Reference Entry

Hottentot Pejorative term used by Europeans in South Africa to describe pastoralists who speak Khoi, a clicking language.

Elizabeth Heath

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Hottentot Pejorative term used by Europeans in South Africa to describe pastoralists who speak Khoi, a clicking language.

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The first Europeans to encounter the cattle-herding people who later became known as Hottentots were the Portuguese explorers Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama, who stopped at the Cape of Good Hope in the fifteenth century. They and later European explorers and traders bartered tobacco and other goods for the pastoralists’ livestock. It was at some point during these early stops that European travelers adopted the term Hottentot to describe the pastoralists, who referred to themselves as Khoikhoi or Kwena. Hottentot is derived from an old Dutch expression hotteren-totteren, which means to stammer or stutter; presumably the name was given in reference to the Khoikhoi’s language, Khoi, which is made up of implosive consonants frequently called clicks.Europeans came to associate the term Hottentot with savagery and barbarism during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Dutch settlers on the Cape often clashed with the Khoikhoi over land and cattle. Frequently, the Dutch pressured the Khoikhoi to sell more cattle than they wanted to, and both sides accused the other of stealing livestock. In 1659 and 1673 these conflicts erupted into wars that eventually forced the Khoikhoi to accept Dutch sovereignty.The term Hottentot also came to be associated with particular physical types and cultural practices, which Europeans considered exotic and uncivilized. In particular, Europeans were repulsed by the Khoikhoi custom of mixing red pigment with rendered seal fat and applying the mixture to their skin. Europeans were also shocked by what they viewed as the oversized buttocks and genitalia of Khoikhoi women. These characteristics supported Europeans’ belief that the Hottentot were “oversexed” and degraded.In the nineteenth century, European images of the Hottentot were further reinforced by traveling exhibitions. The most famous of these was an 1810 pay-per-view exhibit in London of the Hottentot Venus—a caged South African San woman named Saartjie Baartman. After her death in 1815, Baartman’s body was examined by Swiss anatomist Georges Cuvier, who later published a report of the autopsy. This report also became the basis for the Hottentot entry in his 1827 book, The Animal Kingdom, which claimed to give scientific evidence of the Hottentots’ filthy and disgusting nature.Today the term Hottentot is occasionally used by white South Africans to identify Africans who trace their ancestry to the original Khoikhoi inhabitants. In general, however, the term has fallen into disuse and the term Khoikhoi is more acceptable. Today, some 55,000 people consider themselves Khoikhoi.See also Pastoralism South Africa.

Reference Entry.  422 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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