From Khoe, /Xam to ‘Hottentots’ to ‘coloured’ to who?

Probably more than any other cultural group in South Africa, there is fascination with Khoe and San culture and OurStory.

The names of Our People is a subject of great debate and interest. Such debate around other ethnicities in South Africa is not happening.

Names are powerful, have great meaning and symbolism. If they did not then parents would not put emotional energy into naming children.

Humans would not take time choosing names for pets. Many people would not search for the meaning of their names online or through family members.

This brings us to the topic of this post: What is the meaning behind the name “coloured” in South Africa?

What is the origin of this name and what does it mean to people who historically had the label imposed on them?

Interestingly, there was a time in the USA when African Americans were also called “Coloreds”. African descendants in the USA experienced having their African names revoked by slave masters, being given European names, being called Negroes, Afro-Americans, African-Americans and now African Americans.

Many Africans in America have changed from using western names to indigenous names from the African Homeland. 

/Xam is the name for the people by the people who originally occupied //Hui !Gaeb (Cape Town). At the moment my understanding of the meaning of the name /Xam means “diverse people unite”. We stand to be corrected. Please drop a comment and let me know your interpretation because I am still researching this. 

We acknowledge there are other meanings. We argue this is the root of the concept “ubuntu”.

Hottentot, shortened to “Hotnot” in some instances, [racially charged] is a name created by the Dutch and British settlers.

This name was applied to enable European avoidance of using indigenous /Xam, Khoe and the many names of KhoeKhoen communities.

It is the equivalent of the “K” word in southern Africa and the “N” word in the USA. Today this name is replaced by the “coloured” label. 

“Bushman” is an equally derogative European name used to describe KhoeKhoen who lived more of a hunter and gatherer mode of existence.

By calling the “San” “bush” people the Europeans avoided having to acknowledge the names of their Ancestors and families.

Image > source.

Europeans started calling the /Xam people “Hottentots” at the same time when laws were passed to expropriate land, end the hunter, gatherer and pastoralist modes of life for settler expansion.

A major law that supported this effort was the Hottentot Code of 1809, also known as the Caledon Code or the Caledon Proclamation.

The Hottentot Code of 1809 was developed by the British to help Voortrekkers (Dutch descendants) expropriate land by restricting the movement of the /Xam, other KhoeKhoe and San people.

This law was the pre-cursor to “pass laws” that restricted the movement of most South Africans during the Apartheid era.

The name Hottentot is closely tied to the loss of freedom of movement and access to land by the KhoeKhoe people. The Hottentot Code of 1809 made it law that if /Xam people wanted to work for more than a month, they had to have a written contract.

The Earl of Caledon (below), the first Governor of the “Cape”, implemented the Hottentot Code. Apparently, he was born in Ireland. I need to confirm this; confirmation is welcome from you.

Europeans eventually shifted in naming the /Xam and their KhoeKhoen relatives – from Hottentots to “coloureds”. The history of this name “coloured” is long and was used before legal Apartheid in 1948.

For now, the name “coloured” was used by the British, Dutch and other Europeans to legally distinguish between whom they labeled “Bantu”, culturally integrated people who Europeans believed to be distinct from the /Xam and San, or the Asians who were eventually brought into the continent as indentured servants.

Everyone has a right to name themselves. Everyone also has a right to interpret the meaning behind their own names.

But names are powerful, have meanings and origins. As soon as the names /Xam, Khoe, San were cast aside by the Europeans in southern Africa, those people lost aspects of their identities at the exact same time their land was expropriated.

That was when freedom ended and the pastoralist, hunter, gatherer way of life took the heaviest blows. This is something to think about and that we must not forget.