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George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.


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Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Bushmen and Their Kin mind-mapping diagram

Part Two
African Hunters
— 9 —
Bushmen and Their Kin

From the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period until relatively recent times the Sangoan cultures of the prehistoric Pygmies of the tropical rainforest were bounded on the south and east by a different complex of hunting and gathering cultures known collectively as Stillbay. These blanketed all of South Africa as well as East Africa between the great lakes and the Indian Ocean as far north as Ethiopia and the Horn. The boundary between them coincided roughly with that now prevailing between regions having an annual rainfall of more than 40 inches and those having less than this amount. tillbay cultures are characteristically associated with skeletal remains of the Bushmanoid rather than the Pygmoid racial type. Numerous peoples of this physical type have survived into modern times in South Africa, and their cultures form the subject of this chapter. Remnants of hunting peoples in East Africa are fewer, their cultures more modified, and their Bushmanoid racial characteristics less certain. Their treatment will therefore be reserved for the next chapter.

 Bushman Woman Drilling Hole in an Ostrich Eggshell Bead
Bushman Woman Drilling Hole in an Ostrich Eggshell Bead.
(Courtesy of South African Government Information Office, New York.)

For millennia the South African hunters occupied the region now embraced by the Union of South Africa, South-West Africa, Bechuanaland, Basutoland, Swaziland, Southern Rhodesia, and portions of southern Angola and N orthern Rhodesia. A few centuries before the arrival of Vasco da Gama, however, two waves of intrusive agricultural Bantu penetrated the area deeply from the north—the Southwestern Bantu along the west coast and the Southeastern Bantu along the east coast. After 1720 one group of the latter, the Tswana, advanced westward and occupied the region now known as Bechuanaland. In the meantime Europeans, who had established their first settlement at Table Bay in 1652, had begun a progressive expansion toward the northeast, which ultimately gained for them large tracts of desirable land in Orange Free State and the Transvaal. In consequence, the indigenous inhabitants who still maintain even a semblance of their ancient way of life are now confined to a few relatively inhospitable areas in South-West Africa, the Kalahari Desert, and the Okavango Swamp region.

The aboriginal population falls into three distinct groups: the Bushmen, the Hottentot, and the Bergdama. The Hottentot differ culturally from the other tvvo groups in that they had obtained cattle from the Southwestern Bantu and had adopted a pastoral mode of life. Physically, however, they closely resemble the Bushmen, varying only to about the degree one would expect in a people with a superior diet and a more secure livelihood. Compared with the Bushman physical type described in Chapter 2, the Hottentot tends to be 4 or 5 inches taller and to have a slightly narrower head and nose, but in other respects he reveals all the typical Bushmanoid stigmata. The Bergdama, most of whom are herdsmen or servants to the pastoral Hottentot or Bantu Herero, are, on the contrary, Negroid rather than Bushmanoid in physique. The Koroca of coastal Angola, long regarded as a detached group of Bushmen, have been reported by Lang and Tastevin (1937) to resemble the Bergdama in both language and physical type. In culture, however, both these groups affiliate closely with the Bushmen. Unfortunately, the physical anthropological evidence is insufficient to solve the problem of Negroid hunters in this part of Africa. They might be assumed to be Bushmen strongly admixed with Bantu blood were it not for specific statements that they differ markedly in appearance from the Bantu. Possibly they are akin to some of the hunting tribes of East Africa (see Chapter 10), who are reported to be Bushmanoid in culture and sometimes in language but often Negroid in racial characteristics.

The surviving representatives of the indigenous population number rather more than 100,000 today: about 55,000 Bushmen, most of whom are serfs of the Tswana; 30,000 Bergdama, many with a strong Hottentot or Herero admixture; and perhaps 35,000 Hottentot, many of them mixed with European blood. In addition, the Hottentot, and to a lesser extent the Bushmen, constitute an important ingredient in the large detribalized and mixed-blood population of the present Union of South Africa known as the Cape Coloured. The indigenous tribes can be grouped and classified as follows (the peculiar symbols represent the various clicks or implosive consonants).

