On Friday 19 August 2016 a strange and erroneously founded ceremony took place to ‘rebury’ the remains and spirit of Krotoa at the Castle de Goede Hoop in Cape Town. While it is to be welcomed that people which to honour Krotoa there was something amiss about this ceremony. Krotoa had no direct connection to this Castle, the building of which was only completed 5 years after her death. It is most unlikely that in 1674 that she would have been buried at a very messy building site. At that time the Fort de Goede Hoop was still in operation as the centre of authority. The Fort was situated at the other end of today’s Grand Parade near the Golden Acre Centre and was alongside the Camissa River. When the Fort was demolished and power shifted to the Castle, the remains in the small Christian graveyard would have been moved to the consecrated ground between the Grote Kerk and the old Slave Lodge both also alongside the Camissa.
Krotoa of the Goringhaicona was born around 1642 at the Khoena trading settlement on the banks of the Camissa River which flowed from the great Hoerikwaggo Mountain to the sea. The VOC Commander Jan van Riebeeck named her Eva and after her marriage to a Danish-surgeon she was known as Eva van Meerhof. During the period that she served as an interpreter, Commander van Riebeeck often accused her of “Drawing the Longbow”. Read on to see why.
Krotoa who was well connected to the elders of different Khoena clans, lived a most extraordinary but short life, spanning only three decades. She died in 1674. (The Khoena is the plural for Khoe, also referred to as Khoi peoples who consisted of many clans with a range of wonderful names. The word similarly to the word ‘Bantu’ and the more accurate word for San – /Xam, simply means ‘people’ and in its singular form – ‘person’)
The Goringhaicona (children of the Goringhaiqua), were a relatively settled offshoot clan of maroons who had drifted away from the other Khoena groups – the Gorachoqua, Goringhaiqua, Chainoqua, Chariguriqua and the Cochoqua clans of the Western Cape of South Africa. They are described by historian Richard Elphick, as runaways, outcasts, refugees, orphans and other persons ‘whose parents and husbands were dead’. While this may well have applied to some, I believe that a different social history research lens shows that as a result of over 200 years of shipping around Table Bay and particularly the huge number of ships that visited Table Bay for stop-overs between 1600 and 1652, numbering 1071, great impacts occurred as a result of new economic activities arising from change. Numerous sources give us a good idea of the frequency of shipping visits and length of stayovers and the various levels of interaction with indigenes, the economic relationships and the fact that a number of indigenes travelled abroad and back with the different European powers that visited. Much of this debunks the 1652 story of the state of indigenes at the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. It was not just the land that was stolen from the indigenes but also their social and economic progress as a settled trading port community. Everything also points to the likelihood that over the 20 to 50 years prior to Jan van Riebeeck’s occupation, children would have been born from relationships of various types between travellers and women in the trading-port village community. People among the Goringhaicona are described by some accounts as including persons with a near European appearance. We know nothing about Krotoa’s father and she was very much her Uncle Autshumao’s charge. Krotoa herself may have been born of or descended from a relationship between a transient traveller and an indigene woman.
The Camissa people were the root people for what can be called the ‘Camissa footprint’ which spread across South Africa over time. With European settlement and the arrival of slaves from other parts of Africa, Madagascar, India, Southeast Asia and China, and they also impacted on the people of Camissa. Resistance wars in and around Camissa resulted in a diaspora of scatterlings. The slaves who worked and lived alongside the Goringhaicona, sometimes even receiving refuge from them were embraced by the indigenes and children were born of these relationships. In the diaspora resulting from forced removals and enserfment of Khoena on European farms, further relationships developed across slave and indigene communities. In the genocide drives against the San by European and Khoena commandos, adult San or /Xam were slaughtered en masse and their children taken as apprentices on farms. When these grew up they had relationships too with slaves on those farms and children were born. Non-conformist European rebels ran away from the authorities in the colony and teamed up with fleeing indigene maroons and inter-married into those communities. The Camissa footprint grew and grew.
By the mid 19th century when the Camissa roots were much layered and the Goringhaicona forgotten, the colonial authorities in an act of de-indigenisation labelled the Camissa descendants as ‘Coloured’ people.
With her Goringhaicona people already quickly disrupted and her once powerful uncle often on the run, during her years with Jan van Riebeeck as an interpreter, emissary and negotiator, Krotoa adopted the Cochoqua as her people and by all accounts they adopted her. Krotoa’s sister was the wife of the elder-leader Oudasoa of the Cochoqua. Krotoa also had a second ‘mother’ among the Cochoqua. She further had kinship ties with the Goringhaiqua and the Chainoqua. Simultaneously Kratoa maintained her ties with her uncle Autshumao and his remaining followers.
One of the greatest misrepresentations in South African colonial history narratives is that of the status of relations with the indigenes of Table Bay particularly in the 50 years prior to, and at the time of the landing of Commander Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. The inaccurate depiction of Autshumao of the Goringhaicona as an ignorant vagabond leader of a bunch of good-for-nothing beachcombers (Strandloopers) runs counter to much reliable historical information that has always been available but most often ignored or even suppressed. It is only in understanding Krotoa in the context of the four decades prior to 1652 that one can better understand who she was, how she met various challenges in her youthful years and what were the social circumstances of her time. Only then can her legacy fully be appreciated. It is unfortunate that many have bought into what I call a ‘primitivistic’ paradigm when looking at who Krotoa was, where there is an over-emphasised shock-factor suggesting that an absolutely traditional community were knocked backwards by a sudden influx of European invaders. There certainly was a paradigm shift in terms of van Riebeeck imposing what I call his ‘redoubt mentality’ with war, dispossession and forced removals, but the paradigm shift from traditional nomadic herding life, at least for the Goringhaicona had happened decades before van Riebeeck’s arrival.
According to European history, the Europeans had been passing through Table Bay since 1488 and, according to the Chinese accounts the Chinese passed through Table Bay in 1421. From the time of that Chinese voyage around the Cape by Admiral Zheng He, until 1652 when the first Dutch settlement occurred, there had been two centuries of interaction by the indigene Khoena people with a wide range of foreign visitors.
