Khoikhoi Milking


This sketch 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 drawing shows Khoi men and women milking large African cattle. Milk was a main means of sustenance for the Khoi, and African herders developed special techniques to make a recalcitrant cow produce milk, even if her calf had died. The note, in Dutch, describes these practices and indicates that the Khoi were extremely reluctant to slaughter cattle, which were needed both for breeding and for their milk. 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, made by another person, also unidentified, after 1730.

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Physical Description

1 drawing : pen and black ink, black and grey ink wash on paper ; 20 x 31 centimeters


  • Reproduced as Plate 16 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 with cattle (INIL 6256v); number 6256 of a set: INIL 6250-6264.

Last updated: July 2, 2015