CAMISSA – STORY OF A RIVER, PORT & PEOPLE

The Camissa foundation of the Port City of Cape Town

Patric Tariq Mellet (Sept 2016)

camissa-2For a long time there has been an unbalanced approach to recalling the past in which the indigene experience has been but a footnote in an otherwise European dominated narrative. Even the critical view of many European commentators of the time had been marginalised. Effectively the indigenes are simply presented as incidental to the founding of the port settlement of Cape Town and presented as playing no significant part in the founding of one of Africa’s most important cities. Indeed not only were the Dutch responsible for dispossessing them of their land and livelihoods but indigene people also found themselves robbed of their history as the true founders of the City of Cape Town.

Much amplification is given to the many traveller texts and to Jan van Riebeeck’s narrative that are quite disparaging of the indigenes of Table Bay. These refer to the indigene Khoena as temporal inhabitants, dirty, smelly, lazy, good-for-nothing, thieves, scavengers unaware of the broader world beyond their shores and, they are likened to beasts.

This unfortunate view is deeply embedded in the minds of scholars and generally of South Africans in particular. However, there are other accounts of seafarers and scribes which tell a different story of an enterprising and helpful indigene people, some of whom had travelled abroad and, of trading and port operations in a busy port that precede the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck by at least 52 years and effectively constituted a settled proto port trading community.

Even the better historical accounts present the maroon Goringhaicona community as a kind of mystery phenomenon without ‘joining the dots’ between increased shipping and its impacts on indigene modes of living and economy. Entrepreneurship is simply brushed off as scavenging and begging practices by primitives.

Also deeply embedded in social history enquiry is the notion that the story of people of the Cape people’s mixed ancestral heritage starts in 1652, whereas the circumstances of the 52 years prior to the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, and the dynamics of any port settlement globally suggests otherwise.

Further consideration of the first fifty two years of the 17th century is that it offers an alternative version of the foundation of the port, the city of Cape Town and its people. All of the considerations taken together also provide a positive and non-racial ‘heritage anchor’ for those labelled ‘Coloured’ and indeed all who cherish what can be referred to as the ‘Camissa footprint’. Passing scribes, Tavernier and Mundy, make clear references to indigene children who in their eyes are described ‘white and beautiful’, ‘European looking’ but with both indigene African as well as European features and in reference to appearance as ‘some well-favoured as it could not be expected’.

For example, the accounts also show that Europeans consistently spent lengthy stays at Table Bay from as early as 1601 during which time they interacted extensively with the indigenes. McCall Theal in his ’History of SA 1486-1691’ tells us that Spilbergen makes mention in 1601 that their sick were conveyed to land where a hospital was established. He also talks of ships ‘wintering in’ at Table Bay. Raven Hart in his book ‘Before van Riebeeck (1967) provides the figures of 1,839 sheep and 149 cattle being traded to 4 ships between 1601-1608. Jean Baptista Tavernier in ‘The Six Travels…’ tells us “So soon as the ship arrives, they (the indigenes) bring their beasts to the shore with what other commodities they have, to barter….” After being shipwrecked with 62 men in 1647 and remaining at Table Bay for almost a year, Leendert Janzsen in his ‘Remonstrance’ to the VOC states “the natives came with all friendliness to trade with us….bringing cattle and sheep in numbers.”

Richard Elphick in ‘The Khoikhoi and the founding of white South Africa’ emphasises “In a sense, the VOC Company’s frontier had reached the Peninsulars (indigenes) fifty years before the Colony was established.” This statement was a great leap forward on a previous blanking-out of any perspective prior to 1652 that cast indigenes in a favourable light or gave any credence to what may be called modern social organisation or ‘civilisation’.

In contrast to Elphick’s cautious but advanced exploration, most studies still do not draw all of the many elements together that stand out during this period and none make the conclusion drawn about the indigene founding of Cape Town and the heritage roots of those who can refer to themselves as the ‘people of Camissa’ or descendants of ‘the Camissa footprint’.

To arrive at different perspectives or conclusions, a combination of the perspectives and experiences of both sides of the ‘shoreline frontier’ – looking from inside outwards and outside inwards, is required. While we are challenged by the fact that there is no written record by indigenes, in the absence of any written record from within, there is a greater onus to look at overlooked texts, the omissions, contradictions, obvious embellishments, and ideological overlay in the many views and records of the time. Then there is a need to listen more carefully to the voices recorded and raised in opposition among the indigenes at the time of initial dispossession – even though recorded by the beneficiaries of dispossession. Empowering the eye or perspectives of the marginalised and those denied their own self-determination of heritage and identity in our time is a further factor that motivates a fresh view of this period.

Lengthy stayovers at the Cape increasingly became the norm from 1600. This is not shown in the general historical narrative to the degree that it ought to be shown, because it is in fact much larger and had greater impacts than previously acknowledged. Historical narratives often deliberately give an impression that the trading activity in Table Bay was there but minimally so and largely sans real indigene interaction. In other words they suggest only opportunistic individual trading took place and that only now and then was there very limited interaction between Europeans and indigenes and that the latter were child-like primitives if not noble beasts.

Records however show that stayovers could be anything from a week to six months and in the last decade prior to 1652 arrivals of ships were up to 3 per month. This would substantially alter the narrative of the state of the situation on the arrival of van Riebeeck, himself a much more controversial figure than is acknowledged. Contradictory perspectives among the Europeans allow us opportunity to question dominant narratives. Overall it is almost as though in the two decades before European settlement that European presence was semi-permanent with few gaps in between.

