GENEALOGY SERIES: Bay of Bengal Roots

Two of my ancestors were noted as being from Bengal – Darius van Bengal and Lisbeth van Bengal. The toponym ‘Van Bengal’ used as surnames in records is very broad in interpretation. In the case of one of my other ancestors with this toponyms, dna shows her to trace back to the border region of Myanmar-Laos-Thailand, known as the Golden Triangle. Without dna tracking for other slaves with this toponym we can only assume that these slaves were either from Bengal / Bangladesh or from the broader Bay of Bengal.

The Bay of Bengal includes the territory of India known as the Coast of Coromandel, Bangladesh (Bengal), Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Without dna tracing Darius and Lysbeth may have come from any of these areas. The Dutch had slaver stations in Sri Lanka, Coast of Coromandel, Bengal and at Arakan (Rakhine province in Myanmar).

Darius van Bengal (bn1677 was one of my 7th great-grandfathers) had a daughter with Anna Groothenning van Bengal (bn circa 1674) slave from Golden Triangle – Myanmar-Laos-Thailand). Their daughter Maria van der Kaap (bn 1703) married Frans Verkouter (bn 1660). Their daughter in turn Anna Catharina Verkouter (1737) married Arnoldus Vosloo (bn 1724), the son of Johannes Vosloo (bn1694, slave son of  Tamara van Madagascar) and Gerbrecht Herbst (one of my 6th Great Grandmothers who was the daughter of one of  my 7th great grandmothers Lysbeth Arabus a royal slave from Madagascar, of Sumatra and Ethiopia lineage.)

Arnoldus Vosloo (bn 1763) who was married to Anna Spies had a daughter Martha Vosloo who married Johannes la Grange whose daughter Anna la Grange married Josef le Cordier, father of my paternal great-grandfather Anthony le Cordier, father of grandmother Elsie Petronella (le Cordier) Mellet (bn 1900). My paternal grandfather Pieter Francois Mellet snr settled in District Six with Elsie Petronella and my father was their first-born in 1922

Lisbeth van Bengal (bn 1643 one of my 9th great-grandmothers) was another of the earliest slaves at the Cape who is a 9th great grandmother in my family tree. She was captured in the Bay of  Bengal region, brought to the Cape and sold to Jan van Riebeeck by Rear Admiral Pieter Kemp in 1657. She had around 8 children by different fathers. Her fourth child born around 1663 was fathered by a Pieter NN and the child was named Anna Pietersz. Anna was born into slavery as her mother and herself were only freed ten years later in 1673.

Anna later first married Anthonij de Later van Japan a fellow freed Japanese slave. Anna then later married Matthys van Wijk (bn 1645) and had a daughter Elizabeth van Wyk (1679).

Elizabeth married Nikolaus von Wielligh and their daughter Johanna von Wielligh (bn 1716) married Mattheus Willemse (bn 1711). Their daughter Gertruyda Johanna Willemse (bn 1752) married Bernardus Lambertus Zaaiman (bn 1752 descendent of my 9th great-grandmother Krotoa of the Khoi Watermans or //Ammaqua) great grandfather to Elizabeth Saayman (bn c 1838) who married my 2nd great-grandfather Jacobus Johannes Mellet (1822).

GENEALOGY SERIES: African-Creole slaves in my roots

In my direct lineage family tree there are thirteen first generation slaves who were captured from Africa, India and Southeast Asia and brought to the Cape, and there are 26 slaves in my family tree, 5 Khoi and 19 Europeans making up my roots. Other of my slave ancestors are covered in this series from Angola; Madagascar-Sumatra-Ethiopia; Kerala India, Bay of Bengal; the Golden Triangle – Myanmar,Laos, Thailand; and Sulawezi.

All across the African island countries like Cabo Verde, Comoros, Seychelles, Reunion, Sao Tome & Principe, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Mauritius and in mainland African countries, especially in – Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola and Mozambique there are African-Creole populations, languages and cultures. The port of Cape Town was no different and the creolisation that first appeared at the Cape of Good Hope spread across South Africa.

Even before Jan van Riebeeck took over and colonised the Indigene run proto port of Cape Town, there were African-Creole people at the Cape. From 1600 – 1652, with 1071 ships dropping anchor at the Cape on their way to Southeast Asia, China and India, and a further over 800 ships on return voyages, something like 150 000 Europeans, Asians and African would have stopped over at Table Bay for periods of between three weeks and one year. Jan van Riebeeck was neither the founder of Cape Town’s port nor the first resident from abroad.

