The entire Eastern Cape region, along with the rest of Southern Africa, was originally inhabited by the Khoikhoi people. When the Dutch arrived in 1652, they found that the Khoikhoi were, as English officer James Ewart noted, “gentle, harmless, honest and obedient people with a strong feeling of affectionThe Khoikhoi People Exhibit for one another”. Many Europeans were disgusted by some of their practices yet, at the same time, admired their ability to live simply and always be happy.

However, it was not long before the Dutch and the Khoikhoi found themselves in fierce competition for the land, water and cattle. The Khoikhoi depended on these things for their livelihood, yet the Dutch seemed to feel entitled to what they wanted. Though generally a peaceful people, the Khoikhoi were not prepared to have their livelihood stolen and become enslaved. So, they fought back when necessary. Exerpts from ship- and officer diaries from Bartholomew Dias, Antonio de Saldhanha and Dom Francisco de Almeida documented several skirmishes with the Khoikhoi, showing their readiness to defend what was theirs.

A large portion of the Khoikhoi exhibit at the South End Museum is dedicated to Dawid Stuurman – the last of the Khoikhoi chiefs. Stuurman was born in 1773 in the Eastern Cape. He personally suffered terrible injustices at the hands of the Boers and colonists who also pressed other Khoi people into service against their will. Stuurman became one of the most targeted leaders of the Khoikhoi campaign to reclaim their land. He was eventually imprisoned on Robben Island three times, managing to escape the first two times, and ultimately being sent to Australia where he eventually died at the General Hospital in Sydney in 1830. Stuurman fought for his people and family to be left in peace as they had been before the arrival of the Dutch. Yet, he never got what he strived for. In fact, he likely never saw his family again after his first arrest and imprisonment.

Khoikhoi People ExhibitThe Khoikhoi display also tells about the dress and customs of the Khoikhoi people while much of their life story is told through the life of Dawid Stuurman. Visitors will also learn about some of the different Khoikhoi tribes that originally existed in the Somerset East area, and see some fascinating Khoikhoi artifacts. A small section of the exhibit explains the difference between the Khoikhoi, the San and the Khoisan, and tells about the Kouga mummy. Unfortunately, the Khoi no longer exist as a separate ethnic group, but their gene pool does live on in the present day Cape Coloured population. Nevertheless, their place in the history of the country and their struggles are both captivating and appreciated.