The Maroons in our Heritage – The “Drosters of the Cape”

The term “Maroon” derives from the Spanish cimarrón meaning “fugitive, runaway”, and literally “living on mountaintops”; from the Spanish word cima: “top, summit”. In colonial societies based on slavery the Maroon phenomenon can be seen worldwide, where fugitives from colonial tyranny upped and left to establish fugitive communities far from the reach of the colonial authorities. These Maroon communities made up of fugitive slaves, indigenes, Free Blacks, escaped convicts and rebel Europeans often thrived and prospered.

Cecil le Fleur

In the Cape the earliest Maroon community in fact developed in pre-colonial times, but as a result of the passing shipping, doing stop-overs in Table Bay, in the two centuries before 1652. Those Marooned Khoena who were from various nomadic clans who visited Table Bay, but who left their clans for various reasons and lingered on permanently around the Camissa river mouth and seashore to conduct trade with these ships, became known as the Goringhaicona (lit. lost children of the Goringhaiqua).

But most Maroons at the Cape were fugitive slaves, Free Blacks, escaped convicts and rebel Europeans who moved far away. The first Maroons were noted as fleeing to hideaways on Table Mountain where their cooking fires could be seen as dots of light all over the mountainside at night. The two most famous getaways were Cape Hangklip community and much further way – the Gariep River communities, but there were many more. The Eastern Cape Rharhabe King Ngqaika also gave refuge to Maroons.

At the Cape there was a local term for Maroons. They were collectively called “Drosters” and the Drosters are a major part of our history and heritage. Again, this part of a hidden history and heritage which deserves greater recognition and exposure. The most famous of the Droster communities in fact were the first to establish what was effectively a proto ‘Coloured’ nation and nation-state, and formally independent territory – before the Boer Republics – the Griquas and Griquawaland. The various Droster Bergenaar Baster communities came into coalition, dropped the derogatory term Baster, renamed themselves by part using an old clan name associated with the first Adam Kok’s royal Gagariqua wife and launched the Griquas with their own constitutional framework. They went on to adopt all the trappings of state including coinage and stamps, and an independent Griqua church, before this prosperous and coherent community were sold out by the British in an appeasement process to the Boers of the Free State. A later attempt to establish an East Griqualand revived state was crushed, Europeanized and after the rebels were rounded up for sedition and leader Cecil le Fleur incarcerated at the Breakwater prison in the Waterfront – the bulk of the Diaspora community were dispersed across the Western Cape.

There are so many different, interesting and complex stories of Maroon or Droster communities that are a part of our heritage that it is not possible for a short FB posting to cover. In some cases entire communities of Khoena, such as the Goringhaiqua and the from the Cape Peninsula and West Coast upped and left as fugitives from the colony to form fugitive communities such as the Korana and the Witboois at the Gariep River. Others formed fearsome horseback riding nomadic clans such as the Orlams Afrikaners, the original Afrikaner proto national group who were people of colour. These preceded the adoption by the Boers of the term “Afrikaner” more than a century and a half earlier. Fierce rivalry developed between different Maroon communities such as the Springboks, Orlams Afrikaners, Witboois, Bergenaar Basters, Korana and others, all of whom kept livestock and hunted along the vast expanses of our own Wild West. Our historians became so bogged down and besotted with the fortunes of British conquest on the Eastern frontier that the evolution of communities of colour on the wide and inhospitable West of South Africa remained largely ignored.

Maroons from three origins in the Eastern Cape are also a big part of our history and heritage. Firstly Maroons like Coenrad de Buys give us a fascinating insight into rebel trek-Boers who made common cause with, and assimilated into, communities of Colour. Coenrad was a tall Boer who took wives who were slaves, Khoena, amaXhosa and from every people that his wandering life led him to engage with. The de Buys clan today numbers many, many thousands. Maroons like Herman Matroos assimilated into Khoena and amaXhosa communities and rose to be a major resistance leader in the frontier wars. This was one wave of Maroons from the Cape Colony. Then there Maroons from the inter-kingdom conflicts amongst the various Eastern Cape Nguni groups and also thirdly the Maroons from the British conducted wars of conquest and genocide in the Eastern Cape. Many of these also joined the Maroon communities on the Gariep, particularly the Griquas.

Additionally there was another completely different type of Maroon. Those marooned shipwreck survivours on the wild coast who over century were taken in by various local communities in the Eastern Cape. These were European and Asian shipwreck survivours who were given hospitality and continued for the rest of their days totally cut off from other Europeans. They married into various Eastern Cape kingdoms and indeed some, like the shipwrecked British girl, Bessie, grew up and married into the Tshomane royal family. Clans like the amaMolo and abeLungu and others are rooted in these relationships. This aspect of our history and heritage is subject of a great book by Hazel Crampton – The Sunburnt Queen. More about the Gariep frontiers communities can be read in Nigel Penn’s outstanding book on the subject – The Forgotten Frontier.

Amongst the seven tributaries to our heritage and identity, that of the “Maroons” also known as “Drosters” is perhaps the least explored. It is the arena in which the indigene Khoena people embraced and gave refuge to others and provided the binding cement and cohesion for survival and indeed prosperity. This was a cornerstone in the emergence of a distinguishable set of communities who were labelled ‘Coloured’ by the successive British administrations.

*PICTURE: East Griqua Kaptein Cecil le Fleur and his resisters after their arrest for sedition in 1897.

Using the ‘Seven Steps of District Six’ symbolically to explain the Seven tributaries to Cape Identity

To anyone who has had an association with old District Six, the very mention of the ‘Seven Steps’ immortalized in Taliep Petersen’s musical ‘District Six’, stirs up deep emotions. The Seven Steps of stone, worn by the thousands who used these over the years, to work, to home, to school, to play, to ‘bok’, to church, to mosque, to shop, to celebrate and to mourn, were part of the great big soul of the district. Today, so many years after its destruction, the Seven Steps stands out as the premier symbol of District Six. The District Six museum, for instance, has the ‘Seven Steps’ as an integral part of its brand and logo. And who can forget how the ‘Seven Steps’ feature in Taliep Petersen and David Kramer’s ‘District Six – The Musical’.

 

Image

District Six became Cape Town’s own Harlem on the edge of the city and had its roots as one of the first settlements of freed urban slaves after emancipation. Further back, its community are the manifestation of the Camissa footprint – The Khoena Goringhaicona community who opened their arms to embrace the uprooted slaves when these fled their captors.

The seven stone steps standing in the heart of District Six became one of those enduring symbols of District Six that still lives in the hearts of all who lived, loved, played and worked in the ‘District’. The Seven Steps became a powerful representation of popular memory and the continuation of the Camissa footprint.

The physical District Six is lost somewhere on the patch of earth and grass that has remained like a gash on the body of our city. The District Six Museum is custodian of some of the old blocks of stone – the steps, and some of the pictures, paintings, street signs, writings and artefacts that exist, but the greatest legacy symbolised by the Seven Steps is etched in our hearts and is in fact part of who we are. The spirit and identity of District Six lives on in its people.

Those seven stone steps in the heart of old District Six holds a special meaning and it is a powerful symbol of the heritage of Cape Town. The Seven Steps speaks of the ‘Seven Roots that inform identity’ in the Cape.

Historical and DNA studies show that a fair number of people of the Cape from all population groups share two or three of seven tributaries to Cape identities, while most have four or more of these roots. Some may even have all of these roots. There is at least one of these roots in everyone in Cape Town and even the most recent to join us in this city and province has a place within the framework of the symbolic seven roots that draws on the imagery of the ’Seven Steps’ of stone.

