaway group from the Zulu led by Mzilikazi began to establish
the Ndebele kingdom in the Orange Free State/Transvaal area. When
white trekboers in the Great Trek moved into the area in 1837,
defeats in several clashes convinced Mzilikazi to move north of the
Limpopo River and establish his kingdom there.
manifestation was a group known as the Kololo. It was formed from
fragments of Sotho and Tswana peoples in the high veld. They
attacked and disrupted peoples in modern Botswana and eventually,
pushed by attacks of Mzilikazi's Ndebele, moved north to settle in
the upper Zambesi River. There, they helped to form the Rozwi
kingdom and became known as the Barotzi.
refugee groups fled from Natal north; about 1820, a group led by
Soshangane devastated the area around Lourenšo Marques (the
Portuguese had to flee to ships and watch as the town was looted
and burned). Eventually, they settled down (becoming known as the
Shangaan) and created a large chiefdom in
band left Zululand in the 1820s led by Zwangandaba. The history of
this group shows the amazing durability of a social, military
system. After harrying people in Mozambique, the group moved into
Zimbabwe where it finished the Shona culture and society that had
originally centred on Great Zimbabwe. The group crossed the Zambezi
River in 1835. There was some fragmentation in the next decades as
some elements attacked and then settled down in a number of places
around Lake Nyasa; sometime during this period, they became known
as Ngoni. Others, however, continued north and eventually were
brought to a halt in southern Tanzania just south of Lake
Tanganyika in the late 1860s. When the Germans arrived in the area
in the late 1880s, the process was still going on as the Hehe and
other peoples in the area were copying and adopting the military
formations of the Ngoni as a means of surviving.
Mfecane, a Xhosa word known by historians for the
large-scale dispersal of northern Nguni peoples during the early
19th century, has a parallel term from Sesotho, Difaqane, which is
used almost as frequently.
Difaqane is represented in South Africa with the initial D, but in
neighbouring Lesotho with the initial L - both being pronounced as
Both words include click sounds - the c in Mfecane representing the
dental click( | ) inXhosa(the sound used in English for 'tsk
And the q in Difaqane the apical alveolar click (!), reminiscent of
a popping cork.
The third click is the lateral click ( || ), represented by x (as
in Xhosa), and rather like the English sound used to encourage a
As South African English speakers frequently pronounce the clicks
in borrowed words, three new and rather exotic phonemes have had to
be added to the OED list.
Tswana who live in present-day Botswana, are divided into a number
of lineages, the three most prominent being decscended from the
three sons of the 14th century Tswana chief, Malope' these are the
Ngwato, the Kwena, and the Ngwaketse. The Ngwato split into another
group, the Tawuna. And there is also another offshoot of the Tswana
called the Kgalagadi.
The Kalanga people also live in Botswana and are related to the
Shona of Zimbabwe. The Kalanga people are generally considered to
be descendants of the people of the Rozwi empire who built the
Great Zimbabwe Citadel.
The Mbukushu inhabit the Okavango Delta area of Ngamiland and were
originally refugees from the Caprivi in north-eastern Namibia, who
were forced to flee in the late 1700s after being dislodged by the
Loziempire under Chief Ngombela.
The Mbukushu people subsequently displaced the Yei who occupied
north-western Botswana. The Yei were essentially a matrilineal
society and never settled in large groups.
people mainly live now in Lesotho. Linguistically the Sotho
included the Tswana (western Sotho), northern Sotho, and southern
Sotho and covered a wide area but with the Difaqane and the
pressure for land by the Voortrekkers, huge numbers were displaced.
The southern Sotho survived this period through the leadership of
King Moshoeshoe when he moved his people and several refugee tribes
to a mountainous region in the Drakensberg where he founded
Northern Sotho now encompasses many unconnected groups, including
The Lobedu people are unique in that they have a Rain Queen, the
Modjadji, who brings rain to the lush Lebowa area. The Modjadji is
regarded with awe by her people and her reputation is widespread -
even Shaka avoided attacking the Lobedu.
