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Nama Hottentot also known as “Khoi” Pitek, Emily


“Hottentot” is the name that early European travelers (primarily the 17th century Dutch) gave to the indigenous herders of southern Africa, and “Nama” refers to a sub-division of the group. “Khoi” is the preferred name, and means “the real people”. The first European settlers arrived in the Khoi’s region of southern Africa (the Cape of Good Hope region) in the mid-17th century, and quickly displaced the Khoi to more remote, arid lands. In the 18th century, the Khoi population rapidly declined as a result of warfare, smallpox epidemics, intermarriage with other groups, and integration into settler society. This entry places a focus on the Gei//Khauan tribe around the time of 1860, and relies on ethnographic information that describes the remaining traditional beliefs/practices. The Khoi traditionally lived in tribal communities comprised of several patrilineal clans. One of these clans claimed seniority, and the chieftainship was hereditary within this senior clan. The tribal community was led by the chief and a council of older men. Together, the chief and the council served as the judicial council and controlled matters of communal importance such as feasts, sacrifices, and pasture land relocations. The Khoi’s pastoralist-based subsistence economy required that communities be mobile in order to provide enough food and water to their herds. Information on traditional Khoi religious beliefs and practices for the time this entry focuses on is limited as, “Khoi have been under missionary influence for a considerable length of time, and relatively little information regarding religious beliefs is available” (Boonzaier, 2010). Although not described in substantial ethnographic detail, supernatural beings are identified as being present. The most important of these beings include Haitsiaibena, a deified folk-hero, and ghosts of the dead (called /hei/nun, /hei khoin, sobo khoin, or //gaunagu). The /hei/nun do not appear to have been regularly invoked through organized family or tribal ancestor worship. Khoi rituals/ceremonies centered around life-cycle events and the transition from one status to another, emphasizing the times of birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage, and death. During these rituals the concept of !nau is important; !nau is a state of vulnerability/danger that the individual experiences, and is associated with social seclusion and some food taboos. Among the Khoi, a magician/diviner (!gai aob) is a respected and important person within the community. The !gai aob cures people who have been bewitched, and is possibly connected with some religious rites. Although the !gai aob is a respected and important person in the community, he does not appear to be a full-time specialist religious practitioner. For the Khoi, religion is interwoven throughout many aspects of society. Consequently, this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with society itself.

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