Everyone had a place in old District Six and the Seven Steps stands out as a powerful symbol of diversity and inclusivity in the Cape. The Seven Steps symbolically illustrate the seven tributaries of our collective or community heritage. In applying the symbolism of the Seven Steps to our heritage, each STEP represents a root tributary to Cape identity as follows:

The first step represents the tributary of the INDIGENES. The people of the Cape have strong African roots. The San, Khoena and amaXhosa of the Cape and the baSotho and baTswana in western and northern reaches of the old demarcated Cape Colony are the first tributary of Cape identity.

The people of the Cape, including those labelled ‘Coloured’, who are sometimes referred to erroneously by some – as being non-African, have deep indigenous African roots with a number of traditional indigene African communities, sharing ancestors and many elements of cultural heritage. A very strong tributary in ‘Coloured’ ancestry are the Khoena and San who are the root peoples of Southern, South Western and Eastern Africa. Despite the devastating smallpox epidemics of the 1700s and the genocide massacres of San, both of which drastically reduced these populations, small communities remain to this day and are proud of their lineage. Like many in communities labelled ‘Coloured’, the baSotho, baTswana and amaZulu also share a part Khoena and San heritage, as do the amaXhosa. The Griqua, Nama, Korana, Cape Khoena and the San however represent the surviving direct indigene heritage.

History shows us that communities such as those referred to as amaXhosa today, share San, Khoena, Asian and even European ancestors with ‘Coloured’ communities. There is a strong cousin-connection across ethno-social boundaries in the Cape. The southern Xhosa groups are in fact mixed Khoena-Nguni people and even way up in the north of the Eastern Cape it is well proven that particularly in royal lineages of the amaXhosa groups, San, Khoena and amaXhosa intermarriage was common-place. A number of amaXhosa groups and clans also intermarried with castaway Europeans and Asians, shipwrecked from the early 1500s through to the early 1800s. Later during the time of Scots, German and English settlement in the Eastern Cape further intermarriages and relationships occurred too. In the 1700s and 1800s escaped slaves, non-conformist Boers and other whites took refuge amongst the Xhosa and assimilated into amaXhosa society. The most famous of these was the Boer Coenrad de Buys who had as his wife amongst his many others, Chief Gaika’s mother. One amaXhosa clan that emerged from a mid-1800s relationship between a Xhosa woman and Scotsman were the Skotjes. The abeLungu and amaMolo amongst other clans have similar roots involving European and Asian shipwreck survivours.

It is also important to note that the San were not simply a people associated with the Western Cape as is often erroneously projected. Evidence of San habitat shows that the San existed in communities all the way up to Tanzania, right through Zimbabwe and Zambia, and right through Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Lesotho and Swaziland. While just a few San communities exist under difficult conditions in some of these countries today, San ancestry exists also within many other population groups of all of these territories and this heritage ought to be celebrated.

Khoena history and heritage is fairly well-recorded, yet few South Africans are familiar with this history and its inspiring historical characters. In the Cape we are challenged to draw away the curtain that has been imposed on our Khoena heritage and embrace its richness. There are many descendants of the Khoena who today are locked into ‘Coloured’, ‘Black’ and ‘White’ race silos which do not celebrate this heritage.

However today there are also many people who are once more expressing their pride in their Khoena, San and other indigene African heritage. Our national coat of arms declares for the world to know, in old Khoena-San script that we pride ourselves in being united in our diversity.

The second step represents the tributary of the SLAVES. We are the descendants of Slaves from other parts of Africa and Madagascar, from India and from the Indonesian Islands, and China. Over the period 1653 – 1808, according to calculations done by Dr Shell, over 63 000 slaves were brought to the Cape from these areas and from 1808 – 1856 around another 12 000 African slaves arrived as Royal Navy ‘prize slaves’ also known as ‘Liberated Africans’..

Over most of the 1700s the slave population recorded in successive census in the colony showed that slaves and Free Blacks, imported and locally born, made up a majority in the Western Cape population. After the smallpox epidemics the Khoena population numbers in the Western Cape dropped drastically.

The breakdown of origins of slaves shows that over the entire slavery period, first generation slaves numbering plus-minus over 45 000 came from Africa, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Mauritius and the Mascarenes; then around 17 000 slaves came from India, and around 13 000 from the Indonesian islands and elsewhere. The locally born children and successive grandchildren of these slaves were all to lead lives of slavery until emancipation in 1834. (* Note that in this rough aggregation with the first numeric the prize captives brought in between 1808 – 1856 are added to the 1808 total of African, Malagasy and island slaves.)

Emancipation announced in 1834 practically took place only in 1838 as a result of a compulsory apprenticeship imposed on slaves for four years. But for many ‘Prize Slaves’ emancipation only came in dribs and drabs right through to 1870 as a result of a compulsory 14 year indentureship that had to be completed before full freedom was attained. The very last slaves, the Oromo from Abysinnia, arrived in the Cape via Yemen, as late as 1890. They were settled at Lovedale mission as they were mainly children. On graduating most of the survivors integrated amongst amaXhosa and Coloured communities while some took advantage of offers to be repatriated to their homeland. These facts should cause people to think carefully before labelling others as ‘Makwerekwere’ as it is highly likely that the people who think they are a ‘pure’ local creation may be of migrant roots themselves.

Slavery accounts for a very large part of Cape ancestral roots. It is primarily a major part of the heritage of those who were labelled ‘Coloured’, but slavery also is a significant part of the family heritage of indigene Africans, Indian South Africans and even of some of European descent.. The historical experience of slavery and struggles within this arena is a major part of what defines the heritage of people who were labelled ‘Coloured’. The historical experience is also a feature of many others. There are many ties that bind us as South Africans within the parameters of this approach to our heritage.

It should be noted that many San children captured after the genocide raids by Cape settler and Khoena commandos were also made de facto slaves on farms. After Adam Tas and Henning Huising’s infamous petition for segregation and control measures to be imposed on the Khoena, thousands of Khoena were forced into becoming apprentices on farms and led lives not too different from that of slaves. As early as 1708, pass laws were introduced to control the freedom of movement of slaves and Khoena and these were tightened up in 1753. The Khoena also integrated into relationships with slaves of which new generations of children with dual roots were born. Evidence also exists of other indigene South African groups, including the amaZulu, being enslaved and brought to the Cape. Our discourse on slavery in the Cape and in South Africa in general has to some extent been straight-jacketed by academic protocols that were deeply influenced by the colonial narrative and are yet to be shaken off. Frontier slavery is generally still disaggregated from the slavery narrative in South Africa. The numbers of slaves that we used in discourse is highly influenced by this disaggregation. Slavery narratives also tend to suggest that slavery was simply a Western Cape practice which is also not true. Slavery existed in the Eastern and Northern Cape and also outside of the Cape Colony in the emerging Boer states. South Africans also, although in modest numbers, ended up as slaves and banished individuals abroad.

The heritage of the slave era is not just that of enslavement, but that of the many cultural tributaries that entered the Cape through slavery. It is also about resistance by slaves to slavery and about the emergence of Creole communities and what I call the Camissa footprint that occurred at the Cape. It is in the words of author, Alan Mountain – An ‘Unsung Heritage’. I would say that it is also often a misunderstood heritage amongst the people of the Cape. It is often a heritage distorted by colonial romanticism and the constructed identity of ‘Malayisation’ to reflect only one small part of the cultural roots of slaves.

Step three represents the tributary of the FREE BLACKS. We are descendants of the Free Blacks of the Cape – a category of people that once were poised to be a socio-economic group to be reckoned with in early Cape development, but later for a number of reasons became powerless. Early Mardijker soldiers from Ambonya in the employ of the VOC, Free Black travellers, soldiers and sailors, the manumitted slaves, and freed black convicts all became part of those referred to as Free Blacks.

Many Khoena people outside of the apprentice system, and particularly those born of relationships with slaves and Europeans were also seen as Free Blacks. The terms ‘Free Black’, ‘Afrikaners’, ‘Hotnot Afrikaners’ and ‘Orlams Afrikaners’ were the first terms used as labels or self-labels for people who the British later labelled as ‘Coloured’. The term ‘Afrikaner’ only much later was adopted by the Dutch Boers when they constructed a coherent social and political identity. Today words like ‘Afrikaner’ and ‘Black’ have a totally different application.