THE ETHNOGRAPHIC LENS
Images from the Realm of a Rain Queen
Most of the Eastern Cape is populated by groups of Nguni peoples
who occupied the coastal savanna of Africa south, but those living
west of the Great Fish River are relatively recent
history of the original Xhosa clans can be dated back to the early
17th century when small communities of Nguni pastoralists were
loosely united in kingdoms. They found that they could not cross
the Great Fish River and so began to spread out along its length.
They came into contact with the Boers in the 1760s.
Both groups were heavily dependent on cattle, and both coveted the
grazing land in the area known as Zuurveld. Skirmishes and
brigandage was virtually continuous for the next century. The Xhosa
further came under pressure from the tribes fleeing the
Difaqane, the British who moved into to quell the frontier
wars, and the missionaries who tried to change their traditional
ways and beliefs.
In 1857 the Xhosa were desperate for a solution to the problem -
and accepted the advice of Nongqawuse, who saw visions. However, to
appease the spirits Nongqawuse said that they were required to
sacrifice their cattle and crops - this sacrifice is known as the
'Great Cattle Killing'.
It is estimated that of the 90,000 Xhosa population some 30,000
died of starvation and some 30,000 were forced to emigrate as
The Xhosa people living east or trans- of the Kei River came under
the domination of the Cape colony government from about 1873. But
it was not until 20 years later with the defeat of Pondoland, that
the whole of the present-day Transkei came under European rule.
In 1976 the Transkei was given Homeland status by the South African
Government, but like Bophutatswana, it was not recognised by the
The Transkei is where Nelson Mandela was born. He was born in the
village of Mvezo on the Mbashe River and spent most of his
childhood at Qunu not far from the 'capital' Umtata.
Europeans settled in the Umtata area in 1871 at the request of the
Thembu tribe to act as a buffer against the Pondo raiders. Before
this the only Europeans to come to the Transkei were the
Portuguese, Dutch and English sailors who were shipwrecked off the
notoriously dangerous coast.
Photo: Haskins (Pondo)
VhaVenda people are somewhat of an enigma. No-one is certain of
their origin. There are elements of Zimbabwean culture, and signs
that one of the subgroups, the Lemba, is of Semitic origin.
What is known is that in the early 18th century, a group of
VhaSenzi and VhaLemba, led by Chief Dimbanyika, crossed the Limpopo
River and located a tributary which they called the Nzhelele, which
means 'The Enterer'. They moved up the Nzhelele and into the
Soutpansberg mountain range calling their new land Venda, which
means 'the pleasant land'.
When their chief died some of the people moved south back down the
Nzhelele River where they established another chiefdom. A period of
unrest followed the disappearance of their new chief as his
offspring fought for succession. Several invaders then tried to
take over the VhaVenda lands - first the Boers under Paul Kruger,
then the Swazis, the BaPedi, and the Tsonga. The Venda managed to
hold out against these invaders until a Boer army conquered them in
Traditionally their society is matriarchal, with female priests who
supervise the worship of female ancestors.
The VhaVenda, especially the Lemba, mined, smelted and worked iron,
copper and gold for centuries. They travelled throughout southern
Africa to trade their metal. Most of the lore was lost when cheaper
European metal became available but the quality of Venda iron is
Before the Venda area acquired 'independent Homeland' status, there
were about 30 independent chiefdoms, with no overall
The ethnic composition of the white-African tribe, the Afrikaners
(Boers), is difficult to quantify, but it is estimated that their
origins are comprised of 40% Dutch, 40% German, 7.5% French, 7.5%
British, and 5% 'other'. Their unique language, spoken as a
mother-tongue by 5.5 million people, has evolved mainly from the
Germanic and Dutch languages. It is central to their identity and
has also served to reinforce their isolation from the outside
world. The Afrikaners are a religious people with the brand of
Christian fundamentalism based on 17th century Calvinismis still a
The second white-African tribe, classified as 'European' in origin,
comprises an estimated Jewish population of about 130,000;
Portuguese refugees from Mozambique and Angola totalling about
36,000; Germans 34,000; Dutch 28,000; Italians 16,000; Greeks
10,000; and roughly 1.5 million British.
