The people of the Richtersveld represent a unique blend of cultures from diverse origins.  
The people of the Richtersveld represent a unique blend of cultures from diverse origins.
The Nama are descended from the San (whose memory is preserved in petroglyphs etched out of dolomite rock along the Orange River) and have been herding livestock in the region for almost 3 000 years. They were joined in the 1940s by the ‘Bosluis Basters’ who, after being forced off their farms elsewhere in the Northern Cape, arrived to carve out a piece of land for themselves. The pastoral way of life is fundamental to the Nama and efforts are being made to preserve their language and unique matjieshuis architecture. A recent initiative saw the old-timers of the Richtersveld travelling to Warmbad in Namibia to revive, together with their Namibian cousins,
the tradition of building the matjieshuis – a remarkably strong abode of reed mats, which keeps one cool in summer and warm in winter.

Humans have occupied the Richtersveld for thousands of years. The ancestors of the Bushmen or San who lived here hunted game such as springbok and gathered plant foods such as berries and bulbs. They left behind them small stone tools that can be still found today (all archaeological artefacts are protected by law and may not be removed). The hunter-gatherers probably only used the area after good rains and are likely to have moved seasonally between the plains and the mountains. The first Khoekhoen or pastoralist people moved into South Africa from northern Botswana about 2 000 years ago. They brought with them fat-tailed sheep and later cattle. They spoke a different language from the Bushmen, but also hunted and gathered – slaughtering their animals only on rare, ceremonial occasions. The Nama-speaking herders in the Richtersveld are descended from these first pastoralists.

Because of its isolation, the Richtersveld was not visited by European travellers until the middle of the 19th century. One of the earliest explorers was James Alexander, who prospected for copper and visited the Little Namaqua settlement at Arries Drift in 1836. The mat huts he saw are the same as the matjiehuise that can be seen in the area today. The Richtersveld is named after an inspector, Dr Richter, who came to inspect a mission station that was founded at Kuboes in 1840.

Prospecting for minerals started in the mid 19th century. White farmers settled in the Richtersveld during the 20th century. The South African government also resettled a large group of so-called Basters (directly translated as “bastards”) during the apartheid years in the villages of Eksteenfontein and Lekkersing from their settlements in Bushmanland. The Nama-speaking people of the Richtersveld have retained many aspects of their traditional heritage.


Early archaeological evidence tells us that the San inhabited the Richtersveld area thousands of years ago. They hunted game (mountain zebra and klipspringer) and gathered berries and herbs. Arrowheads made of stone and plant resin have been found around Eksteenfontein. Then the first Khoekhoen or pastoral people moved to these regions from Botswana some 2 000 years ago. Like the San, they were hunter-gatherers, and only slaughtered animals on rare ceremonial occasions. The Nama speaking herders in the Richtersveld, therefore, are said to be descendents from these first pastoralists and the San.

Large scatterings of tools, pottery and ostrich eggshells with ornate designs and shell beads have been found in the area. Recently pots with ears and pointy bottoms have been unearthed here in Eksteenfontein, some in excellent condition. We are told that they are 1 000 years old and it is thought that the inhabitants brewed herb beer and kept milk in these vessels, propping them up in the rich red desert sands.


The Basters were a group of people descended from the Khoi-Khoi and Cape Dutch farmers and were partly assimilated by either group, but generally kept to themselves and intermarried. These people were prohibited from worship in churches at the start of the 1900s, but the good Reverend Eksteen changed all that, set up a church in the 1940s, and the group eventually settled peaceably in the Richtersveld towns of Lekkersing and Eksteenfontein. They became known as the Bosluis Basters, not after the rusty coloured desert insects, but because the majority came from a farm called Bo-Sluis.

The history of the Bosluis Basters� difficult trek and of the hardships, adventures, and tales can be heard in Eksteenfontein, where they eventually overcame the oppression they suffered, and settled peacefully with the local Nama people.


Moving home, stock and family in search of better grazing, the Namas were traditionally a nomadic people. In tune with the harsh environment, the Richtersvelders today are transhumant pastoralists, moving their livestock between stock posts with the changing of seasons. The rotation of pastures has helped to preserve the land from overuse. This is the last place in the South Africa where pastoral people live on communal lands and one of the last remaining examples of the transhumant Nama way of living.

The preservation of the Nama
languages is one of the objectives of the Richtersveld National Park. This language has remained better
preserved in the Richtersveld than in other part of Namaqualand, as have other forms of traditional
knowledge such as the medicinal use of plants and the practice of nomadic pastoralism.
Experience the Richtersveld
from a canoe.
Join us for 4 day Orange River Rafting through the Richtersveld Desert. Visit for more information.
The Nama have been herding live stock in the region for almost 3 000 years.