ROOIBOS: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVE

The SA Rooibos Council commissioned historian Boris Gorelik to investigate historical records on the earliest usage of the rooibos plant (Aspalathus linearis) and the origins of the infusion known as rooibos tea. The following perceptions were objectively investigated:

1. The rooibos plant was used by San and Khoikhoi peoples in precolonial times.
2. The hot beverage we know as rooibos tea originated in precolonial times.
3. The traditional method of harvesting and processing rooibos for making an infusion or decoction originated in precolonial times.
4. Colonial-era settlers learnt about rooibos tea from the indigenous peoples of the Cederberg.

Records investigated by the author include archival documents; manuscripts; secondary written sources (such as early travellers’ records); anthropological and archaeological publications; theses; testimonies from archaeologists, historians, ethnobotanists, ethnologists and sustainable development facilitators; and current or former members of communities residing in the original rooibos-growing areas. Oral testimonies were conducted in Nieuwoudtville, Onder Melkkraal, Clanwilliam, Wupperthal, Esselbank, Brugkraal, Heuningvlei, Bosdorp, Jamaka and Lambert’s Bay. The oldest residents of these areas were, however, only able to recall events of the early twentieth century and not precolonial times.