In 1644, 250 men survived the wrecking of the Dutch Ship Mauritius Eylant and remained at Table Bay until rescued by a ship, the Tijger, which according to Thomas Aldsworth, “had to be despatched to rescue them.” They remained camped at Salt River for four months before being picked up and the number of people were almost twice as many as Van Riebeeck’s later 1652 settlement party.

Earlier than this, it is noted that as early as in 1611, another account by Aldsworth states “the climate is very healthy, insomuch that, arriving there with many of our people sick, they all regained their health and strength within 20 days”. Furthermore he says that a report to the directors of the English East India Company says – “we found the natives of the country to be very courteous and tractable folk, and they did not give us the least annoyance during the time we were there.” As a result of the frequent stayovers many make-shift forts and redoubts were built over decades. Indigenes became quite accustomed to the European and other visitors.

The anecdotal accounts are backed by maritime records showing that from 1590 until 1700 there were 2632 ships that called at the Cape, involving 5 nationalities, and of these 1071 ships dropped anchor in Table Bay between 1600 and 1652. Stay-overs could be anything between a few days and a couple of weeks.

In reading works such as Robin Knox-Johnston’s “The Cape of Good Hope – A Maritime History” and “The Dutch East India Company’s Shipping 1602 – 1795 in a comparative perspective” by FS Gaastra and JR Bruijn from Leiden University, one is also able to glean other facts that call into question the traditional amplified narrative on the beginnings of the port of Cape Town, the depth of services rendered before 1652 and, the negative characterisation of the indigene people of Table Bay.

The latter provides a full list of sea-traffic broken down per nationality for each decade of the 17th century and interrogates what they were carrying, and shipping attrition rates. While the Dutch dominated the numbers of ships doing lay-overs, from the first decade of the 17th century England followed with significant numbers of vessels, followed by  France, Portugal, Denmark – all dropping anchor and having lengthy stay-overs in Table Bay.

In the period 1610 to 1620, English ships increased to ten times the number of the previous decade and this strongly indicates why the English considered colonization at this point in time and then later opted to support local development of indigene support infrastructure after their attempt at colonisation with Newgate convicts in 1614 – 1616 failed. In 1619 they even formally explored a joint English-Dutch presence at the Cape and in 1620 England formally annexed the Cape of Good Hope but nothing came of this venture.

When one looks at the comparative maritime records of that time one gets a good picture of the competitiveness between the different European powers, the dominance of the Dutch, the size and shape of their vessels and changes over time to this technology due to the cargoes carried. One further needs to examine the attrition rate that faced vessels and the dire need for passengers especially the sick to have breaks ashore. What nobody really interrogates is the effect of all of this on the local population at the Cape and on their way of life. Indeed it is projected that for two centuries the indigenes dozily and idly sat and watched all of what was happening at the Cape since 1488 when the Europeans first entered their space, or 1421 when the Chinese fleet of Zeng He passed by. Indigene social history has been overwhelmed by purely anthropological and archaeological approaches until Elphick dared to present his work outlining a pre-1652 meeting of indigenes and Europeans at the shoreline frontier of South Africa.

One needs to examine not just what the huge shipping traffic carried from the east, but what they carried to India and Southeast Asia. Likewise, one needs to understand the powerful dynamics in that region which lent strategic importance to the Cape. One also sees a dramatic and striking attrition rate of ships by examining the number of ships that made the return journeys. The attrition rate through wrecks and wear and tear on vessels shows in that only around 50% of these vessels returned to Europe. It spurred on the development of shipbuilding technology and the need for advanced stop-over repair stations en route. The attrition rate of 50% of the ships being unable to do the return voyage was one of the chief drivers for the need for sophisticated stop-over points starting with refreshment posts and graduating to ship repair facilities. It also became the chief driver to replace the indigene proto-port operations with a more sophisticated port operation.

The international records show an almost studious omission in our South African history books to mention that the main outward bound role of the shipping from Europe was to carry company officials and huge loads of troops to supply the wars in South and South East Asia with soldiers. When we look at the numbers surviving the wrecks and multiply this with the number of ships that stopped at Table Bay, as many as 215 000 people travelled through the Port over half a century. In the east the Dutch were fighting the English, French and Portuguese, indigenes and Muslim Sultanates at different times and they needed to fortify their factories and huge bases in India, Sri Lanka and at Batavia.

Factories stretched across the long Indian and Bengal Coast and from Arakan (Rakhine State) in Myanmar, to Thailand (Siam), Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, through to Formosa, and Japan and then throughout Indonesia. This was a scenario thirsty for thousands of armed troops.

The United Dutch East India Company had all the powers of state ceded to them by the Dutch States General. These troops, to be deployed in active combat in the east, needed time ashore at strategic stops. After a stop-over at St Helena, the voyages were long and arduous with the soldiers and officials getting sick and dying on board. They also grew grumpy and fights broke out. It was most certain that by 1615 already that the ships masters were complaining that troops had to have time ashore at the Cape of Good Hope. The VOC then formally took a decision that in 1616 it would be compulsory for all Dutch shipping to lay-over at Table Bay. This raises the fact that the contact with indigenes at the Cape must have been greater than many historical accounts project and that the impacts on indigene way of life in Table Bay must have been great. It is this that is the most likely factor to result in two Khoena groups splitting from the Cochouqua (≠Ōxōkhoena) and later the split from the Goringhaiqua (!Uri//aekhoena) all of whom permanently lodged themselves on the Cape Peninsula.