An introduction on the trading links, the communication and the cooperative relations of the Gorachoqua, Goringhaiqua and then the Goringhaicona with the passing Europeans was first provided to a mass readership in some detail by historian Richard Elphick in his book ‘The KhoiKhoi and the Founding of White South Africa (1975). Much of the source material is to be found in the journals of Commander Jan van Riebeeck and he in turn was able to record this largely from the stories of Krotoa and other interpreters. But Elphick only really scrapes the surface. When one goes into maritime history many more questions arise and the impacts are not dealt with nor explored by South African historians. The impact of thousands of troops being shipped to the east for the Dutch wars and their stopping at the Cape gets no comment. Even although cognisance is taken of a range of big clues as to what was going on at Table Bay, historians just do not connect the dots in any significant manner. It is from this neglect that even many of the Khoisan mythologies arise.
The initial informal though brisk trading relationships that took root between passing ships and the Khoena people in the latter 1500s began to take a more formal form under Xhore of the Gorachoqua after he was kidnapped to England in 1613 and returned a year later. Elder-leader Xhore had later led the resistance to the English attempt to settle Newgate convicts at Camissa in 1615 under Captain Crosse, but nonetheless maintained relations as a trader with the Europeans until his death.
After Xhore’s death (at the hands of the Dutch) Elphick notes that trade relations with the Khoena took a nose-dive. But a short while later this gap was filled after Autshumao, the uncle of Krotoa, was taken on a visit to Batavia (Jakarta) in 1631.
A new and intricate relationship was developed with Autshumao’s clan, the Goringhaicona, involving a range of services including a postal service to passing ships. This first involved establishing a service station for ships on Robben Island served by more than 60 Khoena under Autshumao and later by 1638 this service-community relocated back to the mainland where they continued to provide services. Under the entrepreneurial Autshumao an interlocutor bartering service relationship developed which slowly resulted in rebuilding the supply lines for the European travellers for the acquisition of meat, fresh water, salt, hides and timber in exchange for a commission on transactions.
The Khoena name of the fresh water river running down from the sacred mountain known as Hoerikwaggo (TableMountain) was ‘Camissa’ or the ‘Sweet Waters’ (soetwater). The Dutch referred to the Goringhaicona as the ‘Watermen’ because of their association with the Camissa River and the seashore. It was from Camissa that foreign ships were supplied with the vital commodity – fresh water, by the Goringhaicona. All the hallmarks were in place to regard this as the first proto-refreshment station at the Cape and thus the true foundation of Cape Town.
The settlement of his people around Camissa was a strategic move on the part of Chief Autshumao. When there were no ships in the Bay his people lived off fish and other seafood. By camping at the Camissa, Autshumao controlled a constant fresh-water supply, giving him a strategic advantage right on the beach. By all accounts the Goringhaicona were typical ‘survivors’ and highly entrepreneurial. Although a much smaller group, (minuscule in comparison) than the other Khoena groups they initially dominated relations between the Khoena livestock herders and the Dutch by setting themselves up as the negotiators at a fair commission. It was because of this, as can be seen in the Dutch Commander’s journaL that Jan van Riebeeck was so antagonistic to Autshumao. Commander van Riebeeck believed that he was being over-charged for the services. From Autshumao’s point of view the Dutch Commander had just come along and taken over his trading settlement and business. This essentially was at the heart of the conflict.
Autshumao and another of the Camissa people, Isaac (of whom little is known), had through their travels to Batavia (Jakarta) returned with much linguistic and other knowledge about the Europeans and this was used to their own advantage. Twenty years later, after much interaction with the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, the Camissa community – the Goringhaicona as a group, would have been well acquainted with European languages enough to get by with general communication and protocols.
Authsumao, with his 10 year old niece Krotoa at his side, stands out as playing a major role in all of the initial interactions with the Dutch Commander of the Cape – Jan van Riebeeck, due to his reliance on their linguistic skills and Autshumao’s control of the community interactions with the Europeans. Even when van Riebeeck moved from the tent camp into the north wing of the partially built Fort five months after his arrival, he noted that Autshumao remained camped on the opposite bank of the Camissa River running below the north wing. The Fort alongside the Camissa was more or less partially at the top end of today’s Grand Parade and the back end of the Golden Acre Centre.
Although van Riebeeck is recognised as the colonial ‘founding father’ of Cape Town (and South Africa), he only actually resided in South Africa for 10 years and none of his immediate family remained in South Africa. Notably Krotoa’s descendants however are today to be found among thousands of South Africans of all national groups. The one thing that Jan van Riebeeck ought to be remembered for is actually in very few narratives. It is what he bequeathed to South Africa – the trajectory over 3 centuries of the concept of the ‘redoubt’ which I have written about elsewhere in detail. He is the father of ‘forced removals’ and ‘Group Areas’..
Commander van Riebeeck first provides a note on Krotoa in his journal in 1654 by referring to – ‘a girl living with us’. He mentions too that she was taken away by her uncle Autshumao and his group of followers after he had made off with a large number of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) cattle herd. The Commander writes that he pursued Autshumao to wrest her back. So important was she to his plans.
From this first mention in the record, the Commander went on to mention her name over 200 times in 65 entries in the journal. Krotoa was a dominant factor in Jan van Riebeeck’s entire time at the Cape of Good Hope. Further light is shed on her status in the household when the Commander notes that she was taken into the service of his wife from the beginning (1652). Van Riebeeck also notes that Krotoa perfected the Dutch language and came to a full understanding of religion and Dutch culture under the tutorship of his wife. Some have interpreted this as meaning that Krotoa was part of Jan van Riebeecks Christian family but throughout this time she was never baptised nor received into the Church. From the age of 15 years, Krotoa’s service to the VOC transformed to become that of interpreter, emissary and negotiator.
The Commander studied Krotoa like a hawk as she was manipulated to provide the VOC with intelligence and as much strategic advantage as possible. He also cultivated back up interpreters as distrust towards her later set in. He used the other interpreters to try and catch her out. Interpreting became a terrain of struggle and Krotoa turned diplomacy into an art. From the pages of the van Riebeeck journal one gets the impression that she played a chess game with van Riebeeck and his journal shows that he suspected her of this and he does not camouflage his feelings.
