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Oorlam people

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Title: Oorlam people  
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Subject: History of Namibia, Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt, Leonardville, Namibia, Gibeon, Namibia, South-West Africa
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Oorlam people

Orlaam, Oorlammers, Oerlams, Orlamse Hottentots
Regions with significant populations
}|23x15px|border |alt=|link=]] }}]] Namibia, }|23x15px|border |alt=|link=]] }}]] Angola
Afrikaans, Oorlams Creole, English
Related ethnic groups
Afrikaners, Nama, Coloureds, Griqua

The Oorlam or Orlam people (also known as Orlaam, Oorlammers, Oerlams, or Orlamse Hottentots) are a subtribe of the Nama people, largely assimilated after their migration from the Cape Colony (today, part of South Africa) to Namaqualand and Damaraland (now in Namibia).

Oorlam clans were originally formed from mixed-race descendants of indigenous Khoikhoi, Europeans and slaves from Madagascar, India, and Indonesia. Similar to the other Afrikaans-speaking group at the time, the Trekboers, Oorlam originally populated the frontiers of the infant Cape Colony, later living as semi-nomadic commandos of mounted gunmen. Also like the Boers, they migrated inland from the Cape, and established several states in what are now South Africa and Namibia. The Oorlam migration in South Africa also produced the related Griqua people. [1]


The origin of the name is disputed; at least a half-dozen versions can be found in the literature. It is said to be from the Malay expression orang lama (lit., "a man of long time"), meaning an old, experienced servant; from the Dutch word overlands or o'erlands, referring to those coming overland; from a disparaging Nama epithet meaning 'barren ewe'; from an Afrikaans word oorlam of unknown origin meaning 'sly' or 'cunning'; from a type of liquor sold in Cape Town; or from gorang, a Malay word for 'slave.' Finally, it has been suggested that the Orlams were named after one of the first European colonists who settled among them in their old homeland in the Cape Colony.[2]


Mixed-race "Afrikander" Trekboer nomads in the Cape Colony, ancestral people to the Oorlam and Griqua migrations.

Beginning in the late 18th century, Oorlam communities migrated from the Cape Colony north to Namaqualand. They settled places earlier occupied by the Nama. They came partly to escape Dutch colonial conscription, partly to raid and trade, and partly to obtain herding lands.[3] Some of these emigrant Oorlams (including the band led by the outlaw Jager Afrikaner and his son Jonker Afrikaner in the Transgariep) retained links to Oorlam communities in or close to the borders of the Cape Colony. In the face of gradual Boer expansion and then large-scale Boer migrations away from British rule at the Cape, Jonker Afrikaner brought his people into Namaqualand by the mid-19th century, becoming a formidable force for Oorlam domination over the Nama and against the Bantu-speaking Hereros for a period.[4]

Emerging from populations of Khoikhoi servants raised on Boer farms, many of them having been orphaned and captured in Dutch commando raids, Oorlams primarily spoke a version of Dutch or proto-Afrikaans and were much influenced by Cape Dutch colonial ways of life, including adoption of horses and guns, European clothing, and Christianity.[5]

However, after two centuries of assimilation into the Nama culture, many Oorlams today regard Khoikhoigowab (Damara/Nama) as their mother tongue. The distinction between Namas and Oorlams has gradually disappeared, so that today they are regarded as a single ethnic group, despite their different origins.[6]


The Orlam people comprise various subtribes, clans, and families. In South Africa the Griqua are an influential Oorlam group.

The clans that migrated across the Oranje into South-West Africa are, in order of their time of arrival:

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Alvin Kienetz, "The Key Role of the Orlam Migrations in the Early Europeanization of South-West Africa (Namibia)," The International Journal of African Historical Studies 10 (1977), p. 554, fn. 5, q.v. for sources of various theories.
  3. ^ J. D. Omer-Cooper, History of Southern Africa (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987), 263; Nigel Penn, "Drosters of the Bokkeveld and the Roggeveld, 1770–1800," in Slavery in South Africa: Captive Labor on the Dutch Frontier, ed. Elizabeth A. Eldredge and Fred Morton (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994), 42; Martin Legassick, "The Northern Frontier to ca. 1840: The rise and decline of the Griqua people," in The Shaping of South African Society, 1652–1840, ed. Richard Elphick & Hermann Giliomee (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan U. Press, 1988), 373–74.
  4. ^ Omer-Cooper, 263-64.
  5. ^ Legassick, 368-69; Penn, 42.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^
  10. ^

Further reading

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