Batswana, also called the Tswana, in common with the rest of the
Bantu-speaking peoples formed clans within a larger tribal
grouping. There were a number of dynastic struggles with sons
splitting clans and moving away to form their own. This
segmentation often occurred peacefully as there was at the time
sufficient land available for the people to move on to fresh
pastures. And by the 19th century the Batswana tribes dominated
much of the present-day Northern Province, North-West Province, and
Northern Cape Province of South Africa, and large parts of
A large portion of the Batswana also had to fight the Boers who had
recently arrived in the area. In 1885 they petitioned the British
for protection and the area became Bechuanaland (Botswana).
The British however, created the capital at Mafeking which was in
South African territory, and after the Boer War in which the
British were defeated, some of the Batswana people found themselves
'cut off'. After 1948 the area around Mafeking was
declared the Homeland of Bophuthatswana but many political
activists and leaders refused to accept the area as an independent
state until 1977.
Of special mention are the two tribes called the Hottentots and the
Griqua both of whom are of mixed race.
The Hottentots are a mixture of San/Khoisan and Bantu. And the
Griqua are a mixture of San/Khoisan and European.
The origin of the Hottentots is a question which has given rise to
much discussion. Several writers have suggested a North African
origin; and Dr. Bleek has detected important points of similarity
between the Hottentot language and those of North Africa; but it is
too soon to build on these slight indications.
Dr. Theal appears to suggest that the first Hottentots were a mixed
race. "The probability seems to be that a party of intruding males
of some slight brown or yellow race took to themselves women of
Bushman (San/Khoisan) blood, and thus gave origin to the people
whom Europeans term Hottentots." This suggestion merely puts this
question among the insoluble problems.
For the description of the pure Hottentot we are dependent on
ancient writers like Kolben; because the pure Hottentot cannot be
said to exist to-day. To-day the so-called Hottentots are of every
colour, size, and character, through mixture with other races. Even
the language which they principally speak is a patois of the Dutch
dialect of the Cape.
The language of the Hottentots is monosyllabic; having four known
dialects - the Namaqua, which is still spoken by some of the
natives; the Kora and Cape Hottentot, which are practically
extinct; and the Eastern Hottentot, which exists only in a few
meagre vocabularies, and has been extinct for some time.
The most striking characteristic of the Hottentot language for the
European lies in the "clicks". Something similar is thought to be
found in the Galla language of Abyssinia, in the Circassian tongue,
and in the ancient speech of Guatemala. But three-fourths of the
words in the Hottentot dialects begin with a click. Clicks are of
four kinds, and are difficult to describe to those who have not
heard them. The drawing of a cork, and the gurgling sound of water
in the narrow neck of a bottle, the sound made in urging a horse to
trot or run, and other sounds have been used to illustrate their
nature; but at least one of them, the palatal click, defies
The grammatical system of the Hottentots is built almost
exclusively on sex-denoting suffixes, and it is the most complete
of this small group of languages. The liquid L is entirely wanting,
and it has a small variety of clear nasal consonants. The only
native literature that exists in these dialects consists of
folk-lore tales, such as mark the beginning of all European
literature. Translations of parts of the Scriptures have been made
by missionaries in Namaqualand.