  1. Bergdama Bergdama (Haukoin, Mountain Damara). They number about 30,000.
  2. Cape H ottentot, comprising the Attaqua, Chainoqua, Chariguriqua (Little Grigriqua), Goringhaiqua, Grigriqua, Hancumqua, Hessequa, Kochoqua, Kora (Gorachouqua), and Outeniqua, together with the Damaqua, Gonaqua, and lnqua who are known collecti vely as the Eastern Hottentot. This group is now extinct.
  3. Heikum (Hei//tom). This tribe is to a considerable extent mixed with, and acculturated to, the Ambo and Herero tribes of the Southwestern Bantu.
  4. Hiechware. These people are largely serfs or dependents of the Bantu Tswana.
  5. Hukwe (Kwengo, Makwengo), with the kindred Galikwe (Dennassena, Madennassena). These tribes have long been subject in varying degrees to neighboring Bantu peoples—the Mbukushu, Subia, Tstwana, and especially the Lozi.
  6. Korana (Ikora). These people, who number perhaps 10,000 today, split off from the Kora tribe of the Cape Hottentot in the late seventeenth century, withdrawing inland to escape the Dutch.
  7. Koroca (Bakoroka, Coroca, Mucoroca). This isolated group in coastal Angola, numbering about 15,000, compr ise the Luheka (Valuheke) on the seacoast, the 8. Kung (!kung), including the Agau, Auen (≠aukwe //kau//en), Kungau (≠kungau) Nogau, and Ogowe (!ogowe), together with detached remnants in southern Angola known collectively as Okung (!o !ku). A number of bands of this group, which has a total population of perhaps 4,000, still follow an unaffected, primitive way of life.
  8. Nama (Naman, Namaqua). These people, who still number about 25,000, are the only Hottentot group whose aboriginal culture survived long enough to be studied by anthropologists.
  9. Namib, embracing the Ganin (≠ganin), Geinin (/geinin), Koma (/koma), and Obanen (//obanen). This group occupies the desert coast of South-West Africa, separated front other Bushmen by the Nama Hottentot.
  10. Naron (//aikwe), including the Amkwe (≠amkwe, Ginkwe (!ginkwe), Gokwe (≠gokwe), Tsaukwe, and Tsonokwe.
  11. Nusan (/nu//en), including the Auni (/auni), Nghe (//ng!ke), and the detached Sarwa (Masarwa) of the Kalahari Desert. They are largely subject today to the Bantu tribes of the Tswana nation.
  12. Ohekwe (Tete), with the related Dukwe (≠dukwe), Hura, and Kabakwe (≠kabakwe). These people are largely subject to the Tswana.
  13. Tannekwe (/tannekwe), including the Bugakwe and Garikwe (≠garikwe). These people are marsh dwellers, subject to the Tawaria and other Tswana tribes.
  14. Xam (Cape Bushmen, /xam), including remnants of unnamed tribes farther east in Basutoland and the Transvaal. This group is extinct or nearly so.

All the above peoples speak languages of the Bushman subfamily of the Khoisan linguistic stock, whose geographical distribution is shown in Map 6. The Bushman subfamily has three branches:

  1. Southern, embracing the Nusan and Xam
  2. Northern, including the Heikum and Kung
  3. Central, spoken by all the other Bushman tribes and also by the peoples of Hottentot culture and those of the Bergdama physical type

The Khoisan languages have long been noted for their peculiar implosive consonants called clicks. Clicks also occur in the speech of several of the intrusive Bantu tribes of the region—the Koba of northern Bechuanaland, the Sotho of Basuroland, and the Tguni peoples of Natal and adjacent areas. Their presence in these alien languages is best explained on the hypothesis that the invading Bantu married Bushman women, and that these, in learning the speech of their husbands, substituted their own implosive consonants for some of the normal consonants of the latter, transmitted this pronunciation to their children, and thus initiated a phonetic innovation which their children perpertuated. It would follow from this, of course, that the territories now occupied by Bantu click speakers were previously inhabited by Bushmen—an inference which has substantial archeological support.

Since the Hottentot differ from the other tribes of the group in their pastoral mode of life, the description of their culture will be postponed until after we have considered the Bushmen and the Bergdama. The latter peoples subsist almost exclusively by hunting and gathering. Fishing also assumes considerable importance among the Tannekwe and coastal Koroca and is of subsidiary significance in a few other groups, notably the Bergdama, Hiechware, and Xam. Agriculture is totally unknown except for a little millet cultivation by the Tannekwe under Bantu influence. Animal husbandry is almost equally unde,·eloped. The Bushman tribes and the Koroca have no domesticated animals except the dog, and some groups, e.g., the Naron, lack even the dog. The Bergdama keep goats, but the sources disagree as to whether this feature of their culture is truly aboriginal. The division of labor by sex follows everywhere a single pattern, with men doing the hunting and fishing, women the gathering.

A nomadic life in migratory bands characterizes the entire area. Settlements are shifting camps, except among the Hukwe and Tannekwe, who occupy semipermanent villages during the rainy season though they wander at other times of the year. Use is frequently made of natural caves and rock shelters or, in the case of the coastal Koroca, of artificial caves dug in sand dunes. More often, however, these nomads build simple windbreaks, consisting of a semicircle of saplings set in the ground, tied together and fastened at the top, and covered with grass or occasionally reed mats. The Bergdama and many Bushman tribes often extend the framework of the windbreak to a complete circle, thus producing a hemispherical or dome-shaped hut reminiscent of Pygmy dwellings. The huts of a temporary camp are typically pitched in a circle—at least among the Bergdama and Northern Bushmen.