Free Blacks were an important part of the story of the first establishment of the VOC station at the Cape. The van Riebeeck story over time had its own distortions, particularly that of not mentioning the black component of his first settler group. The regiment of soldiers that backed Jan van Riebeeck’s settlement were largely from the island of Ambonya or Ambon in the Indonesian archipelago. Ambonya was an important colonial station in the East Indies and had been first conquered and Catholicised by the Portuguese. Then when the Dutch overthrew the Portuguese, Catholic influence was dissuaded and the Dutch Reformed Church became the church of conversion. Small elements of Islam and larger elements of Shamanism also existed alongside Christian influences. Eastern Shamanism – that of Dukun (later referred to as Doekum) includes elements of Hinduism and of Animism. It was here amongst the Mardijkers that Jan van Riebeeck recruited his trained soldiers loyal to the VOC. A number of Mardijkers were even sent to the Netherlands for education, particularly in Protestant theology.

The Free Black or Vrye Zwarte population in the Cape grew as other free people of colour arrived on ships, including company employees, and banished convicts who were later freed, and economic migrants particularly ‘Passenger Indians’ from the Indian sub-continent. As the practice of manumission of slaves grew, particularly for Christianised slaves, many Free Blacks became pioneering burghers who established some of the famous farms that still exist today. Many intermarried with European settlers. Before the great smallpox epidemic of 1713 some of the wealthiest people at the Cape were Free Blacks. Zwarte Maria Evert, the daughter of two West African slaves was the first title deed owner of land in CampsBay and died a very wealthy woman in that fateful year.

This still poorly studied tributary of our Cape ancestral heritage, which crosses all present day ethnic boundaries, is an important part of the ties that bind us as South Africans. The story of the Free Blacks also paints a very different picture of the first fifty years of the Cape Colony which was a highly integrated society where colour and notions of race played an insignificant role. A strong mixed society characterised the first settlement. It begs the question – what occurred to change this?

Step four represents the tributary of the EUROPEANS. We are descendants of a range of Europeans. These European settlers in the early years of settlement often formally intermarried with, or had children with Indigenes, Slaves and Free Blacks. Many owed no strong allegiance to the VOC nor their countries of origin, nor the Church and were rebels and non-conformists.

The first European settlement did not occur in 1652 as is popularly portrayed, but occurred in 1614 when the British landed a group of Newgate convicts at the Cape and left them to set up a settlement. It was short-lived, but significantly there were no women in Captain Crosse’s group. This settler group soon came into conflict with the Khoena. In fact there was over 180 years of European interaction with the Khoena before the 1652 settlement of the Dutch. These interactions cannot be discounted in evaluating our roots as children would have been born through the interactions particularly during the early 1600s when the maroon Khoena group, the Goringhaicona established the foundations of a trading station at Camissa. This was the true foundation period of the City of Cape Town.

In the early founding years of the CapeSettlement, the mainly German, Dutch, Swiss, Portuguese, French and Scandinavian travelers and settlers were largely male and took partners from amongst people of colour. The early VOC ‘Dutch’ settlement was much less Dutch than what popular historical narratives portray. The VOC was the first multi-national capitalist company in both its make-up and its reach. The Germans stand out from the other Europeans as those who most often intermarried with slaves and indigenes. Many Europeans were also transient and never settled in the colony but left children behind. The earliest European settlers, unlike the stories often projected, were not refined religious gentry but rather were a coarse mercenary rag-tag bunch of people. The strong feature of formal marriages across colour lines in the official records shows that ‘rape and abuse’ of indigenes and slaves cannot be the only yardstick used in evaluating early human relations in the colony. Though van Riebeeck is recorded for a while as promoting an unofficial policy of ‘fructification’ of slaves, according to historian Upham Mansell.

There were always non-conformist Europeans in the colony, across the centuries that had children with black partners and this carried on when the English, Irish, Scots and new generations of Germans arrived in large numbers in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in the 1800s. Missionaries in particular were noted for intermarriages with freed slaves and Khoena. Intermarriages and relationships are often reduced to have occurred only between Khoena indigenes, slaves and Europeans as a result of denialism of Nguni-Sotho roots amongst people categorised as ‘Coloured’. But many children were also born of Europeans and those referred to as ‘Bantu’ peoples.

The Europeans settled and made their homes in Africa as a distinct settler community, but their bloodlines can also be found amongst indigene groups and ‘Coloured’ or communities, as much as indigene and ‘Coloured’ bloodlines can be found in the descendent European communities. This factor has not always been celebrated and was in fact suppressed as something shameful under Apartheid. But with the advent of the new democratic South Africa, post-Apartheid, many who previously denied this heritage are rejecting the race-based paradigm of the crude ‘white’ identity definition and are exploring these other roots. These people find the label ‘White’ to be objectionable as they embrace their African identity with pride. Many are now exploring the history of non-conformist Euro-Africans as their own heritage reference point.

The colonial history script and narrative is a dominating one. But even in the history and heritage of European settlers there is an alternative story of non-conformists. These stories have always had to play second fiddle to that of the dominant classes. European involvement in our history and heritage precedes the settlement of Jan van Riebeeck by 180 years, yet the 1652 date continuously screams out at us. Generations of youth never hear about the settlers who defied the successive colonial administrations and lived their whole lives in indigene controlled areas, intermarried and had children. There are many amazing stories in this muted narrative that are waiting to be brought out into mainstream discourse.

There are also later migrations of Portuguese, Madeirans, Eastern European Jews, and seamen from a host of countries who migrated to the Cape or jumped ship. Many of these were non-conformists who integrated across the colour lines. A number of the so-called ‘Dutch’ from Batavia (Jakarta) were also the product of mixed relationships in that highly integrated society too.

Step five represents the tributary of the MAROONS or DROSTERS. We are descendants of runaway slaves, Free Black rebels, so-called ‘Baster’ descendants of relationships between indigenes and slaves, non-conformist Europeans, escaped convicts, and eccentric missionaries. The local name for Maroons was Drosters, meaning drifters or runaways.

This array of people became the first freedom-trekkers who moved as far away as possible from the reaches of the colonial government, long before the Boer Great Trek. They moved to the long wild territory along the Gariep River in the north-west, and stretching to the lands of the amaXhosa in the east.

Here in South Africa’s ‘Wild West’ these Drosters or Maroons mixed with Khoena, San, Nama, Xhosa and other indigenes and formed new proto national groups such as the Korana, Orlams Afrikaners, the Witboois, the Bergenaar Basters, the Springboks, and the Griquas of the Kok dynasty, Barends dynasty and that of the Waterboer family. Others joined the amaXhosa armies and joined the resistance toward both the Boers and later the British. One Droster, the Boer, Coenrad de Buys, took wives from almost every community from the Cape to the northern reaches of South Africa and built a huge diverse African clan. His grandchildren numbered in the thousands.

Maroon communities were the first forerunner roots of the modern South African nation formation that took place, making up the ‘Unity in Diversity’ theme. The South African history that we learnt at school is preoccupied with the South and East while ignoring the Wild West which has a fascinating history of peoples creating new proto-national groups.

Within this heritage framework the Griquas, Koranas and the Witbooi Namas have fascinating histories which continued up to current times. The Orlams Afrikaners over 150 years also have an amazing history that had impacts in South Africa and Namibia. These heritages simply got dumped under the umbrella label of ‘Coloured’ under Apartheid.

Step six represents the tributary of the EXILES & REFUGEES. We are the descendants of outspoken rebel fighters and political leaders who challenged the Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish in various territories in Indonesia and Polynesia.

