Khoisan Tribal, Social & Language Grouping


Khoisan Tribal, Social & Language Grouping

Copyright Mike Elliott 2004

The primary Bushman linguistic divisions are referred to as the Northern, Central & Southern Groups. It is a broad classification to identify the three main & distinctive language forms. There are however other groups that do not conveniently fall within these divisions but still apparently belong within the overall Khoisan family. They include the Namib (now extinct Khoi tongue), Khoi, Hadza & Sandawe.

The three primary groups, Northern, Central and Southern, have very different language structures, with noticeably the Central group having a distinctive Khoi (Nama-like) language. For more detail on languages it would be best to visit the many Khoisan Language Web Sites and other academic resources. This is not intended as an essay on Languages, but rather a simple illustration of the range and diversity to be found amongst the great Khoisan family. The term Clan has been applied to identify extended family groupings that speak the same language or very close variants.

There is also some confusion out there in many areas including - linguistic groupings & relationships (understandably), same names used to refer to unrelated groups, spellings & pronunciation and incorrect identification (There's a surprise!). I have no doubt that many errors have crept into this list but I have every intention of identifying and correcting them. If you have any suggestions, information, critisisms or if you are volunteering for some research then give me a call.

Northern Group

Broadly covering the Bushmen of Namibia (east central, north & northeast), Angola (south), Botswana (northwest) and Zambia (southwest). The main identified Clans in this group are !Kung, !O Kung (Angola) & Auen.

Central Group

Namibia (central - east of the Okwa valley), Botswana (central and northeast), Zambia (southeast) and filtering into Zimbabwe. Main collective groups consisted of the K"am-ka Kwe, /Tannekwe and all central Kalahari Bushmen.

Southern Group

Covering all those groups (now largely extinct) that inhabited the full region south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The one exception was the !Xo who formed a splinter reaching up into Botswana as far as the Okwa Valley. Primary clans identified were the /Xam-ka!ke (collective), /Auni, !Khomani & the !Xo.

Namib Group

These are the Bushmen groups that were known to have inhabited the Namib coastal regions & the central western escarpment ridge in Namibia. They were considered extinct from about 1930 but there is much to suggest that some may have been absorbed into the various "mixed blood" Nama groups living on the fringes of the mountains. They were actually reported as speaking Nama (a Khoi language) but were distinctly Bushmen in social organisation and customs. Main identified clans were /Geinin, /Xoma, //Obanen and ≠Ganin.

Khoi Group

These are the various groups forming the Nama, Khoi or Hottentot (old Dutch meaning "Stutterers" - a reflection on their speech) people who kept cattle, goats and sheep. This is very wide spread with pockets found all over southern Africa and became very mixed during the white occupation of the subcontinent. Other groups who spoke closely related languages but lived as Hunter/gathers (Like the Central and Namib groups) have been kept separate here to distinguish their very different life styles and original locations. The exception is the Strandloper (Cape Coastal Hunter/gatherer) group who, although having no livestock, seemed more closely akin to the Khoi than nearby Bushman groups.

Misc Clans

This covers those groups like the Sandawe and Hadza who have some linkage to the Bushmen in terms of Language or culture but have no other more direct links. Some of these bands are probably the remnants of hunter/gatherer groups who had been largely absorbed by the Bantu agro-pastoralists in pre-history. Others are possibly devolved cultures having in the past adopted farming lifestyles but have returned to their original survival economy for some reason.

Notes on Clicks (Click Consonants)

The unique clicks used in Khoi languages are varied and complex, with many varieties and applications throughout the different Clans and groups. This is a very simplified description of the more common ones used. They are denoted by internationally recognised symbols.

/ (Forward slash) denotes a frontal dental click similar to the English "Tsk-Tsk" of disapproval. /? is a Glottal variation & ?/ is a nasal type.
// (2 Forward slashes) denotes a lateral dental click similar to the sound used to urge a horse.
(Equals sign bisected by a forward slash) denotes a sharp alveolar click made with the tongue against the roof of the mouth.
! (Exclamation mark) denotes a sharp palato-alveolar click made with the tongue on the back of the gum ridge. Cork popping sound.