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Khoisan (/ˈkɔɪsɑːn/), or according to the contemporary Khoekhoegowab orthography Khoesān (pronounced: [kxʰoesaːn]), is an artificial catch-all name for the so-called "non-Bantu" indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, combining the Khoekhoen (formerly "Khoikhoi") and the Sān or Sākhoen (also, in Afrikaans: Boesmans, or in English: Bushmen,[3] after Dutch Boschjesmens; and Saake in the Nǁng language).

San tribesman.jpg
San man of Namibia (2006 photograph)
Total population
~ 400,000[1] (c. 2010)
Regions with significant populations
Southern Africa
Afrikaans,[2] Khoisan languages
Mainly Christian and African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
perhaps Sandawe people

Khoekhoen specifically, were formerly known as "Hottentots"[4], which was a derogatory onomatopoeic term (from Dutch hot-en-tot) referring to the click consonants prevalent in the Khoekhoe languages, as they are in all the languages grouped under "Khoesān".

In the contemporary era, Sān are popularly thought of as foragers in the Kalahari Desert and regions of Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa. The word sān is from the Khoekhoe language and simply refers, often in a derogatory manner, to foragers ("those who pick things up from the ground") who do not own livestock. As such it was used in reference to all hunter-gatherer populations of the Southern African region who Khoekhoe-speaking communities came into contact with, and was largely a term referring to a lifestyle, distinct from a pastoralist or agriculturalist one, not any particular ethnicity. While there are attendant cosmologies and languages associated with such a radical lifestyle, the term is thus essentially an economic designator, rather than a cultural or ethnic one.

On the other hand, however, Khoekhoen is considered to have ethnic meaning, as it refers to a number of historical populations of speakers of closely related languages that are considered to be the historical pastoralist communities in the South African Cape region, through to Namibia, where Khoekhoe populations of Nama and Damara people are prevalent ethnicities.

These Khoekhoe nations and Sān are grouped under the single term Khoesān as representing the indigenous substrate population of Southern Africa prior to the supposed Bantu expansion reaching the area, roughly between 1,500 and 2000 years ago.

Many Khoesān peoples are the direct descendants of a very early dispersal of anatomically modern humans to Southern Africa, before 150,000 years ago. Their languages show a vague typological similarity, largely confined to the prevalence of click consonants, and they are not verifiably derived from a common proto-language, but are today split into at least three separate and unrelated language families (Khoe-Kwadi, !Ui-Taa and Kx'a). It has been suggested that the Khoekhoeǁaen (Khoekhoe peoples) may represent Late Stone Age arrivals to Southern Africa, possibly displaced by the advancing Bantu expansion.[5]

The compound term Khoisan/Khoesān is a modern anthropological convention, in use since the early-to-mid 20th century. Khoisan is a coinage by Leonhard Schulze in the 1920s and popularised by Isaac Schapera. [6] It enters wider usage from the 1960s, based on the proposal of a "Khoisan" language family by Joseph Greenberg.

Khoesān peoples were historically also grouped as Cape Blacks or Western Cape Blacks to distinguish them from the Niger-Congo-speaking "Bantoid" or "Congoid" blacks of the other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Derived from this is the term Capoid used in 20th-century anthropological literature. An equivalent term derived from the compound Khoisan is Khoisanid, in use primarily in genetic genealogy.[7]

The term Khoisan (also spelled KhoiSan, Khoi-San, Khoe-San[8]) has also been introduced in South African usage as a self-designation after the end of Apartheid, in the late 1990s. Since the 2010s, there has been a "Khoisan activist" movement demanding recognition and land rights from the so-called Bantu majority.[9]

