06.02.2016 - 01:09
A  A

Population relationships amongst Khoisan of Botswana

The term “Khoisan” is used as a generic label for all non-Bantu populations from Southern Africa that speak languages with click consonants. However, the genealogical unity of Khoisan languages is contested by many specialists (cf. Güldemann and Vossen 2000). It has been suggested that the shared features may be the result of language contact rather than shared inheritance, leading Güldemann (1998) to propose a linguistic area called “Kalahari Basin”. This possibility is also compatible with findings in cultural anthropology (Barnard 1992) and genetics (Vigilant et al. 1991, Chen et al. 2000): the amount of differences between groups suggests that population contact might be at the origin of the shared linguistic (as well as sociocultural) features.

Botswana is linguistically and socioculturally very diverse, with several groups speaking different Bantu languages living in the vicinity of a considerable number of Khoisan speakers belonging to distinct language families. In this project we will describe the current genetic variation in these populations to elucidate the degree of relationship of these groups amongst each other, as well as to investigate the factors involved in prehistoric population contact. This study is integrated with the work of several linguists and cultural anthropologists as part of a collaborative research project in the framework of the Eurocores programme ‘EuroBABEL’. Our aim is to contribute to a multidisciplinary description of Khoisan populations in the territory of Botswana, elucidating past and present demographic dynamics and evaluating the influence coming from neighboring populations.

A sampling trip was conducted by Chiara Barbieri and Brigitte Pakendorf in November-December 2009. Saliva samples were collected throughout Botswana from populations who live in different environments, practice distinct ways of subsistence, and speak a variety of languages.


Güldemann T and  Vossen R. 2000. Khoisan. In Heine, Bernd and Derek Nurse (eds.), African languages: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 99-122.

Güldemann T. 1998. The Kalahari Basin as an object of areal typology - a first approach. In Schladt, Mathias (ed.), Language, identity, and conceptualization among the Khoisan. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 137-96.

Barnard A. 1992. Hunters and herders of southern Africa: a comparative ethnography of the Khoisan peoples. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vigilant L, Stoneking M, Harpending H, Hawkes K, Wilson AC. 1991. African populations and the evolution of human mitochondrial DNA. Science 253: 1503-7.

Chen YS, Olckers A, Schurr TG, Kogelnik AM, Huoponen K, Wallace DC. 2000. mtDNA variation in the South African Kung and Khwe and their genetic relationships to other African populations. American Journal of Human Genetics 66,4: 1362-83.


Chiara Barbieri
chiara_barbieri@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de