This kind of sea traffic through a port creates stowaways and stay-behinds; shore-leave by men leads to sexual encounters and relations becoming a norm of port; ship repairs would have needed the gathering of repair materials and therefore negotiation of terrain, cutting and gathering timber and this would have led to job creation and further trade. The ships themselves required supplies of fresh water, meat, salt and other edibles and the indigenes, particularly inland were well known to have large stocks of cattle and sheep. Over half a century trade and service patterns grew and grew. There are a number of records of long-term stays by substantial numbers of stranded as well as sick Europeans at the Cape. On the whole, given the recorded numbers involved, (much larger than van Riebeeck’s initial compliment) living in much more rudimentary conditions, shows that conflict with indigenes was not the order of the day. The few incidents of conflict are easily explained as was done ably in Leendert Janzsen’s ‘Remonstrantie’ to the VOC Chamber of Seventeen.

All indications, and a number of seafarers accounts, show that there was a major impact on locals through the influence of large numbers of ships stopping at the Cape, the frequency of these ships long stayovers, the different nationalities involved, the need for repairs during stop overs, the need for soldiers and officials to go ashore in large numbers, the need for diverse supplies, probable occasional need to leave the sick behind, the required postal and news communication services required and so on?

The impact on the people of the Cape Peninsular (//Hui !Gaeb) was so great that we see the emergence first of an indigene clan with the name Gorachouqua (!Ora//khaukhoena) and then an offshoot of this clan called the Goringhaiqua (!Uri//aekhoena) who become permanently settled in the areas later named Liesbeeck, Mowbray and Rondebosch, and then a maroon clan which established themselves in a trading village first on Robben Island and then on the banks of the Camissa River (//ammi ssa) in Table Bay, called the Goringhaicona (!Uri//ae/goena). Interestingly the name Gorinhaiqua (!Uri//aekhoena) means ‘white coming together with (indigene) people’ when you linguistically break down the three components in the name. The Goringhaicona means ‘the children of the Goringhaiqua’. These even seemed to have stopped keeping their own cattle, supplementing their food intake with fish, shellfish and birds, when not partaking in surplus bartered livestock provided for shipping. Much social history may be hidden in these giveaway clan names and by the acquired practices that set them apart from other indigene communities. The indicators of proto-urbanisation are clear to be seen.

It would in fact seem that originally there was just the Cochoqua (≠Ōxōkhoena) who visited the Cape Peninsula in a transhumance pattern moving along the West Coast to the Penisular and back cyclically according to weather patterns and herding their livestock. The impact of European visitation changed both the way of life and the economy of the indigenes and a permanent presence emerged at the Cape Peninsular with first the Gorachouqua and the Chariguriqua (Xririkhoena) emerging as breakaways and then the Goringhaiqua and the Goringhaicona. Signs suggest that the emergence of the latter two coincide with the engagement of Xhore (Coree 1613) and Autshumao (Haddah 1631) by the English and the trade relations with European ships that follow those events. With these changes also saw the development of rivalries and conflict and records show that the different clans were not averse to seeking superiority in their conflicts by asking Europeans to back them up.

The English in particular made interventions that catapulted changes in modes of living and economy for the indigenes by taking key personalities abroad to London and Bantam and Jakarta. This practice was then copied by the Dutch. Written accounts show that at least five verifiable Khoena had been taken abroad to gain experience and training, if not more, between 1613 and 1655. With these interventions new commodities became available and a chain of value attached itself to those commodities – skillets, knives, spoons, iron, copper, brass, tobacco, clothes, and alcohol. The commodities themselves introduced new social problems and they skewed the trade in and ownership of livestock.

Xhore and a companion were kidnapped and taken to London aboard the Hector in 1613 but only Xhore survived the trip. Sir Thomas Smythe of the English East India Company had hoped that after requisite training Xhore may facilitate his other plans for Table Bay. This involved establishing a colony initially using ten Newgate convicts under Captains Peyton and Crosse after they returned the kidnapped Xhore (Caree), to Table Bay. After three disastrous years for those earliest of European settlers, the colony experiment was abandoned.

The English fell back on a ‘plan-B’ and Xhore became the first of the formal traders used as trade and service facilitator by European shipping. He thus became an authority figure or Chief of a clan which amassed wealth as a result. He is said to have been murdered by the Dutch for non-cooperation in 1626 and thereafter according to Elphick there was an immediate down-swing in economic relations at the Cape as a result.

Even although Xhore served other European nationalities too, with Xhore gone, the English suffered the most, as they enjoyed the best relations with Xhore and his people. It is clearly too, that because of this loss, the English made a second major intervention in taking Autshumao to Bantam in Java and to Jakarta in Southeast Asia for observations, training and orientation. Thirdly, and most importantly, on returning him to Table Bay, they to the unprecedented step to set him with his followers on Robben Island to run a formal supply and postal station. He did this ably, engaged with other nationalities and even with authority once directed the French away from what he called an English station. But after a few years the Robben Island station proved inefficient and too restricting for Autshumao and, by request of the indigenes, this community was assisted to move back to the mainland.

