Gariep was the Nama / Korana name for that part of the Orange River downstream from the confluence of the Vaal River, the upper part being known as Nu-Gariep or Black River, while the Vaal itself was called Tky-Gariep or Ky-Gariep. About these Hottentot names William Burchell (Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa) states: “
As the propriety of these names has been established by the observation of the natives of many generations, they are, I have no doubt, perfectly just and equally applicable.”
The spelling of the name varies: Charie in Hendrik Hop’s Journal; Gariep by a.o. Backhouse (A Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa), Burchell and Thompson (Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa); ’Gariep by Stow (The Native Races of South Africa); Gareeb or Garieb by Campbell (Travels in South Africa); Garie by Gordon and t’Gariep by Lichtenstein (Travels in South Africa) - all attempts to represent the Nama word !gari-b.
Pettman (Notes on South African Place Names) asserts the meaning of the word as follows: “
The name is descriptive and means ‘the river of the wilderness’ (!Garib from ” This however does not tally with the conclusions of others. Burchell avers that the name means “river”, as does Thompson. This is confirmed by Korana experts, e.g. Wuras (An Account of the Korana): !garib, “river”, Engelbrecht (The Korana):
The name Gariep, therefore, was used to depict a large watercourse, a great river, as opposed to !a-b, which suggests smaller streams.
As the Orange River - also known as Grootrivier - is South Africa’s largest, it never failed to awe those who saw it for the first time. In his Dag Register, General Janssens wrote “
...not being used to large rivers in Africa, it gave us great pleasure to see a stream which has all the requirements of good, strongly flowing water, the banks being mostly steep...”
The first name the colonists gave the river was Vigiti Magna, long before a white person even saw it. When in 1662 van Riebeeck sent an expedition led by the Sergeant of the Fort to negotiate with the Namaqua people, they returned before reaching the river. In his report to the Lords XVII van Riebeeck wrote a.o.: “
We find... that they had reached within 18 or 20 mylen of the fixed place called in Linschoten’s map Vigiti Magna lying to the north of a great river which we have now called the river of the Vigiti Magna...” (On the Contarini map of 1506 a “Vigict Magna” is indicated, the legendary city with gold-paved streets in Monomotapa - on later maps it became Vigiti Magna. “Vigict” is possibly a corruption of the river Wanshit in Abyssinia. - Randles: South East Africa..., p.7)
A further attempt to get to know more of this river was made when J. de la Guerre with Pieter van Meerhof, who kept the journal, and others were sent out on 27th September 1663. Apart from bartering, the aim of the journey was to with the help of the discovered Namaquas reach the renowned river Figiti Magna.
De la Guerre never reached the river, however.
Simon van der Stel was the first to win authentic information about the Orange. This was when the Namaqua visited the Fort in 1684 and van der Stel questioned them about the river Camissa and the city Vigiti Magna which were indicated on maps. It became evident from their replies that there was no such city and the river as described by the Namaqua could not be the Camissa. The Namaqua had their own name for the river (the Lower Orange): the natives called it Ein, also Charie, while on several maps of the region a river named Rio de St Antonio is shown...
The Ein, also spelled Eyn or Tyen, appears on a map by van der Stel of his journey to Namaqua Land - the first map on which it is shown.
Of the Hottentot word Ein, Maingard (Studies in Korana History) wrote as follows: “
I would suggest that it (Ein) is the same as eib, a phonetic variant of aib, liver, which, to the untrained European ear would sound like eim or ein, as it actually did to Wreede. In his word list he gives, Qu’ein, liver.”
To Andrews ein is the equivalent of the Bushman /K’ei(S2) (where K’ denotes glottal closure) river. He adds: “
It should be carefully noted that EIN is written Tyen in the Dagregister of Simon van der Stel’s journey. Tyen undoubtedly stands for t’eyn, the “t” indicating a click.”
Andrew’s explanation that Ein can be translated as river, reminds one of the other Hottentot word for river, Gariep.
Others argue that Ein refers to the Nama themselves, thus the name would simply mean “our river”.
Jacobus Coetsé, an elephant hunter, was in 1760 the first white person to cross the river, near the present-day Goodhouse. He was impressed and described it in glowing terms, mentioning coming upon huge numbers of hippopotamuses. Referring to the river as “de Groote Rivier” - the Great River - he was thus responsible for its popular name Grootrivier.
The man who gave the river the name of Orange was Captain Robert Jacob Gordon. He did this in 1777 while on a journey with William Paterson and in the vicinity of present-day Bethulie unexpectedly came upon the river. Gordon was not sure if this was the river which ran into the Atlantic Ocean and before he could determine it for certain, a year later (September-October 1778) he again found himself near the river in the company of Governor van Plettenberg. When the Governor erected a beacon approximately 48 kilometre from the river, which would be a natural beacon, Gordon, according to Forbes (Pioneer Travellers of South Africa), deliberately did not mention the river fearing that van Plettenberg would name it after himself.
On 17th August 1779 Gordon got the opportunity to confirm that the river he had named Orange two years before, was indeed the one running though the land of the Namaqua. About the ceremony at the mouth of the river, Paterson wrote: “
In the evening we launched Colonel Gordon’s boat, and hoisted the Dutch colours. Colonel Gordon proposed first to drink to the States’ health and then to that of the Prince of Orange, and the Company; after which he gave the river the name of the Orange River in honour of that Prince (William of Orange).”
A mostly dry tributary meanders into the Orange from the south, the Hartebeest River. From its confluence to Upington, which was called Olijvenhouts Drift, stretches an almost seventy-mile long valley all along the Orange, at some places less than a mile wide, at others more than five. Before the building upstream of the Gariep Dam, which now mostly controls the water flow, the river used to flood during the summer rainy season and scores of streams transformed the valley into an archipelago. Then the islands could only be reached by boat. With the colonisation of the river and its islands, bridges have been built and most of the trenches filled up to gain agricultural land. Today the banks of the lower Orange, or Gariep, yield, among other fruits like the famous Kakamas peach, rich crops of grapes which are exported, dried or used in the making of very distinguished wines.