Khoi - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Khoi have been under missionary influence for a considerable length of time, and relatively little information regarding religious beliefs is available. A range of myths that have been recorded shed some light on pre-Christian beliefs. Special significance was attached to the moon (it has been claimed that the Khoi "worshiped" the moon) and to two central good beings, Tsûi-//goab (the deity) and Haiseb or Heitsi-eibib (the folk hero). The Khoi also believed in ghosts and witches, but not in the power of ancestors; however, there is some evidence that the spirits of the dead were involved in curing rituals.

Religious Practitioners. Some individuals played a dominant role in healing or rainmaking rituals, but it would be incorrect to view them as specialist religious practitioners. There is some mention of magicians, but very little is known of the methods they employed.

Ceremonies. The central theme of virtually all Khoi ritual was the idea of transformation or transition from one status to another. Most rituals marked the critical periods of change in a person's life—birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage, and death. In all of these rituals, the concept of !nau was central. !Nau was seen as a state of particular vulnerability and danger. The ceremonies all involved a period of seclusion associated with increased !nau. During these periods of social withdrawal, certain substances (notably water) were avoided, whereas others (such as fire or the buchi plant) were associated with protection. Of particular interest is the part played by livestock—not only in feasting associated with the rituals, but in the rituals themselves. In contrast with water, domestic stock seemed always to be associated with protection (e.g., feeding babies with the milk of cows or ewes, or the wearing of parts of a slaughtered animal, as in the case of female puberty rituals).

Medicine. Besides the healing rituals (often taking the form of trance-dancing), much use was made of the medicinal properties of various plants. All adult Khoi possessed a basic knowledge of plant usage, but certain individuals were seen to have developed higher levels of expertise. Some of this knowledge remains important today.

Death and Afterlife. Besides natural causation, death under exceptional circumstances was often attributed to the evil being //Gâuab, to ghosts, or to the violation of certain ritual avoidances. Burials took place as soon as possible after death. The Khoi did not have a well-developed conception of an afterlife, and funeral ceremonies were appropriately unelaborated.

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