Peoples of Southern Africa (Part 1)

by the Diagram Group

*this book appears on my blog courtesy of the Spokane Public Library*

What is Southern Africa?

word cloud of the South African tribes
Southern Africa is made up of over 17 separate ethnic groups. Unlike the U.S., where American Indian and Alaska Native peoples prefer the use of the word “tribe”, Africans sense a pejorative connotation and so “tribe” will not be used here.

The countries of Southern Africa follow arbitrary lines drawn in the Colonial Era. They are:

*Lethoso and Swaziland are separate countries completely surrounded by the larger country of South Africa, much as sovereign American Indian tribal nations exist within the larger context of the United States and are treated on a government-to-government basis.

**Since I have already featured Madagascar on this blog, I will not go into detail about the 18 separate ethnic groups that make up the island’s population. Eighteen in addition to the ones listed in the word cloud above, that is.

Cape Coloreds and Cape Malays

Cape Malay women
Cape Malay women

This group of people would be all one, if it weren’t for religion. Cape Coloreds are Christian and Cape Malays are Muslim. Other than that, they share a language, cuisine, customs, culture, and all that good stuff. Of course the term “Coloreds” is falling into disrepute with the end of the Colonial Era, so the subgroup is searching for something better to call themselves. Fair enough.


These people survived the colonizing Germans’ attempts to exterminate them. (Practicing for World War II, most likely.) The women liked the style of the German missionaries’ dresses and wear them to this day. They have a distinctive mutton-chop sleeve. But unlike the missionaries, they don’t wear drab colors. (Women after my own heart!) Herero women are known for their bright, bold color combinations.


Khoisan people
Khoisan people

I’m always interested in origins, and these folks are thought to be the original inhabitants of Southern Africa. Over time they were pushed out and marginalized by the late-comers, the Bantu-speaking peoples. Khoisan consist of two subgroups, the Khoikhoi and the San, or Xhosa, whom early White writers like Laurens Van der Post would have known as the Hottentots and the Bushmen.

Khoisan languages are tonal and feature the distinctive click or popping sounds made famous in Van der Post’s fantastic novels: A Story Like the Wind and A Far Off Place.

Madagascarian People

The peoples of Madagascar
The peoples of Madagascar

See my post on Madagascar, for which I chose a William S. Burroughs novel. It features a lot of animals, which seemed appropriate, since Madagascar, like Australia, is home to some very unique creatures found nowhere else on earth. Madagascar is just about twice the size of the U.S. state of Arizona. Huge for an island.

Read Part 2

2 thoughts on “Peoples of Southern Africa (Part 1)”

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