Peter Mundy travelling on the English ship Mary refers to Autshumao (Haddah) on Robben Island noting that he even wore European clothing, “Here the said Haddah lives with his kindred and allies numbering about 60 persons – men, women and children. They come all about us very merrily rejoicing at our coming, better apparelled than those on the mainland, though after the same manner. Except for Haddah who on that day wore English clothes from head to toe.” There is another text where an observer again notes that Haddah (Autshumao) was wearing English clothes.

The English then re-established Autshumao and his 60 followers on the mainland approximately in 1638 where they established their settlement alongside the Camissa River where it flowed over the beach into the sea. So about 20 years before Jan van Riebeeck settled at the Cape in 1652, it is thus undisputable that Autshumao and the Goringhaicona ran a proto-trading and servicing community which interacted with European shipping. This was the true foundation of Cape Town.

There are many signs that Autshumao performed his trader and port master role ably, was a proficient linguist, was shrewd and astute and, also knew the value of playing off the English and their enemies, the Dutch and French. The large formations of Khoena also knew to keep their main herds of thousands of cattle and sheep cattle, and their families far inland away from the Europeans so Autshumao was not simply an opportunist go-between trader but served a very useful defensive buffer role. Regardless of the basic nature of the services provided Authshumao offered post and communications, stevedoring, ship’s chandeliers, and trader services.

Robin Knox-Johnston notes “ the Dutch and the English also had their own trusted native who would keep letters and hand them over to the Captains of home-going ships. A ship on arriving in the bay would fire a cannon and this would bring the ‘Postman’ down to the beach…. A ship’s boat would be sent to fetch him and he would exchange mail and report any other useful information for a small reward.”

Jodocus Hondius III (1622–1655) in a work ‘A clear description of the Cape of Good Hope’ published in Amsterdam in 1652 describes the Table Bay site and river as follows – “A short distance beyond the tail of the Lion Mountain is the little Fresh River which is a stream rising in the foothills of Table Mountain, or in its higher slopes. The river usually flows quite strongly, but in most parts the water does not reach above the knees. In the year 1644 the crew of the wrecked ship Mauritius Eiland marked out a fort with 4 bastions across this Fresh River in order to protect the fresh water, but no building took place until this present year, 1652, when a fortress was begun on the eastern side of the same streamlet.” Here he refers to Van Riebeeck’s appropriation of the Camissa, the exact spot being around the backside of the Golden Acre Centre, Strand Street, Plein Street and the upper end of the Grand Parade.

It was at this spot alongside the river known in the local language simply as Fresh Water – Camissa (//ammi ssa), that the indigenes established the foundation village and port operation that would become the City of Cape Town. The Goringhaicona themselves were dubbed ‘Watermen’ by the Dutch. This was about 14 years prior to the European settlement in 1652.

When van Riebeeck arrived in 1652, over the first 8 months he built a fort right on top of Autshumao’s village at the Camissa which had hosted him and his men. Van Riebeeck notes that after he had moved into the fort he could still see the forlorn Autshumao encamped by the river. According to Hondius Jan van Riebeeck was to act on a clear instruction in this regard made by the VOC Chamber of Seventeen, “The skippers were directed to proceed to Table Bay, and to construct close to the Fresh River, a wooden building, the materials for which they were to take with them. They were then to select a suitable site for a fort, to contain space for the accommodation of seventy or eighty men, and to this fort when finished they were to give the name Good Hope.”

The term //ammis or gammis or kamis or kamma which is the root for ‘Camissa’ is the old indigene language of the Nama and !Ora as per Haacke & Eiseb (2002: 246) and Krὃnlein & Rust (1969: 80) is the term for any fresh-water river as noted by Portuguese cartographer Lazaro Luis in 1563 on his map as – ‘de Camis’ alongside the name ‘Aguada de Saldanha’ for the same river flowing through Cape Town. The Khoena did not have affectionate or honorary names as in the European tradition of naming places. Words used were utilitarian and simply descriptive or for verbal route-mapping.

Hence the name gammi, kamis or kamma or cumis (water) pops up at many other places too, meaning the same thing – fresh water. For example – Tsistsikamma = tse-tsesa + kamma referring to the river means ‘clear water’ or ‘place of much water’ or the ‘place where water begins’. (Dictionary of Southern African Place Names – P E Raper, Head, Onomastic Research Centre, HSRC and Tsitistsikamma National Park). In cross-referencing the cartographic reference of Lazaro Luis we can also look at an entry on 24 April 1682 by Governor-General van Goens captured in Moodie’s Record (1959) page 387 which notes the inland Khoena people referring to a fresh-water river as ‘Camissa’ or ‘Cumissa’. In Cape Town the main fresh water tributary – kamis or kamma – that ran from the mountain Hoerikwaggo to the sea was given many names by the Europeans and three of these coincided with that of the indigenes – Camis on Luis’ map, Agua de Saldhana (water of Saldhnana – the original Portuguese name for Table Bay) and Soetwater Rivieren (Sweetwater) – freshwater as distinguishing this from Zouten Rivieren.

It should be noted that although in 1644 the survivors of the Mauritius Eiland had mapped out a fort plan at the same spot, when in 1647 a shipwreck occurred at Table Bay the Dutch did not build their fort at this spot where the Goringhaicona were settled but rather did so near the Salt River and dug and well for fresh water. The Dutch ship Nieuwe Haarlem on its way back to Holland was wrecked in the vicinity of Woodstock beach.