Commander van Riebeeck started with some muted paternalistic statements about Krotoa in the beginning of his journal and proceeded to describe the advantages and pitfalls of her contribution. As time marches on, distrust is espoused and he sounds warnings about Krotoa. He uses a particular phrase which I believe does more justice to evaluating her role in history than many of the things that is said by others – Krotoa is accused by Jan van Riebeeck of ‘drawing the long bow’. This expression carries much meaning. It means that she stood accused of exaggerating, embellishing, lying or deliberately misleading Jan van Riebeeck. He also explicitly suggests that she is playing him at his own game. He says “she knows well by now how to introduce a little flattery and say the sort of thing she imagines you want to hear”.
By the third part of his journal, Eva, as she is referred to, pre-occupies van Riebeeck and dominates the journal as much as the struggle between the Khoena and the Dutch intensified. Different patterns of struggle with the colonists emerged and these were not in sync with each other. Indeed they were competitive and conflictual. Krotoa clearly came down on the side of the Cochoqua, her sister’s people and perhaps her adopted people. In his journal van Riebeeck identified a strong sense of loyalty in her for her own kin and distrusted her for having this trait.
Krotoa’s role as interpreter, emissary and negotiator continued over seven years. It is remarkable that this crucial role was carried out by a teenager and a woman who not only rose to the challenge, but was also able to subtly turn the tables on her master so as to advantage her own people. She comes across as having grown into her own person rather than anyone else’s go between – whether among the Dutch or the Khoena.
Who was this extraordinary young woman who lived for only just over three decades? Why was the 10 year old Krotoa chosen by Jan van Riebeeck out of all the other children of the Camissa settlement which hosted the early Dutch fort?
The Europeans literally established their tent camp right in the midst of the existing Camissa settlement for convenience, protection and to begin to assert control. The Cape was still a place teaming with wildlife. It was an inhospitable place in winter and winter was fast approaching. For the first five months in the heart of a terrible Cape winter, the Europeans and the Goringhaicona lived cheek by jowl on the banks of the Camissa River while the Fort was being built. Krotoa was a curious ten year old who along with her peers would have been running around inquisitively among the Europeans and the Ambonyese soldiers as they busied themselves fortifying their beachhead at Camissa. When she was not running around with the other children she would be at her uncle Autshumao’s side. Krotoa was the closest to Autshumao and Jan van Riebeeck needed to be as close to his rival as possible. Jan van Riebeeck took advantage of this vulnerability by exploiting the vulnerability of the child.
At this stage maintaining a good relationship with the Khoena at Camissa was the key to the survival of this Dutch settlement project. The local people of the Camissa settlement right down to the children, already had enough understanding of various European languages and customs through years of interaction by passing ships with which they traded. Krotoa clearly stood out as her ‘uncle’s child’ who probably was more conversant with rudimentary Dutch, English, French and Portuguese than the others. She was a prime candidate for further instruction.
By the written accounts of her appearance, she further stood out as having both Khoena and some physical features that allowed for her to fit into the European company more easily. Krotoa had no father and one picks up that she had a strained relationship with her mother. Her appearance suggested that somewhere down the line it was likely that there was some European forebear or even paternity. Her family connections with the inland Cochoqua and the fact that she was related to the ‘elder-leader’s wife was a strategic issue for Jan van Riebeeck. Control of such a young person who could walk into the kraals of leaders, gave van Riebeeck a strategic advantage. She could carry information back and forth and positively influence key role-players if she could be trained and moulded.
Historian Richard Elphick makes the point that we should be careful not to overlay the traditional European concept of kinship or nuclear family on the Khoena people. Words such as ‘uncle’ or ‘mother’or ‘sister’ and ‘niece,’ ill-fit the Khoena kinship connections. Likewise there were no rigid kinship walls standing between Goringhaicona, Goringhaiqua, Cochoqua and the Gorachoqua, even although with the latest arrival of the Europeans, tensions and conflicts evolved between these groups and also with others such as the Chainouqua. Elphick shows us that Krotoa had a complex set of family relationships across these clans, and that these included persons of influence and power. Historian Mansell Upham also sounds a loud alarm bell that when exploring perspectives on the life of Krotoa we should be careful about coating her with our own subjective overlays and angst to the point that we imprison her memory and abuse her to gain political ground seized for temporal gains.
Some writers have chosen to project Krotoa’s place in the van Riebeeck household as though she were a foster child taken into the bosom of the Commander’s family. There is very little facts to support such assumptions. The living arrangements too would not have allowed for Krotoa to be part of the nuclear family of the Commander. When the early rudimentary Fort was complete, the van Riebeecks only had three tiny rooms for a household of 12 persons – his immediate family, slaves and Khoena servants. Krotoa was not the only Khoe person working in the fort. This was hardly the intimate family environment where a fostered Khoe child was taken into the bosom of the Commander’s wife. Kratoa’s world was also shared by two ‘Abyssinian’ slave girls of her own age from Madagascar – Lijsbeth Arabus and Cornelia Arabus, given to Maria de la Quellerie, the Commanders wife by a visiting French Admiral.
Karel Schoeman in his chapter on Krotoa in ‘Seven Khoi Lives’ gives us a much more comprehensive picture of Krotoa’s upbringing between the ages of 12 and 17. It shows a teenager who was as much, if not more so, a part of her traditional Khoena society as she was a fringe member of the Commander’s household. For strategic reasons it was in the interest of Commander van Riebeeck to also nurture the relationship between Krotoa and the Cochoqua and thus the contact was facilitated. Schoeman refers to this as ‘promising contact’ in van Riebeeck’s eyes.
Krotoa’s pre-teen and teenage years must have been very difficult. The child entering puberty was prone to abuse by any of the 140 roughneck men in the 146 strong (female depleted) European and Ambonyese community where protection was hardly able to be guaranteed. Van Riebeeck himself was not always in full control. For instance, two years after entering service at the Fort, Krotoa had absconded with her uncle and she had to be brought back to the Fort after Van Riebeeck had pursued them.