The religion of the Hottentots is a congeries of superstitious
observances, of which travellers and folklorists have never been
able to obtain a full explanation from the natives. They appear to
believe in a superior being whom they call Tsuikwap; but the
antiquity and the meaning of this word are open to some doubt. The
most elaborate ceremonies of the Hottentots are in honour of the
moon, and they pay great reverence to cairns of stones and wood,
where they believe a mythical personage named Heitsi-Eibib to
Hottentots called themselves Khoikhoin - men of men. The most
curious of their customs is that on attaining manhood the Hottentot
makes himself a monorchist. Polygamy was not general, but permitted
to the wealthy.
They never seem to have made boats of any kind, and abhor the oil
of fish, although fond of smearing their skin with oil. Witchcraft
was common among them. Their government was carried on by chiefs,
who administered a well-defined native law. The doctors were in
high esteem, and next to them the priests, who combined the duties
of masters of ceremonies and surgeons in the monorchist
Hottentots are now found chiefly in German Southwest Africa
(Namibia) and in the Cape Colony. For the former territory there
are no official figures as to their number; but they do not exceed
thirty thousand. During the rebellion against the Germans, the
Hottentots gave more trouble than all the other races together.
In the time of the first Dutch governor (van Riebeeck) the
Hottentots at the Cape were estimated at 150,000. But the smallpox
epidemic in 1713 reduced their numbers enormously. In 1904 the
census put them at 85,892. Their destiny seems to be absorption
into the more virile native races.
The Griqua nation was South Africa'a first white/black
They were made up of a fiercely independent mixture of peoples
whose formation came as a direct result of the first white
settlement by Dutch in the Cape.
The passing sailors found the Hottentot women ( the original
natives of the Cape) easy prey. In exchange for cheap liquor they
could get "favours". Within a few years many of these women gave
birth to the sailor's offspring.
The highly religious Dutch inhabitants of the Cape objected to the
low moral standards of the Hottentots and called the now mixed race
people the Basters.
The Basters were evicted from the Cape and, in the late 1700s moved
to a large tract of land north of the Orange River where the food
was plentiful and they were free of the domination of the white
It was in the heart of the Griqua lands, at Hopetown, that the
famous "Eureka" and "Star of Africa" diamonds were found - drawing
unwanted "white" riff-raff searching for a "quick buck" into their
midst. The famous diamond mine at Kimberley resulted - many years
The Griquas settled a large tract of land in central South Africa
extending far beyond Griquatown, Kimberley and Philippolis and
collectively known as Griqualand West. (This area is now known as
the Orange Free State).
The entire Griqua history is dominated by the Kok family.
Griqualand West, a part of which was called Stellaland, was
occupied by the Boers fleeing the British who had taken over the
administration of the Cape during the early 1800s.
In 1861/2, the Griquas were forced to sell out to the Boers in the
Orange Free State and under Adam Kok, moved to an area largely
devoid of people, now in the Natal province. At the time it was an
area known as NO MAN'S LAND - following the Chaka Zulu's massacre
of the black people who had earlier lived there.
However, some of the Griquas remained and lived in and around the
towns of Griquatown and Campbell under the chief Andries
To reach "no mans land" the Griquas decided to
travel through Basutoland (now called Lesotho), over the
Drakensberg (Zulu name "barrier of spears") down a small and
dangerous mountain track. During the journey they lost nearly all
their estimated 30,000 head of cattle. They had to literally
rebuild their 360 wagons once they had been lowered in pieces down
some parts of the perilous and steep decline into "no mans
By the time they reached the area they were to call Kokstad, in
central "no mans land", in 1863 they were but a shadow of their
The administration of "no mans land" was handed over to
Adam Kok by the British Governors in the Cape and Natal. Kok set
about rebuilding his nation with the help of a few local
Kok asked Donald Strachan, the region's most successful trader, to
play a major role in the development of the Griqua nation in the
land that he now called Griqualand East.
