Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

Archive for the ‘iv. Indigenous People of SA’ Category

Indigenous People of ZA

Posted by tahirfarrath on May 5, 2010

Under construction…

Khoi or San?

It is generally assumed that the Khoi branched from the San by adopting the practice of herding cattle and goats from neighboring Bantu-speaking groups; however, more recent evidence has suggested that the ancestors of the Khoi peoples are relatively recent pre-Bantu agricultural immigrants to southern Africa, who abandoned agriculture as the climate dried and either joined the San as hunter-gatherers or retained pastoralism to become the Khoikhoi.

The Khoikhoi

The Khoikhoi people lived in the southern parts of the African continent as early as the 5th century AD and continued to live till the first colonists arrived in the middle of the seventeenth century. Khoikhoi means “people (of) people”. The Dutch colonists called them Hottentots, which means “stammerer” in Dutch. The word Hotnot/s is sometimes used disparagingly to describe these people who are neither white nor black, but of dark yellowish-brown complexion.

The Khoikhoi people originally came from the region now forming parts of Botswana and they kept migrating southward until they reached the region forming part of South Africa. The migrating people came to known by different names depending on where they eventually settled. They were known as Korana and settled in the middle of South Africa, the Namaque in the western region of the country and the Khoikhoi in the southern most regions. The Khoikhoi people could mingle with the natives called San because of the similarity in their lifestyles. Even though there were inter marriages between the Khoikhoi and the San groups, they did not lose their cultural identities. The Khoikhoi were typically pastoral people. They raised their sheep, goats, and cattle and depended upon these for a well balanced diet. The San were mainly hunter-gatherers.

Their contacts with the colonists brought about a big change in their traditional way of life. With the exception of the British, most of the Europeans aggressively and systematically opposed the people. Warfare between the two was common. Many of the natives lost their lives not only in the wars but also to Small Pox, a disease which was introduced by the Colonists The Colonists snatched away their land and established ranches and farms. The KhoiKhoi were reduced to working on these as farm workers or were enslaved. Some of them were absorbed into neighboring groups like the Xhosa people. A few people belonging to this tribe have remained untouched by the Colonists and continue their traditional occupations of animal husbandry and farming.

The Khoikhoi people followed a distinct culture and had well established religious beliefs and practices. They believed that the moon was God and therefore an object of much reverence. Tsuigoab was regarded as the creator and a protector of health to which they prayed for their well-being. Gunab, on the other hand was evil and the caused sickness and death. Many of the Khoikhoi have converted to Islam in Namibia.

The Khoisan

Khoesaan = Khoisan is a general term which linguists use for the click language of southern Africa. Physical anthropologists use it as a biological term to distinguish the aboriginal people of southern Africa from their black African farming neighbours.

The hunters of today have no collective name for themselves. They use their own group names, such as Ju/’hoansi (people who live on the border between northern Namibia and Botswana) or Hai//om (people who live around Etosha National Park).

San = Sanqua = Soaqua was a name given to hunters by the Khoekhoen of the Cape. The word means ‘people different from ourselves’ and became associated with those without livestock, or people who stole livestock.

Khoekhoen = Khoikhoi = Kwena is a general name which the herding people of the Cape used for themselves. The word can be translated to mean ‘the real people’ or ‘men of men, meaning ‘we people with domestic animals’ as opposed to the Sonqua or Bushmen who had none.

The name ‘Bushman’ or ‘Bossiesman’ was given to low status people by the Dutch settlers in the 1600’s, and referred to those who collected their food off the land and had no domestic animals.

In 1820 Barnabas Shaw observed: The Bushmen are altogether the slaves of passion. They are deeply versed in deceit, and treacherous in the extreme. Cruelty, in its most shocking forms, is familiar. Hottentots seldom destroy their offspring but the Bushmen will kill them on various occasions, as, when they are in need of food; when obliged to flee from their enemies; when the child is ill-shaped; or, when the father has forsaken its mother. There are also instances of parents throwing their children to the hungry lion, when he has approached their residence.

