Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The word Kaffir (or Keffir) is a derogatory term used in South Africa for native Africans. It is also used historically to refer to the inhabitants of South Africa during the period of colonisation, but this usage is slowly fading away. This usage is not considered vulgar. It is a counterpart of the North American word nigger. The source of the word is disputed. It has been suggested that the word comes from the Hebrew word for village, "kafar" or "kefar" via Dutch language that adopted some Hebrew vocabulary. It may also derive from the merging of a Dutch word meaning 'beetle' with the Arabic word kafir, which means an unbeliever in Islam. Arabs had been trading and involved in slavery in southern Africa, applying the term kafir to pagan non-Muslims in the south of the continent. The derogatory Afrikaans usage would have taken over this meaning with the extra offensive connotation that Africans were black pests.
Because both the Muslim and White African usages are pejorative, the term Kaffir is often considered to be a culturist, and racist term. However in the nineteenth century some anthropologists used it neutrally as a generic term for pagan sub-Saharan African cultures. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford originally labelled African arifacts as 'kaffir' in origin.
In South Africa, while the term is still seen as too wounding and offensive for appropriation by black South Africans - in the way that "nigger" has come to be used as a casual term of endearment in black hip-hop culture - "Kaffir" was used in 1995 as the title of a hit song by the Johannesburg Kwaito artist, Arthur Mafokate .
The lyrics included a plea to white South Africans to drop the term from their vocabulary for good: "I don't come from the devil, don't call me a kaffir, you won't like it if I call you baboon".
The word is also used to stinging effect in the title of "Kaffir Boy", the autobiography of Mark Mathabane, who grew up in the black township of Alexandra, travelled to America on a tennis scholarship, and became a successful author in his adoptive homeland.
A dialect known as 'Kitchen Kaffir' also exists, the name being a derogotory implication that only black servants use it. Curiously, however, it is insulting to some white South Africans to be spoken to in Kitchen Kaffir by another white person.
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