Khoi Women and Dutch Colonist


This view of a group of Khoi women in various costumes and poses, with a woman colonist holding a container, is 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. The annotations describe Khoi dress and ornamentation, explaining that Khoi women wear several strings of beads around the neck, with copper beads the most favored. The note remarks on the Khoi custom of smearing the body and clothing with fat, a practice that the European colonists found repugnant but that was related to exposure to the sun for long periods in hot, dry conditions. “Indeed, it is the most important sign of a rich man that he appears shiny, and this is not neglected by anyone if he can get hold of some fat.” The dress of the colonist is of interest, and is similar to that of a maidservant drawn by Vermeer around 1659. Much information about the Khoikhoi is available from early European accounts, but few illustrations exist. The drawings in the collection were made in situ and, unlike most 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.

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Subject Date


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Physical Description

1 drawing : pen and sepia ink on paper ; 20 x 31 centimeters


  • Reproduced as Plate 5 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 recto of Khoi women (INIL 6253v); number 6253 of a set: INIL 6250-6264.

Last updated: July 2, 2015