Indonesian Muslim resistance leaders were tried and banished into exile at the Cape; Peranakan Chinese, the Creole Chinese of Batavia were banished to the Cape after the Chinese resistance followed the massacres of 5000 Chinese by the Dutch in Batavia; and Philippine refugees from the Philippine Revolution – locally known as the Manillas, landed up at different times in the Cape and integrated into what was later labelled the ‘Coloured’ population. In later years, to this day, new exile and refugee groups would continue to trickle into the Cape, make this place their home and integrate with other communities.

Exiles and refugees made a huge impact on our society as they often were an intelligentsia class of people embracing the cutting-edge ideas of their time.

Those exiles of the Muslim resistance in Indonesia, through their missionary work amongst slaves in the Cape, were the fathers of the Islamic faith which thrives in South Africa today. Most slaves were originally not Muslim and embraced a range of belief systems including Animism, Shamanist Dukun, Hinduism, Bhuddism, Catholicism and syncretic belief systems combining these. The latter is generally known as Vodoun or Santeria in the Caribbean and is found in all slave societies around the world. The Christianising of slaves was unpopular amongst slave owners as it meant that slaves had a right to be free after 20 years, and thus until the advent of emancipation, Christian missionary work amongst slaves was largely dormant. Around 1825 a sudden rush to Christianise slaves occurred and in 1834 there was a mad rush of missionary activity resulting in many mass baptism ceremonies. Although Islam was formally suppressed until 1804, the clandestine missionary work amongst slaves, first initiated by the exiles, bore much fruit, as it offered slaves a sense of identity, dignity and cohesion. Dukun shamanism continued as a subculture and remained small and largely underground hidden amongst Muslims and Christians.

The Chinese presence in the Cape goes way back to the 1600s. The large Creole Chinese population in Batavia resulted in Chinese Free Blacks, Batavia convicts and Chinese slaves trickling into the Cape. In the mid-1700s after the massacre of Peranakan Chinese in Batavia some of these were exiled to the Cape where they left us a record of their lives. The history of Chinese South Africans is often overlooked and Chinese South Africans are presented as aliens – yet are no more alien than others. Much of these early Chinese migrants integrated into the population labelled as ‘Coloured’. There are at least a dozen old Chinese names which were transformed to Dutch or Anglicized versions over time.

Many families can trace back to refugee groups like the Manillas yet this heritage has been erased from our local history. Largely as a result of the string of mini revolts against the Spanish in the Philippines ultimately leading to a full blown revolution, a migration of Filipinos arrived in the Cape from the Filipino refugee diaspora and settled in KalkBay. A man by the name of Felix Florez was the leader of this community who arrived in 1863. Other names some of which exist to this day include Torrez, de Marcio, de la Varcia, de la Cruz, Hermeningildo, Gella, Citto, Granz, Manuel, Santiago, Fernandez, Eripe, Menor, Quimpo, Padua, Croza, Teyarda, Almano, Pasqual, Franco and Almote. Some of these names became Anglicized and Hollandized over time.

Unfortunately anything that was not European just was not allowed to feature in public memory as anything of significance. Thus many rich features of our diverse heritage were blotted out.

Step seven represents the tributary of the INDENTURES & MIGRANTS. We are descendants of a range of people who were brought to the Cape as indentured labourers or who were economic migrants. After slavery was formally ended at the Cape, there was a crisis in the economy and new sources of cheap labour had to be found quickly.

As a stop-gap measure, slaves captured off slaver ships as bounty became the first solution to the labour problem. These first ‘Prize Boys’ and ‘Prize Girls’ or ‘Liberated Africans’ were forced to accept indentureship as labourers for up to 14 years before they would actually have their freedom. For them emancipation and ‘1 December’ had little meaning. Many were just children. White farmers would continue to call them ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ way into their adulthood for the rest of their lives.

Farmers followed up by importing indentured labour from the Congo, Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique. Most of these ‘Indentures’ were settled in the Drakenstein and integrated with both the ‘Coloured’ communities and the amaXhosa who were working in the district since the early 1700s. The Indentures together with the African slaves, account for the high sub-Sahara African or Bantu DNA amongst ‘Coloured’ people today. Many of these migrants were in fact trafficked people who served out there lives as exploited labour to replace formal slavery. This kind of trafficking continues to this day and labour brokers replace slave traders. Amongst this category are women trafficked into sex-slavery.

Already many of the freed slaves in the Drakenstein were those from Southern East Africa known locally as the Mazbiekers. The Mazbieker pool grew as indentureship of further labour imported from Mozambique was continually extended over the 19th century. Slaves of Zambian, Congo, Malawian, Zimbabwean, Tanzanian and Mozambique origin were all part of those labelled Mazbiekers. These nationalities are a major part of ‘Coloured’ and ‘amaXhosa’ family trees today.

From the 1840s and increasing in the 1870s right through to 1910 and beyond, large groups of people were brought in as indentured servants from St Helena. The ‘Saints’ as they were known were also descendants of slaves, Chinese and British settlers on the island of St Helena which had previously been uninhabited. The Cape and Natal became an attractive new home when the St Helena economy was under strain. Some of the ‘Saints’ integrated into ‘white’ society, but most merged into the population labelled as ‘Coloured’, and were so classified under Apartheid. Immigrant Saints numbered between 8 000 to 10 000 over a long period.

While distorted South African history tends to project that the first Indians to arrive were the indentured labourers and passenger Indians of Natal in the 1860s, these were the 4th and 5th waves of Indian immigrants. The first Indians were those brought to the Cape as slaves from the 17th century. This was followed by the 18th century Free Black Indians who came to the Cape of their own accord, and then followed by the early 19th century Passenger Indians who came to the Cape as economic migrants before the Natal Colony was even formed. Indian Lascars were also shipwrecked on the Eastern Cape Coast and integrated into the amaXhosa.

In 1890 the Oromo North African slaves (Abyssinia)) seized from a slaver ship were taken to the Royal Navy depot at Yemen and then brought to the Cape. These were 64 children who also integrated into ‘Coloured’ and amaXhosa communities when they graduated from Lovedale mission.

Also amongst the migrants were West Africans of the Kru tribe who had been employed by the Royal Navy in Simonstown for almost a century (1830 – 1930). These Kroomen as they were locally known also integrated into the Coloured community. Their grave markers can still be seen in Simonstown today. In the late 1800s the Royal Navy began recruiting Zanzibari Siddis and other Siddis from displaced African communities scattered along the African and Indian coasts. The Siddis like the Kru also integrated into Cape society. Some settled in District Six after they arrived to supplement the labour crisis of 1884 and were housed in the municipal stables.

Jewish economic migrants and refugees from the East European pogroms also came to Cape Town in large numbers and many settled in and around District Six, making a huge impact. Some intermarried with local ‘Coloured’ partners – a fact suppressed in today’s Jewish Community and also unacknowledged in ‘Coloured’ communities.

Migrants and other infusions into the Cape society carry on to this day. Through our sea ports, relationships between South African women with first Japanese and then Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and other seaman of many nations have produced children who are part of our population. Economic migrants and refugees from other African countries still arrive daily and take their place among us as they always have. Migrants arrive continuously from China, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere to this day. Each of these groups have a story to tell that one day a South African child will want to know when exploring their roots. (I am presently compiling the story of the Thai infusion for future generations). Today the world is divided into sending and receiving countries in terms of migration. Sending countries receive remittances from their nationals abroad and whole countries are often sustained from these remittances. Their nationals are often temporary sojourners in receiving countries such as ours – but most often relationships develop and children are born. It’s natural that this happens and in this manner our genetic enrichment continues.

District Six was a key centre that became a microcosm manifestation of the coming together of all of these tributaries and the creolisation of cultures that gave us the rich and diverse locally born Cape African Creole heritage – the Camissa footprint crudely labelled ‘Coloured’ – that we celebrate today. The Seven Steps is thus a most appropriate symbol for explaining our Cape heritage as it captures symbolically these seven broad tributaries. It is a great pity that many people labelled as ‘Coloured’ are ashamed and in denial about their diverse roots. People are also particularly in denial of their indigenous African root culture – that of the Khoena and the San who were inclusive and embracing as a people (even although it was largely their vulnerability which was exploited).

