Friday, August 24, 2012

The Khoikhoi and Griqua of South Africa

When the Dutch East India company decided to form a permanent supply base and colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 at the southwestern tip of the African continent, the local peoples, who had been there for several centuries, were Khoikhoi pastoralists and San hunter-gatherers further north. The Cape settlement quickly grew due to the desire for additional farmland, inevitably resulting in conflicts with the Khoikhoi using the hinterland for pasture. In addition to lacking firearms and metal weapons used by the Dutch and Huguenot settlers, the Khoikhoi population was decimated by European diseases and reduced to vassalage and slavery for the expanding white populations. Of course intermarriage also occurred, gradually giving birth to the first of the "Cape Coloured" population of contemporary South Africa and Namibia, the Griqua peoples. Those who managed to escape complete assimilation into the growing Cape Colony's European-dominated society as subservient peoples, continued their pastoralist lifestyle on the outskirts of the gradually encroaching whites from Cape Town. Oddly, the trekboers,  white colonists moving further north into southern Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries often adopted a similarly semi-nomadic, pastoralist economy while engaging in a long series of frontier wars with other peoples of South Africa, especially the Xhosa. 

The Cape Coast of South Africa during this period, long before the rise of apartheid, was still one ruled by white supremacy. The difference here, however, was the cosmopolitan, multiracial origins of many of the residents. Indeed, even if lacking significant "mixed" heritage, many were culturally heterogeneous, including the whites, coming from the Netherlands, German-speaking states, and France. In addition to the European presence, enslaved Africans from West Africa, Central Africa, and Mozambique were also forcibly imported, along with Malay and other Southeast Asians from Dutch Indonesia. Indeed, the Dutch East India Company's reason for the Cape Coast settlement was to restock Dutch ships en route to Indonesia and back. Their descendants, the Cape Malay, brought Islam to Cape Town and became part of the ethnic stew of the modern Cape Coloured population as well as contributing their own cuisine and religious traditions. The Griqua, descendants of Khoikhoi herders speaking Afrikaans, started their own independent church and formed a separate community that existed as a middleman between the Bantu-speaking South African populations to the north, and the whites to the south. The Griqua also engaged in slave raiding, selling their captives to whites in exchange for firearms which were then used for more slave raids and conflicts. 

 Adam Kok III, Griqua leader 

The aforementioned Griqua started their own settlements as well as independent states with their own coinage before being incorporated into the encroaching British colony of South Africa, like the Boer republics. The interesting thing about the Griqua, however, is that many do not appear "mixed" at all, so the Griqua identity is more about the fusion of cultures to produce a new identity as the Khoikhoi were gradually deprived of land and incorporated into the "white" society of the Cape settlers. I use "white" in quotations since many of the early settlers' progeny were mixed people who, because "money whitens," were able to become significant actors within the colony. Anyway, the Khoikhoi have also been classified as a separate "race" from Bantu-speaking South Africans, based on their phenotype and distinctive clicks. However, some Bantu languages in southern Africa have incorporated clicks and, if one could use the phenotypes of some "black Bantu" South Africans, the Khoisan-speaking peoples have long mixed with Bantu-speakers who had reached southern Africa nearly 2000 years ago. So, I guess my point is the ridiculousness of assigning peoples like the Khoi as a separate "race" than blacks, since both groups are dark-skinned and the result of local adaptation to that region of southern Africa. The Griqua themselves have also claimed their Khoikhoi heritage, particularly in the demands for the return of Sarah Baartman's remains from France. Sarah was a Khoi woman with large buttocks brought to Europe to participate in freak shows. 

Below are several pictures depicting the Khoikhoi, Griqua, and others in South Africa.

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