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The Korana

The KhoiKhoi - early South Africans

About 1500 years ago, the pastoral Khoi migrated southwards from central Africa. These people descended from the aboriginal populatons of Southern Africa, although they may have intermarried with pre-Bantu-speaking migrants from the north. At some point in the distant past, the Khoi developed from hunter-gatherers to cattle-herders – possibly under the influence of Bantu-speakers.


The Khoi roamed throughout South Africa - particularly in the provinces now known as the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape.  By the late 1700s, the Khoi were spread around the western and southern fringes of Sotho-Tswana settlement in the Ghaap area. 



The Khoi - "men among men"

The word khoi awas also pronounced as qwa, and therefore the Khoi's tribal names sounded distinctive, such as Namaqua, Outeniqua, Hessiqua - and the Griqua, in the Miracle Route area.  Khoikhoi therefore meant "men among men". The Dutch tended to refer to the Khoi as Hottentots, a word which is no longer in use.

Khoi and bushmen.jpg

The Khoi lifestyle

The Khoi had a distinctive lifestyle: Farming with oxen, cattle and fat-tailed sheep, living in clans, and roaming away to new living places when the population and herds grew too large. They lived in portable huts of shaped branches and reed maps.   They were well known for their skills in training oxen as riding and transport animals.

The Khoi brought livestock and pottery to the area, and from the 19th Century, they mined specularite (sibilo), near the current town of Postmasburg. This was used for cosmetic purposes.

During the 1700s and 1800s, many Khoi people worked on white-owned commercial farms, or became craftsmen and transport drivers. Those who preferred to remain independent were pushed northwards and eastwards by the white colonists at the Cape. They gradually arrived in the arid regions of the Namaqualand and the Kalahari.

Today, the Khoi have intermarried with diverse groups, and are an important cultural strand within the Coloured community of South Africa, in the "melting pot" of South African cultures.


The Korana

The Khoi people in in the Ghaap were the Korana - but the Korana had integrated and intermarried with many other communities in the region.

The term Korana probably derives from a former chief, !Ora/Kora, who lived in the Cape. The group later divided into numerous segments.  The Korana had their own dialect (!Ora/Goragowap) that was distinct from other Khoikhoi dialects.


The Korana  lived in matted homes, which were easily transportable.


The first encounter between a European with the Korana was recorded in Wikar’s journal in 1778 or 1779, along the Orange River. The Korana lived in kraals of about 20 or more huts each and kept livestock. Several Korana communities lived in the Ghaap.

The Korana in 1801

In 1801, William Somerville participated in an official mission to the Orange River. He described a Korana village in the Ghaap region:  “The materials of which they construct their huts and which they carry on pack oxen with them, are a number of rods bent to a semicircle, which are in a very short span of time fixed into the ground, crossing one another so as to form the frame, over which mats made of reeds are bound leaving only a small entry or door at which the inmates to into excellent shelter from the sun and wind, shaped like an inverted bowl or beehive”.

Their weapons were bows and arrows, often with poisoned tips.    They sometimes used a shield made of bullock’s hide, ample enough to screen the whole body.  During warfare, they used the assegai when they came into close contact with the enemy.


The Koranas made garments and  wooden jars or pots. These were  hollowed out with great precision. They also made wooden bowls and plates. They made tobacco pipes of a kind of red stone soft enough to cut and scraped. "Their pipes are straight – about 4 inches long, small at the mouth end and nearly an inch at the other end", wrote Somerville.


Their main diet was milk products, and they ate small bulbs found in the ground. They decorated their faces, hair and sometimes their whole bodies with  with the brilliant sibilo powder found in the ancient mine at Tsantsabane (now Postmasburg).  


Polygamy was permitted, but men would have to be able to compensate the parents or to maintain their wives. The consent of women to marriages was always necessary.  Wedding ceremonies consisted of dancing and feasting.


When a chief died, he was buried in a pit in the centre of the huts, in full attire - with his leather cloak, ornaments of copper and iron rings round his wrists, and also bracelets of rhino hide. Beads, quiver and arrows and his assagais would be laid in the grave. At the burial ceremony, all the males would play their reed pipes. Their music was wild, simple but harmonious, wrote William Somerville. Each man had a reed, of different lengths, and playing different notes. During ceremonies, they danced in a circle, according to their notes, blowing to produce a harmony. The women would run around the circle of men, in an opposite direction, clapping their hands together to keep time.



Korana fighters


By the early 1800s, some Korana had acquired guns and horses and became plunderers, operating both north and south of the Vaal River. The Korana penetrated far into the interior where they raided the Tswana, Mzilikikazi and other tribes. In 1846, the two French missionaries, Arbousset and Daumas, commented that the Korana were “always at war with their neighbours". They were excellent cattle-rustlers and raiders.

The Tswana, Korana, Griqua and colonists often made war on the San (Bushmen), and captured Bushman women and children who would then intermarry with the Tswana and Korana. Bushmen were also used as messengers and herdsmen. Korana groups traded dagga and tobacco for the Bushmen’s honey and honey beer. Some Bushmen would do work for the Korana, such as the preparation and sewing of skins.  The Korana also started using poison arrows under the influence of the Bushmen.


The Korana was“the most significant non-‘Bantu’ adversaries of white expansion. They were involved in two wars with the Cape Colony (1868-69 and 1878-79) in the interior during the 19th century, until they were finally conquered in 1879. They were later been displaced by the Griqua in the Ghaap, and were pushed into the northern and western Orange Free State. By the early 1900s, the identity, tribal structures and cohesion of the Korana were destroyed.


 The Korana became the predominant raiding force as a result of the Bergenaar rebellion in the 1830s, in the Ghaap region.

The Korana were the "social glue" of the Ghaap

There were often close and complex relationships between the Bushmen and the Korana. When the Korana made war on the Bushmen, they captured Bushman women and children - who were then integrated into the Korana community as wives. Bushmen would sometimes assist Korana in raiding parties, or as messengers and herdsmen. Korana groups traded dagga and tobacco for honey and the Bushmen’s honey and honey beer. Some Bushmen would pay reciprocal visits to Korana kraals.

Some of the Korana clans also had close relationships with the Tswana. The Koranas called the Thlaping the "Briquas", and exchanged products from them, such as tobacco and sibilo.  Of great importance is that several key Tswana chiefs took Kora wives. When the Tlhaping came to the Langberg in the 1770s, they, and some southern Rolong communities, developed close relationships with the Kora who were settled along the Orange. Maswe, the Tlhaping chief at this time, took a Kora wife. His son by her, Molehabangwe, succeeded him; both he and his son, Chief Mothibi, also had a Kora wife.

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