The Cape Flats and other areas continue to offer a home for new arrivals in our society. This openness is an integral part of our Cape Camissa tradition. Other South Africans from across the length and breadth of the country have also migrated to make their homes in the Western and other areas of the Cape, even as people from the Western Cape have travelled all over South Africa to make their homes elsewhere. Furthermore the people of the Cape have travelled and settled in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana and further afield – taking the Camissa footprint with them. This diaspora is the nature of modern life which was dramatically kick-started by the slave trade.

The Seven Steps explained here celebrates the ‘ties that bind us’ as South Africans and it highlights the complex Creolisation that took place at the Cape to produce a community identity rooted in the indigenous Khoena and the slaves – uprooted from their original homes – that the Khoena took to their bosoms. Instead of us perpetuating the race terminology of ‘Coloured’ we are offered through an understanding of these different threads that make up our collective heritage, a different way of seeing ourselves, no matter which sub-community you affiliate with today. For those labelled ‘Coloured’ we do not have to perpetuate this race term as our identity. We are a locally born African people – a local creation born of the wonderful Camissa footprint in history.

We should be proudly the Camissa. A celebration of this collective heritage goes way beyond understanding the roots of people labelled ‘Coloured’. It shows us how linked we are as South Africans across so-called race and ethnic boundaries. I have used the ‘Seven Steps’ tool successfully in many workshops with young people in Cape Town to promote an understanding of our diversity and the ties that bind us as South Africans. The symbolism of the Seven Steps of District six offers future generations a clear reference point for explaining our community roots.

“En wie is djulle?” “Os is die mense vannie trappe. Os is die Camissa mense.”

The ‘Peranakan Chinese’ in our Heritage – the Case of a mystery Chinese lady exiled to the Cape from Batavia circa 1740

 Both history and South African social acceptance have traditionally treated persons of Chinese heritage rather harshly. Though Chinese people have been part of our history and heritage in South Africa longer than any other non-indigenous national group their contributions have been left out of our discourse. The Chinese in us has been airbrushed out and the Chinese amongst us are treated as perpetual strangers. And now new waves of Chinese immigrants join our nation and suspicion remains the order of the day. Many South African names are indeed anglicized Chinese names – Jardine, Fortune, Whiteley, Hoption, Chapson, Yenson and Kolling to name just a few. Under Apartheid, unlike in the case of the Japanese who were afforded the peculiar status of ‘honorary white’, persons of Chinese heritage were classified as ‘Coloured’ and suffered many indignities.
 
Image
The ground-breaking story of the Chinese contribution in South African history was meticulously put together by that wonderful duo, Melanie Yap and Dianne Leong Man, two decades ago and still makes fascinating reading, though we may know even more now than then. (Colour, Confusion & Concessions – the history of the Chinese in South Africa)

The story of Thisgingnio van Ceribon, the mystery Peranakan (Creole) Chinese woman exiled to the Cape from Batavia (Jakarta) is another of the hidden history stories that popped out for me from another source*. Our history in the Cape was highly influenced by unfolding events particularly in Dutch Batavia but also by events in India, Sri Lanka, Bengal, the Indonesian Archipelago in general and further afield in Japan, China, Vietnam and Thailand. South African history and our people have never really explored how much our destinies were intertwined with colonialism on the one hand and the cultures on the other hand within those territories. Much of the Chinese influences in South Africa over the 17th and 18th centuries came via the Peranakan or Creole Chinese of Batavia. It is important for us to get our heads around our joint histories with this part of the world for two reasons today. The first is that today’s pattern of migration to South Africa is more or less identical to the forced migrations during the period of slavery. Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia still provide a steady stream of migrants to South Africa. The second reason is that China, India and South Africa are three of the five countries in the BRICS block. The heritage ties that bind us are strong and deep.

Scholars conventionally tend to think within a particular paradigm when looking at ethnic origins of slaves and others identified with ‘toponyms’ at the Cape. They would base their assumption on the toponym of the slave as registered in company records. So if the name was Titus van Java, it would be assumed that the slave named Titus would ethnically be a native of Java, or that Jacob van Mosambiek would be a Mozambican. The fact is that Java, Batavia, Maputo, Galle in Sri Lanka, and other places were important slaver stations which absorbed slaves from many different places of origin. lt is actually may be less likely that slaves carrying these toponyms were natives from these named places. More than half of the population of Batavia were in fact creolised Chinese known as the Peranakan. lt is most probable that most of the early Chinese at the Cape were not brought to the Cape, directly from China, but were ethnic Chinese-Creoles from various places in the Indonesian Archipelago. In the case of our story this certainly seems to be the case, but in the Cape it was her
Chinese identity which distinguished Thisgingnio van Ceribon from others.

On 9 April 1747 the VOC ship Standvastigheid arrivecl in Table Bay with a number of captives on board. It had come from Batavia. Few of the captives had survived the treacherous journey, but amongst the survivors there was a Chinese lady who stood out amongst the captives. She was an exile and prisoner and no record remains as to what her crime had been. She was registered as Thisgingnio van Ceribon, which is on the north coast of Java.

Thisgingnio was sent to the Slave Lodge as a convict for ten years. She was not a slave. In 1757 Thisgingnio was released from the confines of the Slave Lodge to lead a free life until her death in 1763. Her release from the Slave Lodge was by a rather unusual decree of the Governor, which suggests that there was more importance to this lady than meets the eye. An air of mystery surrounds this Chinese lady who settled into the small group of Chinese exiles at the Cape.

Thisgingnio made a new life for herself with a fellow Chinese exile from Batavia, by the name of Ongkonko. It was a short period of brightness in her life, because three years later he died. Thisgingnio was dealt a heavy blow by Ongkonkos death. After this tragedy Thisgingnio seems to have died inside. She pined for Ongkonko and literally drank herself to death over the next three years. She died in 1763 when she never awoke from an alcohol binge one night and was found slumped over her drink by her lodger, the Yemini, Said Atwi.

Thisgingnio was known to have kept the company of notables at the Cape. Her lodger
had been the advisor to the royal court of the Sushunan, the ruler ot Java., before being seized and exiled by the Dutch, who considered him a trouble maker.

Thisgingnio and Ongkonko had been running a flourishing restaurant business and Onkonko had left a sizeable will, including houses, cash, the business and movable property. Only his sister in Batavia and Thisgingnio were beneficiaries of his will.

Ongkonko was well connected in Batavia where his brother-in-law was a Chinese Captain in the service of the VOC. Ongkonko had been sentenced for treason in Batavia and sent into exile at the Cape, but he kept contact with his sister, Insaaf, in Batavia.

Ongkonlro had also arrived in the Cape in 1747 on the ship Nieuwstadt. Another Chinese man, Poasinko, who had been the executor of Ongkonkds will, assumed responsibility for burying Thisgingnio when she died. Because of Onkonko’s connections it may well have been he who had used his connections to ensure that Thisgingnio was released from the Slave Lodge. Documents are silent on who this mysterious lady really was and she left no clue to her story.

Her estate sale shows that there were over 70 buyers present when her estate was wound up. It was a sign of her standing in the Cape. The inventory of her estate runs into many pages. Much of what she had, was bequeathed to her by Ongkonko. Amongst those present at the sale were a group of Chinese buyers and creditors. These were Poasinko, Locko, Dominko, Quansink and Ontingo, They clearly wished to keep some memory of the outstanding couple in their community as they are recorded as buying a number of items.