Between the age of 12 and 15 Krotoa was further instructed in language, religion and culture of the Dutch, not for philanthropic reasons, nor for purposes of conversion, but to act as an interpreter and diplomat. Why? She had been found to have both an aptitude and a flare for the work when the Commander tried her out in this role on a few occasions. At 15 already the Commander indicated in his journal that she was doing interpretation work. She clearly emerges from the pages of the Commander’s journal as quite a character.
A clear indication that she was not fostered nor truly accepted into Dutch society in the traditional sense was that she remained un-baptised, a sign of non-integration into the European community, until the age of 22 and then the baptism was by her own request. Again this too shows how much of an independent character that she was. Baptism was the true measure of acceptance into the European community. Her dress amongst the Europeans is also noted as not that of the European women and children, but that of the Asian slaves. This was symbolic of her servitude status at the Fort. However as an interpreter with a strategic role she was sure to have been able to navigate her way within the fort society with some success and status. No mean feat for a youngster.
From 15 years to 22 years old Krotoa was set to work as the official interpreter, emissary and negotiator. She was initially prized by Jan Van Riebeeck and commended for her service.
Increasingly as Krotoa entered her post-teens, the tone in the Commander’s journal changed to view her more disparagingly and with suspicion. She was suspected of aiding her people with strategic information and advice, particularly during the first Khoena-Dutch war of 1659 – 1660. Krotoa was both a clever and wise young person. She too must have recognised that she was in a powerful position to carry useful information, warnings and good counsel to her people. Many historical and even activist commentators project Krotoa either as a humble servant, or as a collaborator or as a helpless victim. I reject all three of these dominant projections.
Commander van Riebeeck notes that the child, the teen and the young adult over a 12 year period regularly stripped off her Asian dress- kabaka, sarong and kaparangs, and donned her traditional Khoena clothes (skins) and adornments to engage in rituals and communion with her people. By all accounts she took great pleasure and pride in doing so.
Krotoa clearly also experienced a tug-o-war of emotions and mental conflict, as well as conflicts of loyalty. She was under great pressure. Krotoa was torn between being Eva and Krotoa; between being part of the European world yet not part of it and part of the Khoena, yet not part of it. She was after all from of a maroon community of Goringhaiqua who already had broken with many indigene traditions and developed a new way of life. Krotoa who was from a free and easy community not governed either by her traditional society nor by the Eurpopean intruders found herself being marshalled, briefed and de-briefed by her handler, the Commander. She was asked to go among her people and to report back. She would also at times be asked to go among her people and possibly mislead them even although the religion taught to her said that lying was wrong.
Krotoa saw the ruthless and manipulating side of the Commander – a hard-nut VOC official with a dodgy background protecting the interests of a powerful company one day and the gentleman singing her praises the next. Contradictions surely jumped out at her. Jan van Riebeeck had a criminal record and was not the nicest of people.
Already within a year of arrival he was begging the VOC to give him permission to round up all of the Peninsula Khoena, put them in chains and drive them into forced labour. Later in 1657 he again pleaded with the VOC to allow them to turn the Peninsula into an island cut off from Africa and to put into action a most dastardly scheme. He pleaded to be allowed to drive all Khoena into five ‘redoubts’ to be built in Hout Bay, together with their livestock. There in these guarded concentration camps the Khoena would exist simply to breed livestock for the VOC. As Krotoa matured she was more ably to understand the ruthlessness of Jan van Riebeeck and she was clearly less able to be manipulated by van Riebeeck. If you read between the lines of his journal van Riebeeck suspects that Krotoa was split in her loyalties between the VOC and her sister’s people, the Cochoqua.
Krotoa’s entire life was filled with trauma heaped upon trauma. It was a life full of danger. She was distrusted by the Dutch and also by various persons with differing interests among her own people. At the same time she most likely would have also seen tremendous opportunities around her and surely would have big dreams of her own. Signs are there that she had her uncle Autshumao’s entrepreneurial spirit. She was trying to make her own trading fortune too.
One day Krotoa was journeying in a caravan of cattle atop a prized beast – happy with her own people and treated like a princess; another day she was travelling with European men who may have plied her with alcohol and crept into her bed at night; and yet another day being waylaid and robbed by a rival Khoena band. The inner turmoil must have been great and like any person who has been in such situations she will have become resourceful and streetwise.
Her skills as a diplomat and linguist also had a lot riding on it. The wrong word in the wrong company could result in reprisals and even death. What a responsibility for a young girl. The lives of the people you loved would have been at stake. There were also intense periods of violent conflict and war. Krotoa navigated it all and it must have exacted traumatic impacts. The course of her life bears this out.
Krotoa’s experience would have been one of longing for some kind of normality which she must have also seen around her with others of her age. On top of all of these experiences she was a young unmarried mother with two small children.
It was in her mid-teens that Krotoa had her first child and later had her second child, both born to a single girl at the Fort, indicating that she could have been abused as a female teen in this overwhelmingly male environment or alternatively had a secret love liaison. The signs are there that there was likely to have been abuse and that would have gone hand in hand with the introduction of alcohol into her life. This latter aspect of her experience – alcohol, was to have a devastating effect on her future. An indicator of what ruled the sexual culture at the Fort during a time when there literally was no European women around is a record provided in Mansell Upham’s work. He indicates that while formally the Commander’s position was that he frowned upon ‘carnal conversation’ (sexual relations) with slaves and indigenes he informally gave licence to such relations saying that officials should ‘fruitify’ the slaves and servants.
Krotoa was able to delight in returning to her people on visits. Tell-tale signs of a yearning for love, and to be settled emerges even from the observations of the Commander in his journal. The teenager had been thrust into a political world of intrigue, drama and tension with little chance of delighting in simple childish things. There was also little chance to follow in the path of the other women around her as she was thrust into a male world. There was little chance to enjoy love and motherhood. She was outstanding at the same time as a woman at this point in history, as no other female contemporary is to be found engaged in a role that was otherwise exclusively a male domain.
