Speer’s Khoikhoi Girls

(Last Updated On May 24, 2022)

Speer – Young Hottentot Girls (circa1910)

This photo appears in at least two early 20th century books: Das Weib bei den Naturvolkern : eine Kulturgeschichte der Primitiven Frau by Ferdinand Freiherr von Reitzenstein (c1928), and Woman : an Historical, Gynæcological and Anthropological Compendium by Hermann Heinrich Ploss, Maximilian Bartels,Paul Bartels, and Eric John Dingwall (1935). The second book, by Ploss et al, is based on Das Weib in der Natur- und Völkerkunde : Anthropologische Studien by Dr. H. Ploss (1885), but the photo of the Khoikhoi girls is not in the 1885 book. It should be noted that for all of these books, not all editions have the same photographs.

The first book is in German, and the second is in English. Captions in both German and English identify the girls as “Hottentots”. In researching the background of this photo I read that many today consider the term Hottentot to be derogatory, and prefer the term Khoikhoi. Therefore I used Khoikhoi in the title of this article, but for the sake of historical accuracy I have retained Hottentot in the caption. In America the Khoikhoi would be considered Black, but they are racially distinct from other Black people in Africa.

Ploss et al and the Baron von Reitzenstein both attribute the photograph to Speer. Neither book contains any more information about Speer. Ploss has another photograph from Speer, of the girl on the left in the photo in this article. In that photo the girl is posed to focus attention on her genitals, and I did not think that photo would be acceptable for Pigtails. I do not know if Speer took any more photos in addition to those two. The photos may be from a book by Emil Speer, Zur Erinnerung an meine Dienstzeit beim Pferdedepot Sud S.W. Afrika Weihnachten 1911. Apparently Emil Speer was in the military in what was then German Southwest Africa and could be the Speer who took this photograph. I have not seen the book, so I do not know if it truly is the source of the photos. The homeland of the Khoikhoi includes Namibia, formerly German Southwest Africa.

The photo may be considered an anthropological contrivance, but it is definitely posed for an aesthetic purpose. From what I have seen of books from the early 20th century, nude photographs were more respectable then, and may not have needed a contrivance.

4 thoughts on “Speer’s Khoikhoi Girls

  1. Perhaps it’s the angle the photo was taken at that shows her thighs as being more shapely. Or perhaps it’s that she is wearing more jewelry than her companion. She is wearing an earing, a ring on her finger, something around her waist, something else around her leg, and many more necklaces. I wonder why she has been lavished with jewelry when her friend has not.

    • It is interessting that more jewelry makes one girl appear more feminine. Personally, I did not percieve one as more feminine than the other, but of course that is a matter of opinion.

  2. [Due to our last shutdown, some comments were lost. I paraphrase Amanda below with my own follow up.]
    “I am pleased to see images on Pigtails that feature girls of darker skin. I believe it is not the intent of this site to promote Caucasian girls as the only standard of beauty.”
    Although this is true, we have inherited a pernicious racism that can’t be responsibly ignored. In days past, it was acceptable to objectify other races in the name of anthropology as in the almost cliche images known to appear in issues of National Geographic. Insofar as some viewers of this site (and those magazines) might objectify the girls they find, I have no doubt that some people’s real hidden objection to Pigtails was that “white” girls might be treated in the same way. The tide is changing in the public discourse and so in the service of keeping us grounded, I would like to remind readers that the first images of naked “native” girls were probably motivated by sincere curiosity and were never intended to be exploitative. The commentary after the fact is what tends to distort our interpretation. -Ron

    • It’s quite amazing how much more feminine the girl on the left is compared with the other girl. At first glance I thought this was a photo of a girl with a boy.

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