Our knowledge of the early Chinese is sparse but we do know that there were Chinese slaves, convicts, exiles and free-black burghers. Thisgingnio had no children, but we know that others did. These Chinese are amongst the many threads that make up our heritage in the Cape.

Thisgingnio van Ceribon`s story provides more questions than answers but does provide a little crack shedding some light on another element of our ancestry in the Cape.

What event occurred in the mid 1740s back in Java and Batavia that led to a number of Chinese who seem to have bonds that connected them, being sent to the Cape as exiles?

Why was one of these singled out for a lengthy imprisonment? Who was the mysterious Chinese Lady Thisgingnio from Ceribon? Could she have been a major figure in the huge rebellion of Chinese in Batavia after the Dutch carried out a massacre of genocide proportions?

What do we know of the Chinese in Batavia around 1740? Chinese Indonesians or ‘Tionghoa Indonesia’ trace their origins to the southern parts of China, such as Fujian Guangdong and Hainan. The first migrations date back to the 15th century voyages ol the Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng who had travelled around the world. These Chinese became creolised or ‘huan-na’ through intermarriage and became known as Peranakan Chinese. More than half of the population of Batavia (Jakarta) were Chinese in the 1740s.

The Dutch in Batavia became agitated at the rising power of the Chinese in Batavia and Java and resented the increased migration of Chinese Coolies or farm labourers brought in by wealthy Chinese traders and farmers. In 1740 the \/’OC began to forcibly transfer unwanted Chinese Coolies to Galle in Sri Lanka. Rumours arose that the Dutch would throw the Chinese overboard to drown as soon as they were over the horizon. A Chinese Coolie revolt broke out in and around Batavia. The Dutch responded by turning their attention on the settled and more wealthy Chinese within the city walls of Batavia. A decreed residential search by the Dutch soon got out of hand and turned into a massacre of 5000 Chinese in their homes, hospitals and prisons.

A Dutch preacher fanned the flames from the pulpit, by declaring that the killing of Chinese was ‘God`s Will’. The colonial government also were said to have posted a bounty for decapitated Chinese heads. After the order was proclaimed Chinese were now required to live within ghettos throughout Dutch controlled Indonesia.

It is between 1740 – 1750 that the Chinese exiles and prisoners of our story arrive in the Cape. They are likely to have been from the more wealthy class of Chinese traders who were revolting over the new restrictions placed on them, By the latter 1740s the VOC was investigating the causes of the Massacre and a truce on hostilities was enforced. Chinese resisters unwilling to ‘calm down’ were exiled instead of being killed as had happened in 1740. We may not know too much about Thisgingnio, but we do know that she was a prisoner, that she was from the trading class and that she is likely to have been part of the resistance to Dutch rule, genocide and bullying. In looking at Thisgingnio, the sad lady who died of a broken heart after her beloved Ongkonko passed away we can only get glimpses of her reality, but she does point us in the right direction to look at the circumstances that resulted in our ancestors of Chinese heritage knowing no other home than the Cape.

Wave after wave of people fleeing from or driven out from catastrophic events brought about by the Tsunami of Colonialism arrived in the Cape to become part of our ancestral heritage. The Manillas from the Phillipines were another such group displaced by revolutionary war. They first settled in Kalk Bay….but that’s another story.

 
 
* The reference to the other source in the second paragraph of this exploration of Chinese in our heritage is James Armstrong who presented the story of Thesgingnio at the UCT Conference in 2006 on Social Identity and Material Culture in the VOC World, where Nigel Wordon encouraged the presenters and indeed broader roleplayers in social enquiry to break out of the narrow confines in which social scientists are often trapped, exhorting us to work from our own shifting materiality and look at the variety of ways of considering who we are and where we come from.

 

A South African amaGaleca Slave in the USA

ImageRecently a really powerful movie hit the silver screen and swept up Oscar awards – 12 Years a Slave – a story about the kidnapping and enslavement of a free black man in the USA. In South Africa and the USA we have an equally harrowing story which has been a movie just waiting to be made, but most South Africans just don’t know the story. In fact academia and South Africans in general have always been in denial about slaves being taken from South Africa into slavery abroad. Hence the story of the enslaved Gobo Fango, a subject of King Sarhili of the amaGcaleka in the Eastern Cape, even although well documented and the subject of a book entitled Gobo Fango, has not been told in his home country. When I first came across the story ten years ago in an article – “The controversial death of Gobo Fango” by H Dean Garrett in the Utah Historical Quarterly Vol 41 – 60 No:3 1989 – it brought me to tears, and still does.
 

Gobo Fango was born in the upheaval of the middle years of the 100 years war in the Eastern Cape and died a violent death in 1886 at the hands of a German in Idaho in the USA, after recently having been freed as a slave in the Mormon community. The 100 years war in the Eastern Cape is glossed over in terms of its brutality, where white academics have focussed on the virtues of colonials and their civilising missionary quest projected as a noble mission. The truth was that the flooding of the Eastern Cape by British troops instructed to conduct a scorched earth policy and genocide was a travesty of epic proportions comparable to some of the worst acts of this type in the 20th century associated with the likes of Adolf Hitler. Following close on the military conquests, ethnic cleansing exercises and slaughter of people, livestock and burning of crops and homes, the Eastern Cape was flooded with British and German settlers who took over the lands of the conquered. Today the Eastern Cape still suffers the impact of this devastation and the Western Cape colonial descendants which became the beneficiary of the devastation still lords it over the people of this territory. White South Africans have a total amnesia about war crime and how they benefitted from the destruction meted out to others.

It is within this crucible that Gobo’s mother, weighed down by her two children, and in flight, left one of her children, Gobo, asleep in the crook of a tree on the farm of a British settler Mr Henry Talbot. The Talbots took in the 3 year old child who grew up to be an indentured labourer in the family. During these times many amaXhosa, Khoena and San children ended up as virtual slaves (called indentured apprentices) on white farms after their parents were either slaughtered or became wandering refugees as a result of the war, rape, pillage and land appropriation carried out by white troops and settlers. The recent usage of this term ‘refugee’ for Eastern Cape people by Helen Zille was outrageous for exactly this reason.

Mr Talbot later converted to the Mormon faith in 1857 and his whole family became Mormons. This sealed the fate of Gobo Fango. The Talbots packed up and shipped out to the USA on board the ship Race Horse. Gobo Fango was kidnapped by wrapping him up in a blanket and taking him on board the ship. When Gobo arrived in the USA, Mr James Henry Talbot presented him as his indentured slave. The Civil War had just began. Arriving in Boston the Talbots travelled through New York by train to Chicago and on to Iowa and Nebraska. From there they travelled to the Salt Lake Valley and later on to Utah. Here the record shows that Gobo Fango, a South African slave, was one of 29 slaves and a number of free blacks. Gobo worked as a slave labourer and shepard for the Talbot family and life was extremely hard for him. The earlier pretence in South Africa when he was a child that he was just another of the children in the large family had now completely fallen away. Gobo lived in a rogh shed at the back of the Talbot house and on one cold winter his feet froze resulting in his losing part of the heal of one foot. Thereafter Henry Talbot sold Gobo to the Whiteside family in Kaysville. After the Whiteside family, Gobo was sold to a Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter, who then manumitted Gobo by signing his freedom papers and gave him a job as a paid worker on his farm. This was long after President Abraham Lincoln had made his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

While with the Hunter family at Grantsville, Gobo Fango was also able to develop his own sheep herd. Around 1880 Gobo, two of the Hunter brothers and a fella by the name of Walter Matthews went to an area called Goose Creek to run their sheep on the desert brush. Gobo and Matthews also leased a band of sheep from a man by the name of Thomas Poulton. The same area had attracted cattlemen with large herds from the Midwest and Texas. Tensions immediately broke out over grazing rights between the cattlemen and the sheepmen. The former and more powerful demanded that the sheepmen leave. This set the scene for the final tragedy in the life of our Eastern Cape countryman.

