The Khoikhoi were originally part of a pastoral culture and language group found across Southern Africa. Originated in the northern area of modern Botswana, the ethnic group steadily migrated south, reaching the Cape approximately 2,000 years ago. Khoikhoi subgroups include the Korana of mid-South Africa, the Namaqua to the west, and the Khoikhoi in the south. Husbandry of sheep, goats and cattle provided a stable, balanced diet and allowed the related Khoikhoi peoples to live in larger groups than the region’s previous inhabitants, the San. Herds grazed in fertile valleys across the region until the 3rd century AD when the advancing Bantu encroached into their traditional homeland. The Khoikhoi were forced into a long retreat into more arid areas.
Migratory Khoi bands living around what is today Cape Town intermarried with San. However the two groups remained culturally distinct as the Khoikhoi continued to graze livestock and the San subsisted as hunter-gatherers. The Khoi initially came into contact with European explorers and merchants in approximately AD 1500. The ongoing encounters were often violent, although the British made some attempt to develop more amiable relationships. Local population dropped when the Khoi were exposed to smallpox by Europeans. Active warfare between the groups flared when the Dutch East India Company enclosed traditional grazing land for farms. Over the following century the Khoi were steadily driven off their land, which effectively ended traditional Khoikhoi life.
“Old Cape Khoikhoi male”
Khoikhoi social organization was profoundly damaged and, in the end, destroyed by European colonial expansion and land seizure from the late 17th century onwards. As social structures broke down, some Khoikhoi people settled on farms and became bondsmen or farm workers; others were incorporated into existing clan and family groups of the Xhosa people.
In recent years the Khoikhoi have fought a bitter battle against the Herero cattle herders, who have attempted to take their traditional lands.
See also: Herero and Namaqua genocide
From 1904 to 1907, the Namaqua, a Khoikhoi group living in present-day Namibia, along with the Herero took up arms against the Germans, who had colonized Namibia. 10,000 Nama, 50% of the total Nama population, perished.