When Van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape in 1652 all that was known about the indigenous people were narratives from early voyagers about the appearance and habits of the strange people they encountered in the Cape called Hottentoos. When he left the Cape in 1662 he embodied in a memorandum for his successor all that was then known to him of the indigenous tribes, either directly or through hearsay. It is clear that much had already been learned concerning their political divisions and distributions.

Old Cape Hottentot Male

The three accounts reproduced in this publication are among the most celebrated of these early descriptions of the local Khoisan societies. The writers were not trained anthropologists and were inspired by curiosity rather by scientific motives. The authors represented in this publication, Dapper, Ten Rhyne and Grevenbroek between them give us a fairly useful and full account of the Khoikhoin (as they called themselves, meaning “men of men” ) tribal divisions, bodily appearance, clothing, weapons and mode of life.

Most early travellers to the Cape included some account of the local Khoisan societies. The three works published here are more comprehensive than most, giving a reasonable idea of the state of knowledge about indigenous peoples in the Western Cape by the end of the 17th century. These are the accounts of travellers rather than scientists but the more readily observable features of material culture are treated quite fully.

The Texts included are:

O Dapper, Kaffrarie, of Lant der Hottentots (1668)

W. Ten Rhyne, Schediasma de Promontorio Bonae Spei (1686)

J.G. De Grevenbroek, Gentis Hottentotten Nuncupatae Description (1695)

The account by Dapper, 1668

Olfert Dapper was born in Amsterdam in 1636. Although he studied Medicine he never appeared to have graduated and devoted all his energy to reading and writing producing a number of large and important works. Dapper’s work, “Kaffrarie of Lant Der Kaffers, anders Hottentots Genaement”, 1668, is contained in this publication.

Dapper seemed not to have left Holland to see with his own eyes any of the countries he visited. His great merit lies in the fact that he ranged widely in search for information and hade a shrewed eye for relevant detail. He seemed to have obtained all his information about the Cape from a “diligent observer” who was likely George Frederick Wreede. He was a runaway German student who enlisted in the service of the Dutch East India Company and came to the Cape in 1659.

How the Hottentots Build their Huts

How the Hottentots Honour the Moon

The Narrative by Ten Rhyne, 1686

Wilhelm Ten Rhyne was born in Deventer in about 1640 and was appointed physician to the Dutch East India Company’s settlement in Java; and it was on his way there in 1673 that he passed through the Cape for a stay of nearly four weeks. His primary interest was botanical, but he also managed to learn a good deal about the indigenous population. He obtained his information from all available sources, his own observations, discussions with local European residents and with Khoi who could understand Dutch, of whom he specifically mentions the famous Krotea, former interpreter for Van Riebeeck.

His account of his visit, penned in Latin, shows how, within twenty years from the foundation of the Dutch settlement, the Khoi groups in the immediate vicinity had degenerated into mere hangers-on and followers of the Dutch and how tribal customs and distinctions were being lost. However little Ten Ryne succeeded in learning about the Cape in his brief stay, he was alert and interested and his narrative has freshness and charm.

Hottentot Dances and Musical Instruments

Manuscript by Johannes de Grevenbroek, 1695

Johannes Gulielmus de Grevenbroek was born in Holland about 1644. He was employed as a clerical assistant in the Rotterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company when he was sent to the Cape in 1684, where he became Secretary of the local Council of Policy. Ten years later he resigned voluntarily and went to live at Stellenbosch as a free burgher. He was described Kolb as “a man of remarkable industry, understanding and knowledge”. Both Kolb and Valentyn note that between 1705 and 1713 Grevenbroek was in possession of a detailed study of the Hottentots complied by himself. This study was never published under his name and the manuscript seems to have disappeared. The manuscript contained in this publication must be looked upon as a preliminary draft of the presumably more detailed account that is now lost. This manuscript is dated 1695, and appears to have been sent as a letter to a friend in Holland.

Kolb has been accused of committing plagiarism by some of his contemporaries, asserting that “everything that Kolb had written about the Hottentots was derived from Grevenbroek. Kolbe himself admits having read Gravenbroek’s manuscript and there is other evidence to suggest that he used it.



[…] Na het befrijven van al deze vrolijkheden, wierden d’oversten met rode kralen, kopere stokken, en platen, en elk daer en boven met een rolletje tabak beschonken; maer de gemene Hottentots moesten zich met het voorzelde onthael vernoegt houden: waer op zy alle gezamentliik, na dat een parthye dien nacht in het Fort geslapen had, weder vertrokken, uitgezeit, de voornoemde Herry, die noch drie of vier daegen daer verbleef.

De zelve Herry spreekt mede een weinigh Engelsch, geleert door het verkeren met d’Engelschen in Bantam in Indiën, daer d’Engelschen een vastigheit hebben, derwaerts hy van de kaep met een Engelsch schip over gevaren was; maer komende naderhant met een schip weer aen de kaep, begaf hy zich weder onder zijn volk.


De Kochoquas of Saldanhars, alzo by d’onzen genoemt, om dat zlch altijts meest ontrent en in de dalen van de Saldanhabay hebben onthouden, gelegen achtien mijlen Noord-westwaerts van de kaep, leggen in vijf of zestien negeryen verdeilt, elk ontrent een vierendeel uurs van elkandre, en bewonen met hun alien ontrent vier hondert, of vier hondert en vijftigh huizen. Ieder negerye bestaet uit dertig, zes-en-dertig, veertig en vijftig huizen, meer en minder, alle in ‘t ronde gezet, en een weinig van eikandre, daer binnen, versta binnen ieder negerye, de Saldanhars hun vee in bewaringh stellen.

Zy bezitten een groote menighte van schone beesten, wel over de hondert duizent, en ontrent twee hondert duizent schapen, die geen wol, maer langachtigh gekleurt hair op ‘t lijf hebben.

Al de Kochoquas, of Saldanhars, staen onder eenen overste of koning, met den tijtel van Koehque, dat gezeit is, een koning van ‘t Hottentots geslacht, die op ontrent vijftigh mijlen van de kaep wonen, als de Gorachouquas, of Tabaks-dieven, desgelijx de Goringhaiquas of Kaepmans, […]


[…] After the conclusion of all these festivities, the chiefs were presented with red coral beads, copper sticks and copper plates, and each one in addition with a roll of tobacco. But the common Hottentots had to remain content with the entertainment just described. Then, after some had slept for the night in the Fort, they all again went away together, except for the above-named Harry, who remained there for another three or four days. This Harry also speaks a little English, which he learned through intercourse with the English at Bantam in India, where they have a fortress to which he sailed from the Cape in an English ship; but returning again later on to the Cape, he once more rejoined his people.


The Kochoquas are called Saldanhars by our country­men, because they have always dwelt mostly near and in the valleys of Saldanha Bay, eighteen miles north-west of the Cape. They are settled in fifteen or sixteen different villages, about a quarter of an hour’s distance from one another, and all told inhabit four hundred or four hundred and fifty huts. Each village consists of thirty, thirty-six, forty or fifty huts, more or less, all placed in a circle a little distance apart. The Saldanhars for safety keep their cattle in the centre of the village (at night). They own a large collection of cattle, well over a hundred thousand in number, and about two hundred thousand sheep, which instead of wool have longish coloured hair on the body.

All the Kochoquas or Saldanhars are under a chief or king with the title of koehque, which means a king of the nation of Hottentots living up to within about fifty miles from the Cape, such as the Gorachouquas or Tobacco Thieves, together with the Goringhaiquas or Capemen, […]