During the winter of 1886, Gobo Fango was herding sheep in the Goose Creek Valley in defiance of the order to leave. A certain German man Frank Bedke and a companion rode into Gobo’s camp and ordered Gobo to leave immediately. Gobo challenged the legality of Bedke’s action and demanded that documentation of land ownership be shown to him.

Gobo was summarily shot, beaten and the shot again and left for dead. Gobo recovered consciousness and crawled four and a half miles to Walter Matthews home, holding his intestines in his hand. He survived just short of a week before this son of the soil of the Eastern Cape gave up his spirit. He was buried at Oakley, Idaho Cemetery where his headstone marker says – GOBO FANGO Died 10 February 1886 – 30 years old.

In a famous and railroaded trial, Frank Bedke was tried for murder. He denigrated Gobo claiming that he killed him in self-defence. The jury was not entirely convince and was a hung jury. A second trial was held a year later and the German was found not guilty. The case was quite controversial as Bedke was not well regarded by the Mormon neighbours who saw through his contrived story. Bedke went on to be a very wealthy man and a leading donor and supporter of the US Democratic Party. Gobo was seen as just an expendable former slave from Africa.

The detail of the entire story of Gobo Fango is much more complex than this summary. The story of Gobo and so many others, including men and women such as ‘Clico’ Franz Taabosch and Sarah Baartman are tragic stories that arise out of the great wrongdoing in the annals of colonialism in South Africa. Somehow we have clinically separated Apartheid from the longer and more abominable colonisation story of South Africa and the heroic struggles against the crimes against humanity therein as well as the harrowing cameo stories of human beings who rose above the adversity of their times. Layer upon layer of lies and camouflage cloud our historical understanding and this continues to negatively affect relations amongst diverse South Africans today. Only the truth can set us free.

 

Letter from afar – to a slave from her former Master

Some years ago when I first read the old Cape Slavery classic – “Those in Bondage by Viktor de Kock (1950) an old letter from the 1790s jumped out at me. It was fascinating as much for what the writer did not say as for what he said. The letter was sent by a Jan Valkenburg of Amsterdam, on his return from the Cape Colony, to a young former slave woman by the name of Bintham, left behind in Cape Town.
 
Image
 
The letter evidences an unusual manner in which Bintham and her child Primus obtained their freedom and, the relationship between the writer, her former master, and herself. Whatever the story between the lines, it is up to the reader to fathom. Could her benefactor be the father of her child? The opening line also suggests the writer is an abolitionist. Did he ever return? We dont know. I visit this letter in my head time and again as it is quite unique amongst the documented footprints of Cape Slavery. It further also highlights one of the ways that ‘Swart Gevaar’ was introduced into the thinking of ‘Coloured’ people, (and is still endemic today alongside the manipulation of such thinking by white opportunists in the political arena). The letter bears all the contradictions of manumitting masters and abolitionists.

The letter was part of a batch of documents in the Archive (MOOC 14/215, Fragmentariese Boedelpapiere, 1790 – 1799; MOOC 14/90 No:34, Bylae Boedelrekeninge 1798 – 1799)

The Letter reads:

Dear Bintham

Freedom – Equality – Fraternity.

I promised to write to you and now I am fulfilling that promise. I arrived in England hale and hearty and will shortly leave for Holland. As soon as I am home with my wife and children, I shall write to you again. In my pocket book I came across some paper money which I am sending you: purchase with it whatever you will.

I trust you will bear in mind your promise to me, to look after yourself well and to behave yourself as becomes a respectable person, faithfully and honestly serving Mr and Mrs Hohne, neither neglecting yourself nor associating with unprincipled people or ‘Zwarte Jongens’.

You are now Free! I feel that I have done everything in my power for you. Were I to hear that you are behaving yourself, I shall not forget you, nor shall I ever neglect to provide for you; and when I return to the Cape, you must again come to me. With the first opportunity I shall send you something.

Now Bintham, I have no time left to write more. I have written to Mrs Hohne. Ask her to write direct to me and also suggest to Myntjie that she should write a short note for you to me. My brother Gees, to whom I have also written, will come to talk to you.

Adieu Bintham! Farewell! Look after yourself well, care for your little child well and live respectably. Be faithful. Be honest. Never neglect yourself. And always bear in mind your good friend and your master, who will never forget you.

Jan Valkenberg

I TRUST THAT READERS MAY FIND THIS AS FASCINATING AS I DID AND THAT IT MAY BE FOOD FOR CONTEMPLATION.

‘Xhore’ – The first South African Indigene to visit England in 1613

WHO WAS THE FIRST INDIGENOUS SOUTH AFRICAN TO VISIT ENGLAND AND WHEN? This is a question which I have often posed to fellow South Africans. All inevitably cannot give me the answer. There are other questions which I ask, that always has people responding with the wrong answer: IN WHICH YEAR WAS THE BEGINNINGS OF A COLONY FIRST ESTABLISHED AT THE CAPE AND BY WHOM? People will immediately trot out the same old answer – 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck under the VOC (Dutch East India Company). Even a UCT History Professor got rattled and made an ignorant retort in the university’s Monday Paper, when I challenged the validity of this answer and responded that the first attempt was by a dozen British Convicts from Newgate Prison under Captains Crosse and Peyton, sponsored by Lord Smythe of the British East India Company in 1615, and that technically when the Dutch set up shop in 1652 it was in defiance of British annexation of the territory formalised in 1620.
 
Image
 

Likewise with the question: WHICH EXTERNAL POWER’S FLEET FIRST ROUNDED THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE AND WHO WAS THE NAVIGATOR-IN-CHIEF? Again here people will reply that it was a Portuguese Fleet under Bartholomew Dias. Challenging historian and former British naval captain, Menzies in his groundrbreaking book- 1421 – gives the account of Admiral Zeng He of the Imperial Chinese fleet and his rounding of the Cape and circumnavigation of the world. I first read this work shortly after working with Dr Frene Ginwala when she set up an exhibition of a large silk replica map flown in from China showing Admiral Zeng He’s map of the world where the southern tip of Africa is accurately depicted as is the Drakensberg Mountain range – at a time when the Eutopeans had no such map.

It is unfortunate that our academic institutions are still churning out old Eurocentric stories and old white colonial ‘historical’ information without question. There are so many exciting and challenging new views, materials and facts which would have an amazing and I believe positive influence on how we think as South Africans. So much is just not in the public arena and not subject to dialogue. South Africans suffer under a very singular mindset and a mechanical way of thinking largely due to the propagandistic education system to which they were subjected. Even when it comes to understanding the early roots of Apartheid, it is projected that Apartheid is a post-1948 phenomenon associated only with the (purified) National Party of DF Malan. This of course tends to exhonerate the previous United South African National Party (UP), South African Party and Progressive Union Party and Cape Colony predecessor parties from colonial and Apartheid practices.

The roots of Apartheid can be traced back to a major upheaval in Cape politics in the second decade of the 1700s to two gentlemen by the names of Adam Tas and Hans Henning, as can the pass law system, and ‘Swart Gevaar’. Tas can also be attributed with an anti-Coloured hate campaign in his oft stated expressions on ‘the black brood amongst us’. Even earlier when the VOC introduced the swarthy policemen, the darkest slaves from the East, into Cape Town, known as ‘Kaffirs’, ‘Swart Gevaar’ took root. It was common phrase of the day when the fear of God was put to work for someone to say ‘the kaffirs are coming to get you’ referring to these policemen. FEW CAPETONIANS KNOW THAT THE FIRST NAME FOR METRO POLICE WAS ‘THE KAFFIRS’
For some reason the writer of one of the comments posted on an earlier posting of mine, seems to think that ‘Swart Gevaar’ is a relatively modern phenomenon in South Africa. The writer displays a one dimensional approach to the subject at hand. This is the effect of years of education institutions presenting a rather warped version of local history.