Donald Strachan soon commanded the respect and affection of the
Griquas and Kok asked him to act as their Magistrate in
It was Strachan's advice that stopped Kok issuing some 10,000 one
pound notes in the 1868. Their proposed currency had no asset on
which to base its circulation and value. Strachan did promise Kok
that he would investigate alternative ways of getting around the
problems associated with the Griqua's isolation from banks and the
resulting dependence on the highly unsatisfactory system of
bartering goods. Strachan's answer was to issue his own currency -
a project which took a few years to complete with the coins being
minted in Germany.
From about 1874 the Strachan and Co coins became the Griquas
currency in the geographically isolated town of Kokstad and
throughout a large area surrounding Umzimkulu - the base of the
Strachan's trading empire. (It took a horse carriage over 7 days to
reach Durban from Umzimkulu)
During the next few years a high degree of political instability
shook Griqualand East. This was further aggravated by Griquas
selling their land cheaply to European settlers.
Eventually in 1878 the British decided to take control of the
territory. This was a move that led to the Griqua rebellion. In
1879, following their defeat by the British the Griqua nation was
disbanded and the territory incorporated into the Cape
In 1897 the Griquas, unhappy at their plight, started threatening a
revolt against the British. They were rounded up before they could
do any damage. The nation and the multiracial peoples that made up
this unique community were scattered and are now, sadly, gone
The various Coloured communities in southern Africa developed out
by events of the Dutch colonization of South Africa.
In 1652 a small company of employees of the Dutch East India
Company were settled on the southern tip of Africa in order to
establish a refreshment station for the Company's ships en route to
the Far East.
As groups of settlers moved away from the Cape settlement to
develop farms, they needed workers. The Dutch government forbade
enslaving indigenous people of southern Africa.
They did allow the importation of slaves or indentured servants
from the Malay peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia, in the Dutch East
Indies. The first Malay slaves arrived in 1657, the first of what
became the Cape Malay.
were some mixed offspring of Malay and Dutch, who were called
The settlers or soldiers also had mixed offspring with the
indigenous people, the Khoikhoi, the San and later the Xhosa.
An additional contribution to the gene pool were the slaves
imported from West Africa.
The various other Coloured peoples also intermarried with the
Khoikhoi, the indigenous people of the cape, until they have
largely been absorbed into the Coloureds.
The term Coloured came to be applied to all mixed
One group of Coloureds escaped to the bush and lived as an African
tribe, but became fearsome warriors on horses. These were the
Griqua, who are still an Afrikaans-speaking tribe today. (One group
of less than 200 Griqua also speak a Khoikhoi language called
After the introduction of Indians into South Africa, they
contributed to the mix of Coloureds.
The form of Dutch spoken in the Cape gradually changed
significantly from that spoken in Holland.
The Cape dialect came to be called Afrikaans ("the African
language"). In the church, the law courts, educational institutions
and official government circles, the official language was Dutch.
But the common language of the people was increasingly
The Coloureds share the same language and religion as the "white"
Afrikaners, although separated from them by strong social and class
distinctions. Today over half of the 7 million Afrikaans-speaking
people in South Africa are "Coloured" people.
Namibia is predominantly a desert country with little vegetation,
where the fauna and flora has learnt to adapt to the arid climate
and seasonal rains.
Its population includes at least 11 ethnic groups with the Owambo
being the largest.
the Kavango people live on the level wooded flood plains of the
north-east, south of the Okavango River.
Herero people who are mainly herders occupy several regions of the
country and are divided into subgroups.
distinctive Himba (or Ovahima) of the Kaokoveld are actually
descended from a group of Herero herders who were displaced by
Namawarriors in the 1800s.
Damara people share no ethnic kinship with the Nama people, and
have historically had major conflicts with each other.
Herero people originated in eastern or central Africa and migrated
into Namibia and Botswana around the 16th century. The
Bantu-speaking Herero were nomadic and never practised farming.
They displaced the Khoikhoi and also the remaining San and the
Damara people whose origin is unclear.
