Griqua people

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For the Currie Cup rugby union club, see Griquas (rugby).
Total population
(Unknown c. 2 to 5 million)
Regions with significant populations
South Africa, Namibia
Afrikaans, English, Korana
The Griqua Church (Protestantism)
Related ethnic groups
Coloureds, Khoikhoi, Basters, Oorlam, Afrikaners

The Griqua (/ˈɡrkwə/; Afrikaans Griekwa, sometimes incorrectly called Korana or Koranna) are a subgroup of South Africa's heterogeneous and multiracial Coloured people, who have a unique origin in the early history of the Cape Colony.

Similar to another Afrikaans-speaking group at the time, the Trekboers, they originally populated the frontiers of the infant Cape Colony. Their semi-nomadic society mobilised into commandos of mounted gunmen. Also like the Boers, they migrated inland from Cape Town, and established several states in what is now modern South Africa and Namibia.

Under apartheid they were classified as "Coloured" and have since mostly integrated with other mixed-race populations in South Africa.


The Griqua are a racially and culturally mixed people who descended from the intermarriages and sexual relations (sometimes rape) between European colonists in the Cape and the Khoikhoi living there in the 17th and 18th centuries. The mothers were generally Khoikhoi and, as time went on, mixed-race. The fathers were European colonists. Over time the mixed-race people married among themselves.

The mixed-race groups that developed in the early Cape Colony had different names for themselves. "Bastaards", "Basters", "Korana", "Oorlam" and "Griqua" were a few of them, with each group often having a preference. Like the Afrikaners, these groups frequently migrated inland to escape colonial rule.

According to Isaac Tirion, the Khoi name "Griqua" (or "Grigriqua") is first recorded in 1730 as referring to a people living in the northeastern section of the Cape Colony.[1] In 1813 Rev. John Campbell of the London Missionary Society (LMS) used the term for a mixed-race group of Chariguriqua (a Cape Khoikhoi group), 'bastaards', Koranna, and Tswana living at the site of present-day Griekwastad (formerly "Klaarwater").[2] The British found their "proud name", Bastaards, offensive, so the LMS called them Griqua.

Because of a common ancestor named Griqua and shared links to the Chariguriqua (Grigriqua), the people officially changed their name to the Griqua.[3]


Origin and early history[edit]

Mixed-race "Afrikander" trek-boer nomads in the Cape Colony, ancestral people to the great Griqua migration.
An early drawing of a street scene in Griquatown, Griqualand West

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) did not intend the Cape Colony at the Southern tip of Africa to become a political entity. As it expanded and became more successful, its leaders did not worry about frontiers. The frontier of the colony was indeterminate and ebbed and flowed at the whim of individuals. While the VOC undoubtedly benefited from the trading and pastoral endeavours of the trekboers, it did little to control or support them in their quest for land. The high proportion of single Dutch men led to their taking indigenous women as wives and companions, and mixed-race children were born. They grew to be a sizeable population who spoke Dutch and were instrumental in developing the colony.

These children did not attain the social or legal status accorded their fathers, mostly because colonial laws recognised only Christian forms of marriage. This group became known as Basters, or bastards. The colonists, in their paramilitary response to insurgent resistance from Khoi and San people, readily conscripted the Basters into commandos. This ensured the men became skilled in lightly armed, mounted, skirmish tactics. Many recruited to war chose to abandon their paternal society and strike out and live more the way their maternal lines did. The resulting steady stream of disgruntled, Dutch-speaking, trained marksmen leaving the Cape hobbled the Dutch capability to crew their commandos. It also created belligerent, skilled groups of opportunists who harassed the indigenous populations the length of the Orange River. Once free of the colonies, these groups called themselves the Oorlam. In particular, the group led by Klaas Afrikaner became notorious. He attracted enough attention from the Dutch authorities to cause him to be rendered to the colony and banished to Robben Island in 1761.[4]

The Griqua Migration[edit]

David Arnot, 19th-century Griqua lawyer and diplomat.