Similar to findings from Y-Chromosome studies, mitochondrial DNA studies also showed evidence that the Khoisan people carry high frequencies of the earliest haplogroup branches in the human mitochondrial DNA tree. The most divergent (oldest) mitochondrial haplogroup, L0d, has been identified at its highest frequencies in the southern African Khoi and San groups.[10][11][12][13] The distinctiveness of the Khoisan in both matrilineal and patrilineal groupings is a further indicator that they represent a population historically distinct from other Africans.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Their total numbers are estimated at roughly 300,000 Khoikhoi and 90,000 San: 200k Nama people (2010): Brenzinger, Matthias (2011) "The twelve modern Khoisan languages." In Witzlack-Makarevich & Ernszt (eds.), Khoisan languages and linguistics: proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium, Riezlern / Kleinwalsertal (Research in Khoisan Studies 29). 100k Damara people (1996): James Stuart Olson, « Damara » in The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996, p. 137. 50-60k San people in Botswana (2010): Anaya, James (2 June 2010). Addendum – The situation of indigenous peoples in Botswana (PDF) (Report). United Nations Human Rights Council. A/HRC/15/37/Add.2. .
  2. ^ Parkinson, Christian (2016-06-14). "The first South Africans fight for their rights". BBC News. Most [Khoisan people] now speak Afrikaans as their first language. 
  3. ^ "University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending, who has lived with the famous tongue-clicking hunter-gatherers said, 'In the 1970s the name "San" spread in Europe and America because it seemed to be politically correct, while 'Bushmen' sounded derogatory and sexist.' Unfortunately, the hunter-gatherers never actually had a collective name for themselves in any of their own languages. 'San' was actually the insulting word that the herding Khoi people called the Bushmen. [...] one did not call someone a San to his face. I continued to use Bushman, and I was publicly corrected several times by the righteous. [...]'" Sailer, Steve (20 June 2002). "Feature: Name game – 'Inuit' or 'Eskimo'?". UPI. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Hottentot, n. and adj." OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2018, Accessed 13 May 2018.
  5. ^ Barnard, Alan (1992) Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa: A Comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan Peoples. New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  6. ^ The Khoisan peoples of South Africa;: Bushmen and Hottentots, Routledge, 1930.
  7. ^ "Khoisanid" enters occasional usage already in the 1930s based on Schapera's "Khoisan" (1930), e.g. United States Armed Forces Institute Education Manual Issue 226 (1938), p. 114. Use in genetic genealogy was introduced by Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca et al., The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994).
  8. ^ The hyphenated spelling Khoe-San or Khoi-San is recent (post-1990). Note that this usage is distinct from the occasional usage of Khoi-San for the Khoe-speaking subset of the San, e.g. "the Ai-San, the Kun-San, the Au-ai-san, the An-San, the Matsana-Khoi-San, and the Bushmen of Otave" in John Noble, Illustrated Official Handbook of the Cape and South Africa (1893), p. 395. Spellings Khoi-San and Khoe-San in Mohamed Adhikar, Burdened by Race: Coloured Identities in Southern Africa (2009), p. 148.
  9. ^ Khoisan march to Parliament to demand land rights, ENCA , 3 December 2015. Pelane Phakgadi, Ramaphosa meets aggrieved Khoisan activists at Union Buildings, Eyewitness News, 24 December 2017. Illegitimate Khoisan leaders are trying to exploit new bill, IOL, 17 April 2018.
  10. ^ Knight, Alec; Underhill, Peter A.; Mortensen, Holly M.; Zhivotovsky, Lev A.; Lin, Alice A.; Henn, Brenna M.; Louis, Dorothy; Ruhlen, Merritt; Mountain, Joanna L. (2003). "African Y chromosome and mtDNA divergence provides insight into the history of click languages". Current Biology. 13 (6): 464–73. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(03)00130-1. PMID 12646128. 
  11. ^ Chen YS, Olckers A, Schurr TG, Kogelnik AM, Huoponen K, Wallace DC (2000). "mtDNA variation in the South African Kung and Khwe, and their genetic relationships to other African populations". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 66 (4): 1362–83. doi:10.1086/302848. PMC 1288201 . PMID 10739760. 
  12. ^ Tishkoff, SA; Gonder, MK; Henn, BM; Mortensen, H; Knight, A; Gignoux, C; Fernandopulle, N; Lema, G; et al. (2007). "History of click-speaking populations of Africa inferred from mtDNA and Y chromosome genetic variation" (PDF). Molecular Biology and Evolution. 24 (10): 2180–95. doi:10.1093/molbev/msm155. PMID 17656633. 
  13. ^ Schlebusch CM, Naidoo T, Soodyall H (2009). "SNaPshot minisequencing to resolve mitochondrial macro-haplogroups found in Africa". Electrophoresis. 30 (21): 3657–64. doi:10.1002/elps.200900197. PMID 19810027. 


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