Jeffrey Oarasib on affirming Khoi identity through art

Jeffrey Oarasib is a Khoi language, culture and heritage activist. He is a poet and rapper, and uses these mediums to elevate Khoi culture. Oarasib also writes about current affairs in the Khoi community. We spoke to him recently about his work and future plans. 

What is your background? 

I was born in Klapmuts; a little town between Kraaifontein and Paarl here in the Western Cape. It is part of the Cape Winelands. My maternal roots lie in Sir Lowry’s Pass and  the so-called Hottentot valley as it is known.  My paternal grandfather was a Nama.  

What prompted you to learn more about your indigenous heritage? 

Ten years ago my maternal uncle was very ill. On his deathbed he told me, “Jy moet jouself ken, jy moet weer waar jy van kom” (you must know who you are and where you come from). This was a massive trigger for me. I knew it meant so much more. I remembered my grandfather telling me so many years ago about our Nama roots. Apartheid prevented them from being vocal about their heritage, and  I knew it pained them. So I have taken this upon myself to learn and teach about the Nama and Khoi identities that were oppressed.To also express myself in song and poetry. Self-study is also important in learning about your identity and heritage that is so overlooked in South Africa. You need to do your own digging too.

Tell me about your creative work. 

I rap about positive things and historical things. To me it is important to have balance. Everything can’t be gloomy all the time. I rap about things that hopefully make people think beyond themselves. I can speak conversational KhoiKhoi,and am learning every day till I can be fluent.  Learning a language is also very much about self-study, and wanting to learn it 100%. This also informed my heritage activism. We need to affirm KhoiKhoi. Digital tools have helped me so much. The pandemic forced us into innovating with the internet.

We have Whatsapp groups filled with people from all over who can connect and network. It is actually very Kaise Buruxa (amazing in KhoiKhoi). The work is being shared and just growing so rapidly too. I am currently busy recording an EP called ?NORASASIB (freedom).The approach is unique in that I am rapping in Afrikaaps and KhoiKhoi. It is very relatable to people to rap with these two languages here in the Boland. People understand it and identify with it. Intertwining to the two languages makes it appealing as well aesthetically. Long-term I see myself recording more. But ultimately it is about uplifting the community, and sparking something in people to know more about their heritage. We need to be !NORA (free) to understand our culture and unshackle ourselves. 

What are your thoughts on the various Khoi chiefs and kings making declarations of chiefdom?

It is an important aspect to interrogate. In my own journey I have seen how people can misinterpret the KhoiKhoi and indigenous people at large. We are not just kaalgat wearing velletjies (naked wearing loincloths). But in every community there is a fight for power. The irony is KhoiKhoi means “men of men” or “people people”. It means a collective and working together. So it is interesting to see a fight for chiefdoms when the KhoiKhoi have always been about sharing responsibilities and caring for those around you. 

An intro for planned EP

Any final thoughts?

Ken jouself (know yourself). Be conscious of who you are and where you come from. Keep searching, and dont always rely on external sources. Talk to your family and community. Be curious about how history gets passed down through the spoken word. Oarasib means raw as in rude But the last three letters “sib” is like an announcement of someone. It is like an introduction. So my name is an honest introduction.