The 62 survivors under Leendert Janszen built a small wood and sand fort called Sandenburg at Salt River and built a deep well to access underground fresh water. They remained at the Cape for the best part of a year until 1648. Leendert Janszen, Matthijs Proot and Jodocus Hondius III (a scientist) used their time to gather intelligence on the terrain, its vegetation and animal life, the indigenes, their cattle and sheep herds, and their trading practices, as well as the visitations of other vessels and the mapping of the Table Bay peninsula.

What Janzsen and Proot had to say about the indigenes and about how relations with them should be conducted would later be contradicted by Jan van Riebeeck. They note – “the indigenes came with all friendliness to trade with us….bringing cattle and sheep in numbers…. Yes it is true that some of our soldiers and sailors have been beaten to death by them, but that happened with good cause so as to exonerate such actions by the indigenes where the cause resulting in retaliation is as always being concealed by our people; for we firmly believe, that if the farmers in this country – Dutch States General – were to experience their cattle being shot or taken away without payment, and had no protection from an organised justice system, they would not by one hair’s difference act in any other manner than these indigenes had acted.   The indigenes are a people without such institutions or forms of government as those of India, but they are peaceably disposed and capable of being taught. There was no doubt that the indigenes could learn the Dutch language, and in course of time could be educated in the Christian religion.”

In 1648 a fleet of 12 ships that stopped over for 18 days, under the command of Admiral GW de Jong, took Janzsen and his men back to Holland. On board the same ship carrying Captain Janzsen was the disgraced VOC merchant from the Dutch Factory at Tonkin in Vietnam that had been caught out stealing from the VOC – Jan van Riebeeck. The disgraced official showed a huge interest in Janzsen’s proposition that the Dutch should establish a permanent base at Table Bay. During the three weeks sojourn at Table Bay, Jan van Riebeeck also got a good feel for the place and talked to the other survivors. In the process he developed a contrary view to those expressed by Janzsens and Proot in their report. It was on board the return voyage that Janzsen and his five senior men had prepared a proposal for a permanent Dutch presence at Table Bay  – known as “remonstrantie”. It  found favour with the VOC Chamber of Seventeen.

Van Riebeeck, described as having that dangerous cocktail of characteristics – a fiery temper, resoluteness, untiring energy, unbounded zeal and needing to redeem himself with the VOC offered to lead a settlement expedition to establish Dutch control at the Cape when Matthijs Proot took a decision to not avail himself for the post.

The Dutch needed to maintain their dominance in the east and hence the control of the strategically positioned Cape was seen as vital and that there needed to be a more technologically advanced port operation to achieve the much needed ship repair and servicing required so as to halt the huge attrition rate experienced by shipping.

Janzsen and de Jong’s views of the indigenes projected highly favourable and respectful in comparison to that of Jan van Riebeeck’s approach and also of many of the disparaging views that painted the indigees a liitle more than beasts, or at best in the later words of Jean Jacques Roussouw – ‘nobel savages’.  Janzsen’s approach notably mirrored that of the English, who built a system of cooperative relations with indigenes. Janzsen spoke glowingly of the Khoena in Table Bay who were of great assistance to him during his long sojourn. He recommended that the VOC accept and respect the existing trading and servicing role of the indigenes by ensuring that any settlement is based on cooperation rather than conquest.

Van Riebeeck however was bent on conquest and dislodging any form of intermediary trading by indigenes. He wanted a simple direct cost-effective trading relationship as a stepping stone for ultimate company control over resources. As such, the Camissa community’s entrepreneurial approach as a proto trading class of local people of colour was out of the question for van Riebeeck. He was also wary of the fact that the local kingpin, Autshumao had a very strong relationship with the English and was not shy in projecting veiled threats to call for assistance from his English friends.

The report to the VOC presented the statistics of how many vessels were stopping over, how many people going ashore, the trade that was being done and importantly that no European power had established themselves at the Port where trading was only organised by the indigenes under an English trained and sympathetic Autshumao and a relatively small settled group of indigene ‘Watermans’ next to the Camissa which they called the Soetwater Stroom (also known as Rio Dolce, Rio de Camis and Platteklipstroom). Van Riebeeck saw this scenario as a push-over and thus the die was cast. Although instructed by the VOC to tread carefully and show respect to the local operations of the indigenes, he believed that while the VOC and Captain Janzsen had their ideas, he was his own man. Effectively van Riebeeck went head to head with Autshumao, treated his trading practices as thievery, undercut his business and made a hostile take-over of Autshumao’s business and modest settlement at Camissa. The maroon Goringhaicona were totally disrupted. Van Riebeeck took Autshumao’s 10 year old niece Krotoa and a number of other indigenes as servants. They would live and work in the Fort de Goede Hoop alongside the Asian slaves imported to serve the VOC officials.

History has been most unfair to Autshumao and the Goringhaicona trading mission at Camissa and has never properly analysed what happened in the 52 years prior to van Riebeeck’s arrival or the 20 year old human trading settlement at Camissa and the impacts of the large scale visitations of ships, sailors, officials and troops who were adequately catered for by locals. The social history of this port has never been properly recorded as a village community with its sizable yet relatively small population. This community was born of a people who had changed their mode of living, economic and social habits as had happened in every other port across the African coastline and globally. Why should the Cape indigenes and their ‘Tavern of the Seas’ settlement be viewed any differently?