All of these factors together amounted to a cocktail of pain and joys and must have resulted in much inner conflict. It is no wonder that with all of these things piling up inside of her that in the last decade of her life, Krotoa was pushed over the edge.
Krotoa frequently went off to live among her people, most particularly to her sister and brother-in-law among the Cochoqua. Van Riebeeck tolerated and even encouraged this because it opened up a rewarding trade relationship and resulted in intelligence gathering. For Jan van Riebeeck, Krotoa was the source of a wealth of knowledge.
But it was not a one-way street. Krotoa was enterprising and was able to discharge her own loyalties to her people. She was able to provide intelligence and to position her people to gain strategic advantages. Among her people she blossomed and showed an enterprising streak. Her Uncle Autshumao’s skills for being an adept trader and entrepreneur came to the fore in her. She had experienced his mentorship too.
Krotoa particularly between 1658 and 1661 blossomed and found herself. She turned a situation of being used and manipulated into an advantage for herself and the Cochoqua people. She was not going to be anyone’s victim, is how I read the situation. It would seem that she made her unique position both work for her and contribute to her people. Krotoa’s chief critic was her competitor, the fellow interpreter and an open resister of the Dutch, Nommoa (Doman). He criticized her and implied that she was a sell-out. But was she? Doman himself did everything that Krotoa did and he was a grown man when he did so. Both acted as could be expected under those circumstances – they both bobbed and weaved like a boxer.
Some have only too readily jumped to a conclusion that Krotoa was a collaborator and Doman was a radical revolutionary. This is to simplistic a paradigm in which to view both of these characters. Both had their strengths and weaknesses and Krotoa lasted longer than Doman at the game of cat and mouse.
Krotoa certainly gave excellent interpretation and diplomatic service to the Dutch, but equally she provided the same for Oudasoa and the Cochoqua. Such is the nature of being an interpreter and diplomat – you get opportunity to look at both sides and in the process you are self-empowered and can if you are adept, influence the course of the future. In looking at the information available, one is indeed sometimes left wondering whether Kratoa worked for Oudasoa rather than Commander van Riebeeck. It also emerges from Van Riebeeck’s journal that she could have been quietly providing intelligence to the Cochoqua in their more subtle struggles with the Dutch. Her information from Oudasoa conveyed to the Dutch during the Khoena-Dutch war was nuanced in favour of the Cochoqua’s stance.
She further showed great loyalty to her uncle Autshumao when he increasingly became persona non grata to the Dutch. All of this was noticed and commented upon by Commander van Riebeeck.
A key part of van Riebeeck’s journal is his final testimony before leaving the Cape, where Commander van Riebeeck established that Krotoa mainly worked as an interpreter with the Cochoqua and other inland Khoena clans. He also states that not all of her information could be dependable as well as referring to other facts relating to her ‘dependability’ which were ‘verbally conveyed’ but ‘because of its nature must remain unknown’. The Commander provided his successors with advice to keep her on a short leash. This bit of the journal is often completely overlooked, as with her ‘drawing the longbow’, by those who assess Krotoa’s role and modus operandi.
To understand Krotoa’s resistance role one needs to look at the Khoena’s overall resistance strategy – one that ultimately failed after the second Khoena-Dutch war of resistance. The Khoena strategy was one of containment. That is to keep the Dutch isolated from the interior by means of a blockade and, to keep them economically dependent on the Peninsula Khoena. Jan van Riebeeck’s counter-strategy was to break out of any blockade and to open direct contact with the interior by means of divide and rule tactics. If possible he also would have directly enslaved the indigenes or forced them into highly controlled group areas or ‘redoubts’ – concentration camps.
The Khoena’s Achilles’ heal was their own divisions. There were three different tactical approaches to dealing with the Dutch and these were unfortunately competitive. Krotoa played her crucial part in the third approach in my opinion as an ally of Chief Oudosoa.
Autshumao’s tactic was to pressurize the Dutch to stay locked in to the Table Bay area and to remain dependent on the Goringhaicona trading settlement as go-betweens for all trading with the interior. He went to great lengths to ensure that direct contact between the Dutch and the other Khoena clans were kept to a minimum. Autshumao also resorted to trying to play up the English threat to the Dutch which he knew to be their fear. The Goringhaicon were vulnerable because they were a modern formation of traders whose culture and way of life had substantially changed over a few decades in a scenario which would have solicited a degree of envy and distrust among other indigenes too. Autshumao and his small Goringhaicona clan were soon overwhelmed by the Dutch and the entire game-plan shifted from his grasp. He had little back-up to call upon for assistance. Krotoa was Autshumao’s eyes and ears in the Fort – but for Commander van Riebeeck she was his eyes and ears on his opponent too. It is this competative circumstance that took the ten year old girl into the VOC Fort in the first place.
The second tactician was Nommoa also known as Doman, who had learnt much about the Dutch weaknesses after he had travelled to Batavia (Jakarta) and back to the Cape. He followed a similar tactic to that of Autshumao, but with significant differences. He saw Authshumao’s Goringhaicona as insignificant in numbers, not militant enough, too removed from Khoena traditions and undisciplined. Nommoa sought to replace the Dutch dependency on Autshumao and also on Krotoa with himself. This in fact was one of his weaknesses. In turn he also attempted to develop a united front between the Goringhaiqua and Gorachoqua to stand up against the Dutch and flex their muscles. Ultimately his solution was a military one in which he felt that by going to war, the Dutch would capitulate. Being a bit of a loner, having travel abroad for a long period of absence also resulted in Nommoa possible being regarded to some degree also as a maroon, and this was another weakness.
Nommoa really believed that the Khoena had the strategic advantage at that point and to wait to take action would result in the foe becoming more formidable. Under Nommoa the Peninsula Khoena went to war in the first Khoena-Dutch war of resistance from 1659 – 1660. The indigenes handled themselves well and Nommoa utilised his intelligence gatherning while with the Europeans, to his advantage. He chose the terrain and weather condition to engage in battles that were a disadvantage to the Europeans. The result of the conflict was a stalemate, but Nommoa’s power and influence was reduced and the Dutch made significant gains. The Dutch by default won the peace in that they had an endgame whilst Nommoa did not.