Apart from the current Muslim Cape Malays (6.7 percent), the Coloured people are by and large nominal Christians (26 percent Dutch Reformed, 10.7 percent Anglican, 5.7 percent Methodist, 7 percent Congregationalist, 10 percent Catholic), a pattern very similar to that of Whites. Some residents have retained aspects of traditional Khoi religion, magic, and sorcery, and they hold these beliefs together with their articulation of Christianity. Many of these, notably divination and the prescription of “home remedies” for illness, are often associated with people of Cape Malay background. Compared with the Bantu-speaking peoples, the Coloureds have engaged in relatively few minor schismatic movements in reaction to White domination in religion.

Local Myths

On a clear day when you look out from Manenberg in the direction on Table Mountain, Devils Peak and the mountain range along the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, you will easily think of Gulliver, the giant, from the children’s book ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. You will see a huge stone man in the mountain, laying flat on his back. Devils Peak is his face and head, with his hair stretched out from his head. The eyes, nose, mouth and chin can be clearly seen. The chest, body, and legs stretch out in the direction of Tokai. The figure is best viewed at sunset. This is the man in the mountain that we learnt about as children. Our own ‘Man en Berg’ – Manenberg.

A number of local legends underpin this vision, suggesting that humans have always had this vision of a man in the Mountain. Here are just some of these legends.

According to African legend, UThixo or Tikqua (God of the Sun/Heavens), and Djobela (Earth Goddess), conceived Qamata who created the world. But the Dragon of the Sea, was so jealous that he fought with Qamata to try and stop him forming dry land. In the battle Qamata was badly crippled, but the Earth Mother Djobela came to his aid by creating four mighty giants to guard the far corners of the earth. Djobela placed the biggest and strongest giant at the gateway to the south where Cape Town now lies.After many terrible battles with the great Dragon of the Sea, the giants were killed one by one. But before they died, they requested that the Earth Mother turn them into mountains, so that even in death, they could guard the world. And so, the greatest giant of all – Umlindi Wemingizimu – became ‘die Man in die Berg’ – Manenberg, the watcher of the south.

It is from the Khoe and the San that the amaXhosa got their name for God -UThixo. The Khoe and San people also reflect this story in their name for the mountain. They called it Hoerikwaggo – ‘the mountain of the sea’ or ‘mountain born of the conflict of the sea’. The African legend of Umlindi Wemingizimu in amaXhosa culture is strongly rooted in their connection to Khoe and San culture. The Dragon of the sea, paralles the evil Guanab the destroyer. The supreme God of the Sun, Tsui Goab or ‘Wounded Knee’ evolved through processes of death and reincarnation, from a man called U-thixo, or Tikqua, who was originally a powerful shaman and chief. Tsui Goab constantly battled against Gaunab. In the final battle against Gaunab before Uthixo ascended into the heavens he sustained a wound which gave him the name Tsui Goab. Gaunab was locked in darkness and visits death upon people. Tsui Goab, however, brings life, light and rain – renewal. It is to Thixo or Tsui Goab that we need to turn to bring renewal to our communities of the Western Cape. Confusion, darkness, division and destruction are the fruits of Gaunab. Manenberg is a constant reminder to us to ever seek renewal lest we too become locked in stone.

The Portuguese explorers had a very similar story about the Table Mountain range which also involves ‘die Man in die Berg’ – Manenberg. When the explorer Vasco Da Gama approached the Cape with his fleet, they were surrounded by a huge dark cloud coming from the mountains in the distance. It had the shape of a gigantic human. The howling figure asked them why they were foolishly sailing in such dangerous and stormy waters. He warned that there would be terrible disasters if they tried to sail round the Cape of Storms. He announced himself to the terrified sailors as Adamastor, who had been turned into a mountain range at the tip of Africa, as a punishment of the Gods. His job for all time was to guard the southern seas. Adamastor was a Titan in mythology who had gone to war against the Olympian Gods. The Portuguese writer Luis Vas de Camoëns tells of the Titan’s love, in ages past, for the beautiful sea-nymph Thetis. In fear of Adamastor’s vast strength, Thetis dared not refuse the giant outright, although his coarse and earthy form disgusted her. She fled for assistance to her mother Doris, wife of the sea-god. Doris told the love-sick Titan that Thetis would be his bride, and bade the giant embrace her. It was a trick. The white form for which Adamastor reached was cold stone rather than the Thetis which he so desired. Adamastor’s rage and shame at the insult was tremendous. He threw himself into battle against the Gods, but the Titans were defeated. Adamastor was punished when they froze his flesh, and he became a mountain, forever guarding the furthest tip of Africa – Manenberg


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