In a paper by David Johnson in 2007 published in ‘18th century studies Vol 40’ by John Hopkins University Press, entitled ‘Representing the Cape Hottentots –  from the French Enlightenment to Post-Apartheid South Africa’, two French traveller-writers, Levaillant and Grandprè, comment on the dispossession of the indigenes of the Cape by the Dutch.

Levaillant levels a similar critique to that of Janzsens in 1648 – “ It is without reason that he (the Cape indigene) is accused of being cruel. . . . Can anything be more sensible than to repel force by force?. . . Wherever we have sought fit to establish ourselves, we have reduced the unhappy nations to slavery or flight; we have appropriated to our own use, without scruple, whatever appeared to answer our purpose”.  Grandpré’s description of the colonial encounter moves on to describe the genocide of the ‘Bushmen’,  arguing that the Dutch exceeded the cruelties of Cortés and Pizarro in the Americas, as “they have hunted the Boschis as one would hunt hares; their dogs have been  trained for it. Hunting packs of dogs, horses, slaves, children, women, men; all are put to this dreadful purpose.” He goes on to say – “The Dutch will always be to blame for the ruin of the Hottentot nation in the eyes of sensitive men; they have repeated at the tip of Africa the same bloodied scenes as the Spaniards first enacted in America. Perhaps they only lacked a Las Casas to make a formal complaint against them before the tribunal of the whole of Europe. When they did not slit the throats of these people by the thousand, they wiped them out one at a time. If they did not train their dogs to hunt them down initially, they did so in due course. . . . The Dutch government failed its obligations to these destitute people. . .”

We know that across the Peninsula and Cape Flats there were up to 40,000 indigene inhabitants, mainly Khoena and over the broader Western Cape up to 50,000 more, both Khoena and San. These made up around 16 Khoena clan groupings and at least five San or /Xam groupings of different strengths, and they were very rich in livestock. After the 1713 smallpox epidemic and as a result of forced removals, war, pass laws, genocide and forced apprenticeship on farms only some 15, 000 Khoena and San indigenes were scattered across the Cape Colony, mainly in servitude by the second half of the 18th century –  about 16,74% of the original population. From the 1670s already many indigenes began fleeing in the direction of Namaqualand and the Gariep River. Many try to paper over the ethnic cleansing of the Western Cape by blaming the Smallpox epidemic, which although being a contributor to the loss of numbers, was only one small factor.

Van Riebeeck left a record of lesser known correspondence, other than his famous diaries. While the latter tended to portray him favourably by his own hand a wider view of his correspondence and the views of others, sheds a different light on the man. It was he and his cavalier attitude towards the indigenes that laid the foundations for the 160 years of wars that lead to the flight of the Cape Khoena to the northwestern Gariep district and to the mass genocide of the San despite their valiant wars of resistance.

Elphick notes that shortly after arriving at the Cape, Van Riebeeck in 1653 wrote to the VOC imploring them to allow him to round up all the Peninsula Khoena, put them in chains and force them into labour. The VOC refused his request. Then in 1657 he again wrote to the VOC outlining a plan and seeking approval to build 5 ‘redoubts’ in Hout Bay to form concentration camps into which he would lure the Peninsula Khoena and their cattle and then keep them so imprisoned so that they may continuously be forced to supply cattle to the company.

This concept was initially considered by the VOC but was rejected only because it would have cost too much and required many soldiers. This was the complete opposite of the approach that Captain Janzsen had promoted. Van Riebeeck’s ideas set the paradigm of European-Indigene relations that has remained to this day. Forced removals and the “redoubt” concept which essentially translated into group-areas and reservations lasted well after Jan van Riebeeck, right up to the imposition of the Group Areas Act under Apartheid. From these initial concepts of visiting aberration on the indigenes, a 160 year war lasting into the second decade of the 19th century against the Khoena and San ensued and dovetailed with the 100 years’ war against the amaXhosa in the Eastern Cape. Nigel Penn in some detail in his book ‘The Forgotten Frontier’ how this ethnic cleansing process included well-recorded genocide campaigns by Khoena conscripts in European led Commandos.

Record of the early foundational human endeavour of a Khoena settled trading community which embraced visitors and whom no doubt some visitors embraced and remained and assimilated into deserves more recognition. Certainly the first children to have been born from relations between the indigenes and  sea-travelling Europeans, free-black travellers and slaves occurred in those 52 years prior to European settlement and requires much, much more research and evaluation attention. This Camissa (//aami ssa) village where the Grand Parade, Castle and District Six stands today on the Cape Peninsula known to the Khoena as //Hui Gaeb! can give us all a whole new take on our past. It is this Camissa Footprint and all that was born from it pre-1652 and post-1652 that informs our sense of identity.

It is also of importance to note that the earliest organised and persistent resistance to the machinations of the European settlement actually was led by Camissa indigenes that had to some degree embraced change, new economies and new modes of living. Each had engaged intimately with the Europeans and had to a great extent broken with tradition. It was unfortunate that it was these people who had learnt the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Europeans, when entering their social order, to the extent that they could craft oppositional strategies, had at the same time become alienated from their broader kinfolk. Their very engagement with the Europeans led to suspicion, envy and antagonism between each other and between them collectively and the people from whom they had become marooned. Xhore, Autshumao, Krotoa, Nommoa and Das each developed their own resistance strategy and each experienced defeat on the one hand and alienation on the other. All found themselves between the wire and the wall. These interlocutors knew that their world was changing and that change could not be held back and tried to navigate the tide as best they could. They tried to alert the other indigenes around them to this new reality and in vain tried to show leadership but the powerful force of ‘divide and rule’ came to overpower them during a time of a great paradigm shift.