One of the most influential of these Oolam groups was the Griqua. In the 19th century, the Griqua controlled several political entities which were governed by Kapteins (Dutch for "Captain", i.e. leader) and their Councils, with their own written constitutions.[5] The first Griqua Kaptein was Adam Kok I, a slave who had bought his own freedom. He led his people north from the interior of the Cape Colony. Probably because of discrimination against them, they again moved north; this time outside the Cape, near the Orange River, just west of the Orange Free State, and on the southern skirts of the Transvaal.[6] The Griqua had largely adopted the Afrikaans language before their migrations. This area is where most of the tribe settled; some remained nomadic.

Kok's successor, Andries Waterboer, founded Griqualand West, and controlled it until the influx of Europeans after the discovery of diamonds. In 1834, the Cape Colony recognised Waterboer's rights to his land and people. It signed a treaty with him to ensure payment for the use of the land for mining. Soon after 1843, the competition between the Cape Colony, Orange Free State, and the Transvaal became too much for the Griqua. Led by Adam Kok III, they migrated east to establish Griqualand East. Griqualand East only existed for months before it was annexed by the Cape Colony in 1874.[7]

Both Griqualands, East and West, were dissolved in European colonies. The Griqua were classified as Coloured under apartheid.


"Griqua" listed as a separate ethnicity from "Cape Coloured" on an apartheid-era identity document.

Today, Basters are a separate ethnic group of similarly mixed origins living in south-central Namibia; Northern Cape at Campbell and Griquatown; (the historic territory of Griqualand West); the Western Cape (around the small le Fleur Griqua settlement at Kranshoek); and at Kokstad.

The total Griqua population is unknown. The people were submerged by a number of factors. The most important factor was the racist policies of the Apartheid era, during which many of the Griqua people took on the mantle of "Coloured" fearing that their Griqua roots might place them at a lower level with Africans.

Genetic evidence indicates that the majority of the present Griqua population is descended from European, Khoikhoi and Tswana ancestors, with a small percentage of Bushman ancestry.[8]

Griqua people are represented in the National Khoisan Consultative Conference (Nasionale Khoe-San Oorlegplegende Konferensie) established in Oudtshoorn in 2001. That represents the Capoid "first nation peoples" of South Africa. It participates in research and development projects in co-operation with the government of the Western Cape Province and with the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. Especially prominent are members of the influential le Fleur clan.

The Griqua established their own church, the Griqua Church, which is Protestant. It has a strong focus on maintaining the Griqua cultural and ethnic identity.

One of several disputed theories as to the origin of Bloemfontein's name connects it to the Griqua leader Jan Bloem (1775–1858). This may be a coincidence, as Bloemfontein is Dutch for "spring of bloom," "flower spring," or "fountain of flowers", and the place could have been named for vegetation.


Boer Republics and Griqua States in Southern Africa, 19th century

Several areas of South Africa became known as Griqualand when the group migrated and settled away from other areas of population.

  • Griqualand East is the area around Kokstad on the frontier between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This area was settled by Adam Kok III and over 2,000 Griquas who followed him over the Drakensberg in 1861. Griqua descendants are now largely centred in Kokstad, where the Griqua Church is a center of the community.
  • Griqualand West is the area around Kimberley, which became significant when diamonds were discovered there. It has also been known for its rugby union and cricket teams.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Landkaart Kaap de Goede Hoop
  2. ^ Griekwastad
  3. ^ Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson, The Oxford History of South Africa: Volume I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); 70.
  4. ^ Nigel Penn. 2005. The Forgotten Frontier. ISBN 0-8214-1682-0.
  5. ^ Jeroen G. Zandberg. 2005. Rehoboth Griqua Atlas. ISBN 90-808768-2-8.
  6. ^ Christopher Saunders, Historical Dictionary of South Africa (London: The Scarecrow Press, 1983); 74.
  7. ^ Martin Meredith, Diamonds, Gold, and War (New York: Public Affairs, 2007); 22.
  8. ^ Alan G. Morris. 1997. "The Griqua and the Khoikhoi: Biology, Ethnicity and the Construction of Identity", in: Kronos Journal of Cape History, No. 24, page 106 – 118

External links[edit]