Khoi Women Dancing


These depictions of Khoi women 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. In these drawings, the artist has caught the movement of the bodies, clothing, and beads. The annotation, in Dutch, refers to “five dancing Hottentot women,” the latter being the historic name given to the Khoikhoi at the time of white settlement, and now considered derogatory. The note under the middle dancer states: “This one seems to be a widow who has had the first joint of the little finger amputated, by which she is indicating that she is willing to marry once more. Before she could marry a third time, the first joint of the next finger will have to go.” This appears to have been a custom among the Khoi, reported by several authors. 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.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Vijf danssende Hottentottinnen

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 drawing : pen and black ink and wash on paper ; 24 x 37 centimeters


  • Also known as: Five dancing Hottentot Women. Reproduced as Plate 13 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 Khoikhoi drinking from kaross (INIL 6263v); number 6263 of a set: INIL 6250-6264.

Last updated: July 2, 2015