Academic journal article Africa

Francois-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar, L'Invention Du Hottentot : Histoire Du Regard Occidental Sur Les Khoisan (XVe-XIXe Siecle)

Academic journal article Africa

Francois-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar, L'Invention Du Hottentot : Histoire Du Regard Occidental Sur Les Khoisan (XVe-XIXe Siecle)

Article excerpt

FRANCOIS-XAVIER FAUVELLE-AYMAR, L'Invention du Hottentot : histoire du regard occidental sur les Khoisan (XVe-XIXe siecle). Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2002, 415 pp., 30.00 [pounds sterling], ISBN 2 85944 445 9 paperback.

The 'Hottentot' has for over five centuries represented in many a European mind the ultimate 'savage Other', with all the ambiguities that the term 'savage' may connote. Fauvelle-Aymar argues that European thinkers have toyed with this image through these centuries, giving us the noble savage of the eighteenth century and the ignoble savage of other periods; at times original man, at times liminal man--but always, it seems, an image far removed from the reality of the Khoekhoe peoples of southern Africa. The term 'Hottentot', in Fauvelle-Aymar's usage, designates this multi-faceted European image, while his 'Khoikhoi' (or, in modern Nama usage, Khoekhoe) are the people themselves. Of course, all writing creates images--a paradox not lost on him--but the distinction is a meaningful one, particularly in view of the very strong preference for the latter term by the Khoekhoe populations and their descendants in South Africa today.

The story of the Hottentot begins before the Dutch settlement of the Cape in 1652--the first detailed description of Khoekhoe being that of Vasco da Gama's diarist in 1497. The term 'Hottentot' originated in the Dutch period, and itsorigin has been the subject of some debate. But Fauvelle-Aymar's concern is with the changing and complex image rather than the word. His text moves between observations of European visitors and residents in the Cape, and the use of their diaries, letters, travel narratives and ethnographic accounts, in the writings of armchair intellectuals such as Swift, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Linnaeus and Buffon (to take just well-known eighteenth-century examples) back in Europe. The Hottentot was at once the epitome of natural humanity and the inverse of civilisation, and thus was easily manipulated to suit changing fashions in European models of race, language, culture and society. …

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