We certainly cannot ignore this overwhelming evidence that 1652 was not a magical date of Khoena and European interaction….. nor can we ignore the vast numbers of vessels and people from abroad who came here and interacted with locals…. Nor can we ignore that key notable indigene figures had travelled abroad and returned and engaged with new technology and trading and new ways of living and were not merely ignorant ‘primitive’ beach scavengers. With all of this information at our fingertips we cannot accept uncritically the European writings that have marginalised and robbed South Africans of a fair view of their forebears.

Genetic enhancement in South Africa continued after 1652 when the heritage of the Camissa footprint continued to be weaved as indigenes, slaves, Free Blacks and European non-conformists continued to embrace each other and their struggles to overcome adversity. Historian Mansell Upham tells us that while formally Jan van Riebeeck forbade European company officials for having “carnal conversation” (sexual intercourse) with slaves and indigenes, privately he is on record as telling officials to go forth and “fruitify” them. This injunction too is a part of the story of the Camissa heritage as is the over four centuries of experiences of the children of Camissa in rising above various forms of adversity including Apartheid.

Today the Camissa River still flows vibrantly underground through Cape Town and into the see just as it always did. But now it is hidden from view, covered over by layer after layer of superstructure that makes up the City of Cape Town. So too has layer upon layer of obscuring overlays, been placed on the identity of those labelled ‘Coloured’ by successive administrative regimes. Both the river and the people have been covered over. The first step in uncovering these layers is to acknowledged that once, long ago before colonial settlement, a people who had set up on the banks of the Camissa River formed a trading and service community and in so doing they lay the foundations of a city and a creole people.

There are much more complexities in our past than many care to acknowledge, but also a wonderful focal point arises for us to move away from racial terminology and exclusive terminology in anchoring our local identities alongside our national, regional and pan African identities. An understanding of this early heritage should encourage us to move away from race terminology of using terms like – Coloured, White, and Black as a reference. There are three broad heritage streams that flow through people in South Africa and no rigid walls separating us – African, Afro-European and Afro-Asian. This is heritage and not race. The African family of communities is diverse as much as is the Afro-European and Afro-Asian heritages. As part of African identity, Camissa people (not ‘coloured’) have a heritage that incorporates the embrace between indigenes, slaves from India, Southeast Asia and Africa, as well as Free Black travellers, indentured labourers, exiles, refugees, economic-migrants and non-conformist Europeans. The Camissa heritage brings all of these wonderful tributaries together and the Camissa people can take rightful place alongside other African communities – Zulu, Xhosa, Cape Khoena, San (/Xam), Sotho, Korana, Tswana, Venda, Pedi, Nama, Griqua, Shangaan, Ndebele, Lembe, Swazi and others. All three heritage streams – African, Afro-European and Afro-Asian have many sub-community identities in the diverse South African family of peoples. Thus the story and the heritage of the original founders of the port and the people that they embraced gave birth to the creole descendants who were labelled ‘Coloured’.

On a personal level when explaining my heritage I express that I am born of a people who over successive generations rose above adversity. I go on to say that I am an African from Southern Africa and I have a Camissa heritage. I am Camissa and am a citizen of South Africa which embraces a diversity of heritages. The Camissa people and village at the fresh water river flowing from the mountain to the sea in Table Bay was the foundation of Cape Town in the first half of the 17th Century. Indigenes with a new mode of living shaped through their trading with passing ships over time embraced a diversity of peoples who crossed their shoreline threshold. Later through resistance to colonialism and the adversity visited upon them the indigenes and the Camissa footprint also embraced other resisters – slaves from India, Africa and Southeast Asia; Free Black travellers, non-conformist Europeans, various maroons, exiles, refugees and economic migrants. These tributaries and their interactions is what shaped me as an African. This and the many stories within this frame is my proud heritage. This is more powerful that the race label – ‘Coloured’.

FURTHER BIBLIOGRAPHY

In addition to works noted and sited in the text, the following works were also consulted:

John Cope- King of the Hottentots, Howard Timmins, Cape Town (1967); ML Wilson – The Strandlooper concept and its relevance to the study of the past inhabitants of the Southern African Coastal Region, Annals of the South African Museum – vol 103 – Part 6 (Dec 1993); Barbara Watson Andaya & Leonard Y. Andaya – A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia 1400 – 1830, Cambridge UP (2015); Kerry Ward – Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company, Cambridge Up, (2009); Richard B. Allen – European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean 1500 – 1850, Ohio UP (2014); Donald Moodie; The Record (May 1888), AA Balkema, Cape Town (1959) HB Thom edt;  Journal of Jan van Riebeeck 1652 – 1662; Van Riebeeck Society, AA Balkema, Cape Town / Amsterdam (1958); Karel Schoeman; Seven Khoi lives – Cape biographies of the seventeenth century, Protea, Pretoria (2009); Dictionary of Southern African Place Names – P E Raper, Head, Onomastic Research Centre, HSRC and Tsitistsikamma National; Mansell Upham; Made or Marred by Time; www.e-family.co.za/remarkablewriting/MadeorMarred.pdf;  Adrien Delmas & Nigel Penn  –  Written culture in a Colonial context: Africa and the Americas 1500 – 1900, UCT Press (2011);; Nigel Penn – The Forgotten Frontier:Colonist & Khoisan on the Cape’s Northern Frontier in the 18th Century , Ohio UP (2009); Written culture and the Cape Khoihhoi – From travel writing to ‘full description; UCT Press (2011);   William Crooke edt –  Tavanier -Travels in India, transl V Ball (1925); – Sir Richard Carnac-Temple; The travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia 1608 – 1667; (1967) – JP Cortemünde; Adventures at the Cape of Good Hope (1962); HCV Leibbrandt- Precis of the archives of the Cape of Good Hope, Journal 1662-70, 1671-74, WA Richards & Sons (1901, 1902);  Henry Trotter – Sailors as Scribes; Travel as discourse and the (con) textualisation of the Khoihoi at the Cape of Good Hope 1649 – 90,  http://www.henrytrotter.com/publications/downloads/trotter-sailors-as-scribes.pdf ; The early Cape Hottentots, Olfert Dapper, Willem ten Rhyne en Johannes Gulielmus de Grevenbroek Editie I.Schapera en vertaler B. Farrington (1933);