The third tactic was employed by Oudasoa of the Cochoqua and I suggest with the aid of ally Krotoa. The containment strategy took a completely different approach through what was essentially a diplomacy and brinkmanship tactic. Oudasoa had large herds of cattle outside of the immediate reach of the Dutch as well as the numerical strength to oppose the Dutch and isolate them to the Peninsula. But he needed to bring his entire operation nearer to effect both a blockade and open up direct trade. He also faced the hostility of all of the Peninsula Khoena clans. Oudasoa needed to tread carefully and played his approach very carefully. He needed to either subject the Peninsula Khoena to his rule or he needed to win them over to a united front. He thus operated in a manner which kept both options open, but ultimately did not succeed largely because he waited too long and also succumbed to Dutch ‘divide and rule’ tactics.
Oudasoa knew that if he entered the territory being occupied by the Dutch in a piecemeal manner, and if small groups of Cochoqua were constantly attacked by Peninsula Khoena, the Dutch would eventually get the upper hand. Oudasoa utilizing the skills of his wife’s sister Krotoa, attempted to present the Dutch with an offer he believed that they could not refuse. He offered to bring his cattle and people into the Peninsula where he would keep order among all of the Khoena as long as the Dutch assisted him in such a move and extended a sole and direct trading relationship with the Cochoqua. Effectively this would have made the Cochoqua the sole Khoena authority in the region and a large and economically powerful enough Khoena presence surrounding the Dutch would in his belief have effectively contained them.
Krotoa played a crucial part to realize this strategy. She first did her rounds raising enough cattle to provide van Riebeeck with a taster for the economic gains that he could make. She then set up meetings at the highest levels between Jan van Riebeeck and the Cochoqua. And finally as interpreter she passionately argued the case for the Cochoqua.
But van Riebeeck smelt a rat. He began to distrust where Krotoa’s loyalties lay. He refused to go along with Oudosoa and first wanted the Cochoqua to demonstrate loyalty to the Dutch by allying with the Dutch against the Peninsula Khoena. This would have amounted to removing the thorn in the side of the Dutch without any immediate gain for Oudosoa. The elder-leader was no fool and decided to walk away, telling van Riebeeck that he would have no part in his war against his fellow Khoena.
The diplomatic brinkmanship of the Cochoqua through Krotoa did not win the day and Oudosoa’s struggle would continue for another decade. Krotoa I believe had however exposed herself and her loyalties to her people and she was to pay a heavy price for this. Her role as interpreter and emissary came to an abrupt end and her relationship with her protector, Jan van Riebeeck, soured and this threatened her place in Dutch society at the Fort.
I put forward that an assessment such as I have made here though with a bit of speculative license offers the only possible answer to the clear and rapid breakdown in Krotoa’s relationship with the Commander. It also explains his reference to that which can only be ‘verbally conveyed’ and that ‘because of its nature must remain unknown’. The only other alternative would be something of a scandalous personal nature between her and someone very high up among the officials, possibly the Commander himself.
There were few entries about Krotoa in the Commander’s journal from this point onwards and the last entry showing Krotoa as interpreter was in 1661. By 1662 the Commander and his family were also about to leave the Cape. Over the next decade after the Peninsula Khoena had been subdued, the Dutch and the Cochoqua were on a collision path that ultimately resulted in the second Khoena-Dutch war of resistance leading to the defeat of the Cochoqua and the Khoena strategy of containment. The importation of horses (cavalry), more soldiers and guns gave the Dutch the strategic advantage in war. Mobility and fire-power was his key to success as was his divide and rule strategy.
Krotoa’s life underwent a new dramatic change in 1662 when Commander van Riebeeck left the Cape. It coincided with the death of her uncle Autshumao, her mother’s death and the death of her sister, the wife of Oudasoa.
Faced with her uncle, mother and sister’s deaths, and with the growing distrust in her by the Dutch, the deaths of the few Dutch friends that she still had and, the fact that her main patrons the van Riebeeck’s were about to leave the Cape, Krotoa needed to find some security. She had to use all that she had learnt to make her next moves. I do not believe that there is any evidence for her to have been forced to be baptised or to be forced to marry. This was a strong and astute young woman who knew that she was at a crossroads and took charge of her her own way forward using the only options open to her.
She found her tenuous security in requesting to be baptized as a Christian and by entering a marriage which could be characterized as one of convenience with a VOC official. While some Europeans opposed this marriage as scandalous it was a convenience not only for Kratoa but also for the VOC as it provided a means to spirit Krotoa away from the public gaze without too much ado. The VOC could manipulate its official’s lives in whichever way they desired. Krotoa took her own action but in this there was also a degree of manipulation by the VOC.
The man that she married was a Danish man, Peter Havgardt who by a custom enforced by the VOC adopted the Dutch persona of Pieter van Meerhof. Known as the VOC surgeon, he worked as a barber and had responsibility too for amputations. A surgeon in those days was not what we would call a surgeon today. The marriage allowed the company to quickly dispatch Krotoa and van Meerhof to company duties on Robben Island – a kind of exile.
This did two things – it cut off Krotoa from supplying information to her people and it took her out of circulation among the emerging gentry where the presence of the young Camissa indigene woman was an embarrassment, particularly because of the prior dalliances of their husbands during the time when women were in short supply. Krotoa would also have to get used to being a more stereotypical woman by making home, being a good wife and making babies without any distractions. She over the next few years gave birth to 5 more children. From all accounts the confined and boring life after her interesting and active life at the fort and across the Cape drove her quite potty. I believe that the combination of earlier trauma and the exciting life of interpreter and emissary certainly were ingredients for her mental anguish.
The years of sexual dalliances between Khoena and slaves with the VOC officials, which Van Riebeeck referred as ‘fruitification’, to which Kratoa seemed to have been exposed, now needed to be forgotten as the Company men and their new European wives wished to look respectable. ‘Carnal conversation” the formal term of those times referring to sex was now to be well and truly tucked away from view especially in the confines of the fort .The Fort itself was about to be destroyed as a new large and more developed Castle de Goede Hoop was being built and transformed into a seat of governance. The van Riebeeck project and experiment with her life which had offered her so much dreams had by now deeply traumatised Krotoa, who in the last decade of her life stepped over the edge.
