Khoi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although subsistence activity was centered on the care of herds of sheep and cattle, hunting and the collection of wildplant foods were also important. In general, cattle were only slaughtered for ritual purposes, but their milk was an essential part of the diet. The Khoi used oxen to carry loads and to ride on. Fat-tailed sheep were slaughtered more regularly (their fat was highly prized), and their skins were used for clothing. Ewes were also milked.

A majority of the contemporary population in the reserves is still involved with herding (primarily of sheep and goats) on communal land. Today most of the produce is sold outside the reserves. Notwithstanding the significance of herding, wage labor outside the reserves is the major source of income.

Industrial Arts and Trade. The Khoi manufactured skins into clothing, bags, and blankets, and threaded reeds together to make sleeping mats and mats to cover their round houses. Mat houses provided very practical accommodation, especially in warmer climates. During warm days they offered a cool, relatively bright shelter, with the crevices between the reeds allowing air to circulate. During the rains, the reeds would swell as they absorbed water and therefore offer good protection against leaks. During the cold months, the inside of the house could be lined with skins to offer extra insulation against the elements. This structure also had the advantage that it could be dismantled and reerected every few months in response to the changing seasons or when grazing in the surrounding area became depleted.

The Khoi made pottery, some of which had distinctive pointed bases and handles, which could be tied to their oxen when moving, or to hut poles. They made spears with fire-hardened tips, but generally used iron tips, which they obtained from neighboring Bantu-speaking peoples or, more recently, from European ships and settlers.

Division of Labor. Women milked the cows and ewes and collected plant foods; herding and hunting activities were the preserve of men. The construction of mat houses was a task shared by men and women: men cut and planted the saplings and tied them together with leather thongs to form a frame, and women collected the reeds and manufactured the mats. With the introduction of modern dwelling structures, women have largely taken over the entire task of constructing traditional homes, and men have become responsible for the erection of modern (primarily corrugated-iron or brick) housing. Many contemporary households in the reserves have both modern and traditional structures—the latter being reserved for cooking activities (the domain of women).

Land Tenure. In precolonial times, several clan-based villages were united into much larger units called tribes or hordes, which ranged in size from a few hundred to several thousand individuals. The most significant aspect of tribal integrity related to the various clans' unrestricted access to communal tribal land. Local clans could move around and utilize pasture, water resources, game, and wild fruit and vegetables within the tribal area (although individual clans tended to move in a regular pattern in a specific tract of tribal land). The relatively low population density prior to the arrival of Europeans meant that there was limited competition for any given piece of land, and the extent of tribal land was thus defined not so much in terms of exact boundaries as with reference to land around key water holes as well as areas with better pasture.

The communal character of land tenure has been retained in most of the contemporary reserves, and local populations have resisted government s attempts to create individual farms. Although specific plots of land are allocated to individual farmers in some of the reserves (where crop cultivation is possible), such plots are not privately owned and remain under the control of the local communities.

User Contributions:

Lloyd Burton
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Dec 30, 2017 @ 6:06 am
Please can you enlighten me on these matters:
Did the Khoikhoi cultivate edible plants or grain before contact with Europeans?
Did they brew alcoholic beverages?
Did they use copper for weapons and tools?
Did they make iron?
Did they use stone tools and weapons?
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Oct 23, 2018 @ 3:03 am
I would like to know how the Khoi San people used to calculate time, days, months, years and season

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