Damara people present one of Africa's greatest anthropological
mysteries in that they are of Bantu origin but arrived speaking
with a Khoisan dialect.
thought that the Nama people of Namibia today are descended from
Khoikhoi groups who held out against the Herero despite violent
clashes in the 1870s, and that their origins were in the southern
Cape when the Europeans first arrived there.
part of the tribes that the Europeans collectively called the
Hottentots. Their ancestors were pushed northward and eventually
came to rest in Namaqualand where they lived as semi-nomadic
pastoralists until the mid-19th century, when their leader, Jan
Jonker Afrikaner led them to the area of present-day Windhoek in
Topnaar (or Aonin) people are technically a branch of the Nama and
occupy the western central Namib Desert in and around Walvis Bay.
They are called Topnaar because they are fond of the delectable
iNaar fruits that they collect.
Basters are descended mainly from the intermixing between the Nama
and the Dutch farmers in the Cape colony. They live around Reho
both and either follow an urban lifestyle or raise cattle, sheep,
Caprivians, who live in the extreme north-east along the fertile
Zambezi and Kwando River banks are comprised of five separate
tribal groups - the Lozi, the Mafwe, the Subia, the Yei and the
Tswana are Namibia's smallest ethnic group. They are related to the
Tswana of South Africa and Botswana and live mainly in the eastern
areas of the country, around Gobabis, Aminuis and Epukiro.
A new Bantu group, the Ovambo, settled in the north along the
Okavango and Kunene Rivers.
Because Namibia has one of the world's most barren and inhospitable
coastlines, it was largely ignored by the European maritime
nations. It wasn't until the last-minute Scramble for Africa
towards the end of the 19th century that Namibia was annexed by
Germany, except for the enclave of Walvis Bay taken in 1878 by the
British for the Cape colony.
In 1904 the Herero launched a rebellion with the Nama against the
Germans but this was repressed. The Owambo living in the north
managed to avoid conquest until after the start of World War 1 in
1914, when they were overrun by Portuguese forces fighting on the
side of the Allies. In that same year the German colony abruptly
came to an end when its forces surrendered to a South African
expeditionary army also fighting on behalf of the Allies.
At the end of World War 1, South Africa was given a mandate to rule
the territory, then known as South West Africa, by the League of
Nations. The mandate was renewed by the United Nations following
World War 2 but the UN refused to sanction the annexation of the
country by South Africa. In 1949 the European population was
granted parliamentary representation and the bulk of Namibia's
farmland came under their ownership.
Namibia's 85,000 Europeans are mostly of German and Afrikaner
heritage and are concentrated in urban, central and southern
People of mixed European and African descent, sometimes known as
coloureds total 52,000 and live mainly in Windhoek.
A lot of the place names in Namibia are German, and the colonial
settlers attempted to re-create late 19th century Germany in
its architecture. The modern name Windhoek was corrupted from the
original German 'Winterhoek'. During the German colonial occupation
the town became the headquarters for the Schutztruppe who were
charged with maintaining the peace between the warring Herero and
Etosha National Park was created when the governor of German South
West Africa, Dr. F. von Lindequist, himself a German, became
concerned over diminishing animal numbers caused by the inevitable
hunters and ivory traders.
In the desert east of Swakopmund sits a lonely and forlorn little
steam locomotive -
The 14,000kg machine was imported to Walvis Bay from Halberstadt,
Germany in 1896 to replace the ox-wagons which were used to
transport freight between Swakopmund and the interior.
However, its inauguration into service was delayed by the outbreak
of the Nama-Herero wars, and in the interim, its locomotive
engineer returned to Germany without having revealed the secret of
A prospector eventually got it running, but it consumed enormous
quantities of water which weren't available.
It took three months to move it from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund and
survived just a couple of short trips before grinding to a halt
just east of Swakopmund.
It was abandoned and dubbed the Martin Luther, in reference to the
great reformer's words to the Diet of Reichstag in 1521
"Here I stand. May God
help me, I cannot do otherwise".
Tribes of Africa