Pieter van Meerhof grew tired of Robben Island, even although unlike Krotoa he was away from the island periodically on expeditions. After having another child with Krotoa on Robben Island, he seized an opportunity to go on a slaving operation to Madagascar and in the course of the expedition he lost his life. His role of ‘taming’ Krotoa had lost steam and there is evidence that the VOC had plans to establish him in a senior position in Mauritius. The marriage between Pieter and Krotoa had come apart at the seams.
Their marriage had only lasted three years. After her husband was killed, Krotoa was temporarily allowed back on the mainland and she tried to fit into the very different European world to that of her teens. Krotoa had two more surviving children viewed as ‘illegitimate’. She was rejected by the new gentry and forced to ‘know her place’ among the transient lower classes, mainly men, who only wanted her as a drinking companion and to satisfy their sexual urges.
With van Meerhof’s death, Krotoa’s only security was gone and the full weight of the years of trauma and displacement weighed heavily on her. Her ever deepening dependency on alcohol, probably first introduced to her in her childhood, took her right over the edge. Her children were removed from her, she was hunted down, thrown into the dungeon and then she was banished to Robben Island.
During this time on Robben island, in 1673, a certain Willem ten Rhijne, a Dutch visitor to the Cape, described Krotoa as:
“…. a masterpiece of nature. She had embraced Christianity, spoke fluent English, Dutch, French and Portuguese and was conversant with the Holy Scriptures…. in short, she was most commendable, being trained in all womanly crafts and had been married to one of the surgeons serving the company.”
This description contrasts sharply with the figure painted by the Church Council and the VOC authorities at the time.
Historian Karel Schoeman points out how this version by Willem ten Rhijne and another positive note in 1672 by JP Cortemunde contrasts sharply with the accounts in Commander Wagenaer’s Journal for 1671 – 74 wherein he refers to Krotoa as ‘drinking herself to death’ and to her ‘vile unchastity’.
Krotoa had walked a thin line that determined her relations with her own people and the Dutch. When it mattered most, in the time of war, I believe that she truly found herself caught in the middle. I believe that she played an important role in choosing to provide her people with strategic information and navigating a place for herself. Had she succeeded she may well have become as wealthy and as leading a personality as the later Free Black entrepreneur Swart Maria Evert had become.
She also became the advocate for the Cochoqua strategy to isolate the Dutch settlement and develop an equitable trading relationship. Had the Khoena succeeded under the Cochoqua, Cape Town and indeed South Africa may have had a different history. For her asserted independence and experimental approaches she was scorned by the Dutch, rejected and treated as one who had betrayed them. She also did not deliver to her people, or to herself and her time had come and gone.
As she found herself more and more of an outcast she turned to alcohol and it took her closer towards her tragic end. She was called a deceitful whore and a vixen by the people who once embraced her. Karel Schoeman says that on her death the new Commander’s Journal talks of her ‘irregular life’ and says that ‘she finally quenched the fire of her lust by the passive acceptance of death’. It would seem that the Journal tells us more about the writer than about Krotoa.
The last decade of her life when she was clearly suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome after a decade of upheavals, disappointments and abuses often is projected in an amplified and judgmental manner without due analysis of the other two decades and its impacts.
Krotoa who was a carefree child in the exciting world of the Camissa settlement experienced the whirlwind of changes brought about by the Dutch settlement on the doorstep of her village. She got swept up by the forces and experiences of the time but began to get an understanding of her times and had developed her own form of resistance to colonialism after having found herself in the extraordinary circumstances of her teenage years. She sought out and followed the potential opportunities that beckoned. She was no ordinary lass. I believe that she followed her dreams which became dreams deferred and that exploded in the latter years of her life. Right up to her death she refused to be down at heal and cursed the society in which she had felt used and abused.
It was only in death that Krotoa found a place of her own. After being buried with the rest of the Christian dead at the Fort, when these graves were removed to the consecrated grounds at the Groote Kerk alongside the Camissa, Krotoa finally rested at her traditional home by the river. Across from where she lay was the old Hippo pool where she accompanied her uncle in those days before settlement. It is a pity the political opportunism sought to disturb her rest and drag her to the Castle. At the same time in a way she had also crossed a border of finally being accepted into a status in death that had never been hers in life – acceptance by the Church authorities. this makes it more peculiarly in 2016 officialdom decided that she be removed from the church burial ground near Camissa, her home, and to be taken to the Castle of Good Hope for reburial yet again. In death Krotoa remains contested in a tug-o-war not of her making.
Her descendants crossed every group, ethnic and class boundary, but they were largely oblivious to her and her story – and oblivious to the Camissa footprint and legacy.. Perhaps it was only much later that her spirit found peace when her remains were moved to a plot at the Groote Kerk built alongside the then still visible Camissa stream. Camissa received back her own. Krotoa truly can be regarded as the founding mother of many. I believe we owe it to her to restore her dignity and give her the pride of place in a different narrative of what happened in the past. Krotoa is one of my 9th great grandmothers.
What is the legacy that Krotoa left? The first thing that must be acknowledged is that without Krotoa and the information she provided, Jan Van Riebeeck would never have been able to pass on such a rich wealth of information on the local indigene people to us as recorded in his journal. Nobody else dominates its pages as does Krotoa. Krotoa provided the information even although she was not the writer. Van Riebeeck, in a sense, was the scribe and she – the ghost-writer. In his journal, regardless of the flaws and bias, there is a result available for posterity of the peculiar teamwork which paints a picture of all of the Khoena clans named and describes details which may never have been conveyed for the future. It also tells us about so many Khoena characters who may otherwise have been lost in the sands of time. This is a great legacy which makes Krotoa much more than an interpreter and diplomat. She was also a chronicle.