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2 thoughts on “CAMISSA – STORY OF A RIVER, PORT & PEOPLE

  1. A very powerfull writen history for us all to understand what and who we are. To follow the trend one has to ask: you name all the different groups that constitude the population of today’s South Africa, and rightly protest against the use of words based on skin colour. So where do it leave the people who came from Europe and also make this great country their home, or fall they under your classification of AfroEuropeans? Surely this would not be recoqnised by the Americans’ definition of AfroAmerican or NativeAmerican, etc?
    Die Afrikaans sprekende blankes het , soos jy dit stel in ‘n vorige blog, die afrkaner of afrikaander benaming ook oorgeneem van die inboorlinge van daardie tyd deur hulself te laat vereenselwig as ook inboorlinge van Afrika: dit om hulle los te maak van Europa. Met protes sal hulle nie Europeus genoem wil word nie maar kinders van Afrika.
    It can be expected that in your writings the negative of the past- and in the microcosmos and macrocosmos of the mental developement and capasity of the pre-twentieth century the negative or superior attitude of people from the then developed world is understandable to a certain degree- will come through. Especially when Jan van Riebeeck is concerned, but by doing that you will bring out a knee reflex action from the order of tha pre 1990’s. This may make old Jan a hero again. A word of caution here. The same apply to the feeling that one get when you look at your writings concerned the English- a little too much angelwings here- and the Dutch- a little too much devil horns here.
    That being said: a usefull look from the inside- out perspective, and going a long way in correction or filling, gaps in history.

    • One does not have to be fluent in a language to have an opinion or perspective. Although Afrikaans is the language of my late father and his family, my father unfortunately abandoned the children that he had with four different women and we unfortunately grew up in English language foster homes and institutions leading miserable and impoverished lives. I wish people would not be so judgemental. I also was forced by the Apartheid Regime to seek refuge elsewhere in the world for 14 years, cutting me off from the language. Nonetheless as a student of history I had a passion for Afrikaaps and Afrikaans and do love the language which I understand very well even if my spoken Afrikaans and written Afrikaans is of the hakkel-hakkel type. I participated in assisting a group of talented young people to develop the brilliant stage production AFRIKAAPS which has traveled all over SA and to our schools and to the Netherlands to great acclaim. So please forgive me for being a lessor mortal because I express myself in English. I love Afrikaans…. I love Afrikaaps even more…… and its sad that an Afrikaans speaking person feels that I am unworthy of talking about the language and its origins. In SA we really need to start respecting where each other comes from…. and its not all from the same place. Tragedy has consumed many of our lives but from that tragedy we can still express our appreciation for what we see, hear and recall from the past and leave something good for the future. I dearly wish that I could have spoken Afrikaans in its wonderful expressive and lyrical and gutsy character but unfortunately as with many other things it was robbed from me by circumstances not of my making.

      On the issue of white South Africans…. the world is their oyster in establishing who they are or who they want to be and it is not up to someone like me to tell them how they should identify themselves. They certainly cannot do this by stealing the terminology of identification from others. There is no doubt that they are of European Heritage and that they are born in Africa and from there they can work on it. Some among them could come to terms with the fact that they too have indigene bloodlines and heritage and also the bloodlines of migrants of colour and there heritage too. In other words they can embrace Camissa too. The options are many and for each person it is a very personal issue. I am not particularly interested in narrow ethnic group politics and thus I refuse to address myself to a Group. I talk to individuals and I dont dictate such a personal thing as how a person seeks to project their identity. As far as the sins of the ENGLISH are concerned, you clearly have not read all of my writing. The English come out much worse off than the Dutch in my critique…so no Angel Wings. I really dont understand people who deflect critique by saying look over there instead…. they’re worse than us. The genocide against the San and ethnocide against the Khoena by the Dutch and their slavery regime is well matched by continued genocide against the San by the English and the genocide against the Xhosa by the English. One little difference…. the Dutch tried their best to hide these things in documentation while the English left copious notes and letters about the finest of details of their acts of genocide. I also don’t accept the facetious argument that new generations of critics should muzzle ourselves lest we make supporters o of Jan van Riebeeck and a whole lot of other aberrations react with knee reflex. Dr Mulder had this debate with myself and others in the JOURNALIST publication and came off very short. Censorship and self censorship benefits nobody.

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