Nowhere does marriage involve payment of a bride-price. The groom merely brings his future parents-in-law a few gifts, most typically of game to demonstrate his prowess as a hunter. He then takes up his residence with them, rendering postmarital bride-service. Shortly after the birth of his first child he normally removes with his family to his own paternal band, but in some Bushman tribes, notably the Xam, he may elect to remain in permanent matrilocal residence. Marriage is predominantly monogamous. Polygyny, to be sure, is everywhere permitted, but it is nowhere common, except possibly among the Bergdama, and in some tribes, e.g., the Koroca and Kung, it is exceedingly rare. When it occurs, the sororal form is usually preferred. Local exogamy appears to be universal except among the Hiechware. Marriage between first cousins is usually permitted, though not preferred, but the Bergdama and Heikum are reported to bar unions with a parallel cousin. The levirate and sororate, in the senior as well as the junior form, are reported for a number of tribes and nowhere denied.

A household consists typically of a single nuclear family. In cases of polygyny each wife usually has a hut of her own, though co-wives sometimes occupy one shelter among the Namib and the Naron. The sources contain no suggestion of any form of extended family organization. Descent is bilateral, but the combination of local exogamy with patrilocal residence gives the local band a structure resembling that of a patrician. Kinship terms for cousins conform to either the Eskimo or the Hawaiian pattern. Recent data on the Kung reveal an interesting subordination of kinship terminology to naming patterns, every individual is named after some relative and is referred to by a kinship term indicative, not of his own, but of his namesake's relationship to Ego. The same tribe divides all relatives, according to the kinship terms applied to them, into two categories—those with whom one may and must joke and those with whom joking behavior is strictly taboo.

Each band has its own defined territory, which is communally owned and used. Private property is recognized only in movables, and these are inconsequential. Inheritance is basically patrilineal and by primogeniture, but among the Bergdama, at least, a woman's posse sions descend to her eldest daughter. Slavery is absent, and class distinctions are unknown. Bergdama, however, often hire themselves out as herdsmen to the ama and Herero for a share in the increase of the herd, and most of the surviving Bushmen have been subjected and reduced to the status of serfs by the dominant Bantu tribes. Primitive democracy prevails, with minimal political integration. Each band is autonomous under a headman with nominal authority, who is normally succeeded by a son. Warfare is confined to petty raids and blood feuds among neighboring bands.

Most authorities differentiate the Hottentot sharply from the Bushmen, and many classify them as “Hamites” and derive them by migration from the pastoral peoples of the Eastern Horn. This is sheer nonsense, reflecting only the unfortunate tendency of the earlier Africanists to regard cattle as a linguistic trait. The Hottentot are indisputably closely akin to the Bushmen in physical characteristic , and their language is not Hamitic but is specifically affiliated with the Central branch of the Bushman subfamily of the Khoisan stock. They are, to be sure, pastoral, keeping large herds of long-horned cattle and fat-tailed sheep and a fair number of goats, and the milk of these anima ls constitutes a staple element in their diet. II other aspect of their culture, however, show such striking affinities with that of the Bushmen that we are left with no reasonable alternati,·e except to regard them as a Bushman group who adopted cattle from the outhwestern Bantu and made modest readjustments in their culture in adaptation to the new and more stable mode of life.

A brief review of Hottentot culture reveals clearly its dependence upon a Bushman substratum. The division of labor by sex is identical, except that men have added herding to their hunting and fishing activities, women milking to their food-gathering duties. The pattern of life in nomadic bands remains unchanged, and the dwellings of a camp are still pitched in a circle. Even the huts themselves are hemispherical, as among the Bushmen, though the Hottentot, having pack oxen for transport purposes, do not have to depend upon improvised materials at each camp site but use permanent and well-made poles and rush mats, which are dismountable and portable.

Like the Bushmen, but unlike their Bantu neighbors and alleged Hamitic kinsmen, the Hottentot pay no bride-price but do postmarital matrilocal bride-service, shifting to patrilocal residence after the birth of the first child. Polygyny is rare rather than common and preferential. Extended families are lacking; local exogamy prevails, as do the levirate and sororate; and cross-cousin marriage is permitted but not preferred. With the more stable mode of life, patrilocal bands have crystallized into definite patricians, with the resulting recognition of patrilineal descent and the adaptive development of cousin terminology of the Iroquois type. Inheritance is still patrilineal and by primogeniture. Slavery and hereditary aristocracy remain unknown, although the possession of cattle has given rise to incipient status distinctions in terms of wealth. The incidence of warfare has increased, with the result that groups of neighboring bands have become loosely federated into subtribes for offensive and defensive purposes, the senior headman serving as titular chief and the other leaders forming a sort of council. All in all, Hottentot culture is still recognizably Bushman in all its basic patterns, and its deviations are about the minimum to be expected in a hunting people adapting to a more stable pastoral economy.