The 19th |xam Bushmen of the Upper Karoo, South Africa, told stories about a protean being called !khwa: (“water”), one of whose many shapes was that of a bovine they called “the water bull”, which ritual specialists captured in order to cause rain over the land. This water-creature has been variously interpreted by scholars as a metaphor, a symbol of the dangers of water or a death-wielding divinity. This article seeks to demonstrate that for the |xam and their contemporary descendants the water-creature was, and still is, water itself, considered to be a living being when present in large concentrations, such as dams, rivers or permanent waterholes, or certain accumulations of clouds. Because of this the water-creature is a tangible entity connected with a vital substance, but whose dealings with human beings are always fraught with danger.
Keywords: |xam Bushmen, Bleek-Lloyd Collection, Karoo, water-creature, water-bull, rock art