But I am now straying from the original question. Who was the first indigene from the Cape to visit England and when was this? The ANSWER is Chief Xhore (Coree) of the Goringhaiqua people and the year was 1613. Chief Xhore was returned to the Cape a year later in 1614 when the British East India Company had hoped that he would assist them with the stablishment in 1615 of a penal colony comprising of convicts from Newgate prison. Chief Xhore and another Goringhaiqua man were tricked into boarding the HMS Hector, plied with food and wine, and while asleep the ship set sail for England. They were kidnapped and along the way Chief Xhore’s companion died. He spent much of a year in England, very unhappy and continuously protesting that he wanted to go home. He had to wear European clothes and was paraded befor the royalty and nobility as a novelty. He was also put through a grueling regimen of english language tuition by Lord Smythe. Then in 1614 Chief Xhore had to undergo the difficult voyage back to the Cape of Good Hope to rejoin his people.

But much to the annoyance of the British, once back home, Chief Xhore was far from compliant. He had also learnt much about British ways, and the value of their goods (particularly the shiny metals and trinkets they used for bartering as well as the value of cattle). Xhore also learnt about inter-European antagonisms and about the vulnerabilities of the whites and their less than ‘godlike’ status. He realised that far away from home, in Africa, the Khoena people had more power than the outsiders. Chief Xhore allowed the British ships to offload the settler convicts under Captain Peyton and Captain Crosse. He allowed them to leave provisions and a longboat for local travel and even assisted the settler party to set themselves up. But once the fleet set sail Chief Xhore quickly showed the British Newgate Settlers who was boss.

The convicts were an undisciplined and ruly lot and of course were also interested in the Khoena women, cattle and provisions. They were however absolutely helpless in this strange and inhospitable place with its harsh weather conditions. The clash between the Newgate Settlers and the Gorinhaiqua Khoena was inevitable and Xhore chased them off in their longboat. Some of the sttlers lost their lives while others made it to Robben Island where they set up home, awaiting a return fleet. When a returning fleet arrived in the Bay more of the settlers died trying to make their way to the ships on rafts, after the longboat had long since been wrecked. Only three of the original Newgate Setllers survived and returned to England. It is recorded that these again got into troubled and were hanged at Newgate Prison. Instead of South Africa becoming Britains Penal Colony – Australia was chosen for this, and the Cape was left to the Dutch East India Company until 1806. The British tried to introduce convicts to the Cape on a few occasions in the 1800s but their first unsuccessful attempt just faded from the pages of history.

Chief Xhore was killed by the Dutch at the end of the third decade of the 17th century, but he had paved the way for another entrepreneurial Khoena rebel Autshumoa, who was the first indigene to be taken by the British to Batavia (Jakarta) and returned to the Cape. Chief Xhore is not noted in our history nor is his memory in our public spaces yet this remarkable man was a first amongst men. In his story about Chief Xhore, the avante guarde writer Jack Cope, entitled his story – ‘The King of the Hottentots’. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s men and women writers like Jack Cope, Uys Krige and Ingrid Jonker broke many boundaries under the difficult circumstances of neo-fascism, while today with all our freedoms people and our institutions of learning just lazily pump out yesterdays ideological nonsense without question.

Our City of Cape Town does not honour Xhore at all. Likewise Autshumoa is recorded by official histories simply as an ignorant beachbum called Harry the Strandlooper, regardless of founding the first settled Khoena group from maroons of other clans, the Goringhaicona, and his establishing the foundation of the City of Cape Town in the form of the Camissa trading settlement on the banks of the Camissa river (over 25 years prior to the van Riebeeck party’s arrival). Van Riebeeck in 1652 relied heavily on the multi-linguistic skills and trading skills of Chief Autshumoa and his niece Kratoa, when he first lived cheek by jowel on the bank of the Camissa alongside Autshumoa while it took him 6 months to erect a Fort. Without Autshumoa and the Goringhaicona’s assistance van Riebeeck would have found it much more difficult to survive those harsh winter months. Autshumoa was a skillful and talented leader and trailblazer and not a mere vagabond beachbum. He had already some years previously first set up a refreshment station with 20 of his followers on Robben Island and he was notably enterprising. His memory is not celebrated in Cape Town today and neither is his Camissa settlement on which Cape Town Minstrels is founded.

When you next walk down Strand Street and the Grand Parade….give a thought to Chief Xhore and Chief Autshumoa. Our children know more about the remarkably similar Pocohontas story and absolutely nothing about Xhore.

 

The ‘Mazbiekers’ in our Heritage – the Case of Sante Lydia of District Six

From the 1780s onward the majority of the slaves brought to the Cape were known as Mazbiekers and even after the abolition of slavery in 1834 ‘Mazbiekers’ continued to then be brought to the Cape as indentured workers. ‘Mazbiekers’ were the slaves that came from a wide range of countries in East and Southern Central Africa to the slaver station in Mozambique and then on to the Cape of Good Hope where they large were put to work in the agriculture and public works sectors. Sante Lydia of District Six was the child of a ‘Mazbieker’ slave. The ‘Mazbiekers’ are an important part of our heritage in the Cape. They also made up the majority of the slaves that took part in the 1808 ‘Jij Rebellion’ of slaves that was brutally suppressed by the British Dragoon troops.
 
- In 1910 Lydia ‘Ou Tamelytjie’ Williams, the Saint of District Six passed on at the age of 90. She was born into slavery, her father being a Mazbieker slave. The picture with her brief biography, appearing here, was a cameo part of an exhibition which I did more than a decade ago, called ‘THE TIES THAT BIND US’.
 
Image
 
Like my special Saint – San Martino de Porres, saint of the slaves and mullatos, Sante Lydia dedicated her life to promoting healing amongst freed slaves and their descendants, operating from her one room rented home on the St Philips Anglican mission estate.

Fellow heritage activist, my dear sister Lucy Campbell wrote a wonderful piece on Sante Lydia last year after she went in search of the Cape Town Saint’s grave, which deserves wide readership. Please follow the link:

http://www.archivalplatform.org/blog/entry/number_in/

 
Fellow Heritage Activist and friend Rev Michael Weeder followed up my posting with the following:
 
My brother, a story of a remarkable woman, Lydia Williams. I was able to trace the locale of her grave at Gate number 9 at Maitland Cemetery assisted by an official of the City Council. That was about 1999. She is the focus of a movie ‘Lydia Williams: A fervent simplicity’ produced by Laverne Engel and Sharief Cullis. It was flighted numerous times on national TV. The District Six Museum display a short piece On Lydia and the poet Malicka Ndlovu wrote a beautiful poem, ‘Lydia in the Williams’ and Garth Erasmus’ artwork adorns the wall hanging in the museum. George Manuel was the first to make mention of Lydia and notes that the Lydia Williams English Church School in the Dry Dock is the only educational institutional named after an enslaved person. Her father was Mozambican and her mum Cape Creole. It would seem that that she was commandeered into the Great Trek by her ex-owner and they went as far as the Free State and then returned to the Cape. Her body bore the scars of lewin whip lashes she was rewarded with after repeated escapes while at Zonnebloem. It was part of her desperate attempt to find her daughter who had been separated from. She was a founder member of the old St Philip Anglican Church on Chapel Street, District 6, (the old CAP) building) The congregation still celebrates her memory. The value of Lydia’s story is that she is really a Cape Town griot who chose to observe 2 December to recall the days of slavery and shared her stories especially with the young. This is how she marked Emancipation Day 1 December with a feast of food and sweet delicacies. She gives voice and detail to the thousands of unnamed and unsung ancestral spirits of our lives. To rephrase Sojourner Truth’s immortal challenge sounding through the ages: “Ain’t she a woman?”
 
Lydia’s story is another of the many hidden stories of the people of Cape Town. She is another whose name and story ought to be memorialised. She was the unsung Nelson Mandela of her day.