Khoikhoi Yoking Oxen, and Other Sketches


These sketches are from a set of 27 drawings on 15 sheets that was discovered in the National Library of South Africa in 1986. The drawings are important for presenting the earliest realistic depictions of the Khoikhoi, the original inhabitants of the Western Cape. Various activities are depicted in these vignettes: at the top, a Khoi man holding oxen while a colonist adjusts the yoke; in the middle, a woman milking a cow into a large ceramic pot; at bottom left, men dealing with a recalcitrant sheep; and at bottom right, women carrying loads, possibly of firewood. The text, in Dutch, reads: “The yoke of the oxen used by the Hottentots” (the latter was the historic name for the Khoikhoi at the time of white settlement and is now considered derogatory). The Khoikhoi were pastoralists who were derived from the aboriginal hunting population of southern Africa, the San. As they ceded their lands to the Dutch and lost their cattle, they were forced into positions of subservience and compelled to work as laborers for the colonists. While the Khoikhoi had pack and riding oxen, they did not make use of draught animals. The system of yoking teams of oxen to pull wagons was used by the white farmers of the Cape in the 17th century, and the Khoi man shown here is obviously working for the farmer. The drawings in the collection were made in situ and, unlike most of the few early European depictions of the Khoikhoi, were never filtered through the eyes of European engravers. The artist most likely was a Dutchman, born in the 17th century, who was attached in some capacity to the Dutch East India Company and possibly en route to the Dutch East Indies or on his way back to the Netherlands when he visited the Cape. Evidence suggests that the drawings were made no later than 1713, and possibly a good deal earlier. Most of the drawings have annotations, in Dutch, made by another person, also unidentified, after 1730.

Date Created

Subject Date


Type of Item

Physical Description

1 drawing : pen and black ink, ink wash on paper ; 24 x 38 centimeters


  • Reproduced as Plate 8 in The Khoikhoi at the Cape of Good Hope: Seventeenth-century drawings in the South African Library / text by Andrew B. Smith, from which this description is adapted. On verso of Harvesting scene (INIL 6259); number 6259v of a set: INIL 6250-6264.

Last updated: July 2, 2015