Krotoa’s life is bound up with the hidden story of the people and events on the banks of the Camissa River of the 1640s to the 1660s. By looking at the life and times of Krotoa and her other indigene and slave contemporaries such as another of my 9th great grandmother’s Lijsbet Arabus, we are able to discover something of ourselves that has been lost in time. Like the Camissa River which still flows hidden beneath the City of Cape Town, so is it with the descendants of the Camissa people. Connecting with Krotoa is one of the keys to unlocking the heritage of many South Africans and rediscovering the strength symbolised by this ancestor.
By understanding Krotoa, what she was up against and how she handled herself regardless of what was thrown at her we can have a better sense of who we are as a people, not so much in narrow terms of ethnicity and so-called race or ‘nation’ but as people who can rise up above adversity. Krotoa was a linguist, a diplomat and emissary and a powerful woman in her own right. Faced with incredibly difficult circumstances, she walked among the landmines of her day and found her own way to make her mark for her people. While adversity dragged her down she refused to live her life down at heal. Adversity took its toll and took her to an early grave but she remained unbroken into the social conformity that had been thrust upon her. At times thinking about Krotoa and the adversity she faced makes me very sad and emotional but then I remember her differently. Victim is not the way I think of her. Though a broken woman in death, the best part of her life she was a strong woman.
Linguistically Krotoa was a pioneer of the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans is a Creole language with strong Seaman’s Dutch at its roots. But it also has German, Portuguese and French roots too. However, Afrikaans itself largely emerged among two streams of people who had European languages as their 2nd or 3rd languages – the Khoena and the slaves of the Cape. Today there are more people of colour across many ethnic groups in South Africa who speak Afrikaans, often as their first language, than white people who so. This language also provides an opportunity for Africans and Afro-Europeans to unite around something that is dear to both. Krotoa offers the hope that the narrow and race besotted definition of Afrikaans and Afrikaner can give way to something more universally embraced. Here there is much in the history of people of colour and the Camissa Footprint regarding the roots of both the language and the term.
The Khoena of the Camissa Settlement and the slaves of the Camissa Settlement were exposed to all of the European languages and likewise had their own Khoena and Melayu dialects which were also introduced into daily discourse. Thus the languages of the Khoena and slaves influenced the emergence of Afrikaans in an indelible manner.
But perhaps more importantly Xhore, Autshumao, Krotoa and Doman as interpreters were the earliest midwives in the birthing of Afrikaans as a language. They were the first to cross the borderline of suiwer-Nederlands into the world of the patois Cape low-Dutch or the Creole Afrikaans language. The first 12 slaves mainly from India, and the new waves of slaves from West Africa and Southeast Asia and Madagascar all also contributed to the emergence of this new language. It was vital for communication that boundaries in language needed to be crossed. This is an important sub-story of the Camissa Footprint.
Krotoa was the first indigene African to convert to Christianity in South Africa and she was the first indigene African to formally marry a European. Whatever we now may think of that marriage it was a pioneering step that ought to be remembered.
It is with Xhore, Krotoa, Austhumao, and Nommoa and the Camissa settlement that the people today labeled as ‘Coloured’ have their roots. The indigenes of Camissa and the slaves who were forcibly brought to Camissa from other parts of Africa, Madagascar, India, Southeast Asia and China, gave birth to the many people throughout South Africa today who can share a pride in being the children of Camissa…… and this too can be embraced beyond the confines of the label ‘Coloured’.
If it was not for the tenacious and passionate work of historian Mansell Upham we would still be labouring under a very distorted picture of the last days of Krotoa and about what happened to her children. South Africa owes a great debt to this historian.
Mansell Upham briefly touches on the last years of Krotoa’s life in a work on her slave contemporaries. He elaborates on the fate of Krotoa’s children and explains how Krotoa was accused by the Dutch Reformed Church Council of being a drunk and “playing the beast at night” and reverting to her ‘native habits’.
His research tells us that on the 8 February 1669 a new Church Council of the Dutch Reformed Church was elected and at the first sitting of this Church Council a decision was taken to remove Krotoa’s three children from her care. The church councillors having taken this decision pulled the wool over the eyes of Krotoa to lull her into a sense of false security. They simply conveyed a reprimand and suggested that only if she did not mend her ways that her children might be removed from her care. The decision to remove the children had however already been taken and they were about to execute their decision.
Krotoa, then known as the widow van Meerhof lived in the old pottery, then a make-shift abode. Krotoa got wind that all was not right and feared for what may be done to herself. She fled when her children were seized and her house was sealed up to keep her away. The children were put into the temporary care of the outgoing Church Deacon Jan Reijniers and his wife in February 1669. They passed the responsibility on to associate Barbara Geems. The Reijniers were considered to be ‘honest and godly people’ and had already been made the adopted parents of another infant Khoe child by the name of Florida. This child died a short while later.
The three children of Krotoa were formally committed to the care of Jan Reijniers and his wife in 1669.In reality far from being pious, Jan Reijneiers was a notorious cattle rustler and sheep thief who had been caught at it by elder-leader Gogosoa of the Goringhaiqua. Reijniers was also convicted thief. Barbara Geems ran a notorious brothel.
On 10 February 1669 Krotoa was apprehended, arrested and imprisoned and later in March was banished without trial Robben Island where she was to remain until her death on 29 July 1674. Krotoa’s children were shipped off to Mauritius in 1677. Theirs is another story. My forebear, Pieternella, Krotoa’s daughter was to return to the Cape with her husband Daniel Saayman after the Dutch East India Company (VOC) abandoned Mauritius. Pieternella died aged 50 in that fateful year of 1713 when smallpox ravaged the colony.
Krotoa was banished to Robben Island and her children tucked away in Mauritius to get rid of the embarrassment of the Camisaa mark on society. Leading figures in Cape Society in the early 1700s – Adam Tas and Henning Huysing scornfully referred to ‘the Black Brood among us’ referring to persons of colour in the free citizenry of Cape Town and the two van der Stels, considered to be people of colour. An almighty attempt was made to airbrush the Krotoa legacy from the Cape Heritage. But in returning from Mauritius, Pieternella (Petronella) and her children ensured that the footprint of Krotoa proliferated throughout South Africa.
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