As in any port around the world sexual relations occurred and children were born. Children born of such relations between the Watermans (or //Ammaqua) also referred to locally by the depreciative term goringhaicona (our kin who left us or were expelled) would have been the first African-Creoles. But the explosion of the African- creole population began in a big way after the first generation of locally born slaves. By 1760 the majority of slaves were African-Creoles.
 
The term CREOLE and CREOLISATION is not always well understood and can mean different things to different people. For instance, in the USA, it is simply seen as part of the population of Louisiana that have French, indigene and slave ancestry.
 
The real basic meaning of the term CREOLE derives from French ‘créole’, Spanish ‘criollo’ and Portuguese ‘crioulo’ all coming from the Latin root ‘creare’ meaning a new creation or referring to ‘locally born’. This referred mainly to the first generation of slaves who were locally born to slave parents or slave-indigene parents or to slave-European parents. The full cycle of creolisation occurs when the children of the first locally born slaves are born. Creole people, creole languages and creole cultures exist and are recognised as such across Africa. It is only here in South Africa that the notion of a ‘Coloured Race’ emerged through its creation and enforcement by Europeans.
 
Dr Robert Shell argues (in Children of Bondage; 1994; Wits Univ Press) that there is a point or moment of Creolisation premised on more than 50 % of locally born slaves making up the slave population. In other words, when the character of Cape Slavery was such that it could reproduce itself, then one could talk of Cape Slavery being predominantly comprised of African Creole slaves. Dr Shell quotes the German colonist Otto Mentzel saying in the 1740s that “the majority of privately owned slaves have been born in the country (the Cape Colony)”. This differed with VoC Company slaves at the Slave Lodge where the imported slaves remained in the majority until the end of the life of the Slave Lodge. By 1806 Cape Slavery was a mix of African Creole slaves and new African slaves (Masbiekers & increasingly ‘Liberated Africans’ who were technically apprentices). Few slaves from the old countries of origin (other than Madagascar) such as those from India and Southeast Asia were now being brought to the Cape by 1808 and very quickly it stopped altogether.
 
It is from 1702 through to the 1780s that the 16 African Creole slaves feature in my family tree both as first generation locally borns and as second generation locally borns. Some were married to each other or to Free Blacks and some to Europeans and Khoi. Some were not married but had concubine relationships with Europeans. All African Creole children born of slave mothers would be slaves. Only if a slave fathered a child with a European woman, would that child not be a slave. Enslavement was always passed through a woman. These are my African-Creole slave and Free Black ancestors:
 
Armozijn de Groote van der Kaap 9th great aunt (African-Creole slave)
Armozijn de Cleine van der Kaap 9th first cousin (African-Creole slave)
Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap 7th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Gerbrecht Herbst van der Kaap 6th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Johannes Vosloo van der Kaap 6th great grandfather (African-Creole slave)
Maria Groothenning van der Kaap 6th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Anna Verkouter van der Kaap 5th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Rebecca Mosesz van der Kaap 8th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Maria Cornelisse Claasen vdk 7th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Maria Lozee van der Kaap 8th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Jacobus van der Kaap Steyn 7th great grandfather (African-Creole slave)
Anna Pieterse van der Kaap 8th great grandmother (African-Creole slave)
Francina NN Hadden vdk maternal 1st great grandmother (African-Creole slave)

 

Imported African and Asian slaves, Creole slaves, Free Blacks, Masbiekers, Liberated Africans, Kru, Sidees, Lascars, Saints, Manillas, Perankan Chinese, Indonesian exiles, Chinese, other migrants of Colour San, Khoi, Gqunukhwebe, Xhosa, BaSotho, BaStwana, non-conformist Europeans and many more infusions all contribute to those of us who descend from the earliest African-Creole people… who today refer to ourselves as Africans of Camissa heritage.

 
Pic: Cabo Verde Children (Photo by: Lauren Millar Pintintrest)

GENEALOGY SERIES: Malabar Coast, Kerala, India roots

Many slaves brought to the Cape of Good Hope were KERALAfrom the southwestern Malabar Coast of India which after 1956 with the combining of the Malayam-speaking regions of India, became the State of Kerala with its capital city being Thiruvananthapuram. It also incorporates the old Kingdom of Cochin.

One of my 8th Great grandmother’s was Catharina van Malabar (circa 1650) who locates as being taken captive on the southwestern Malabar coast, in today’s Kerala state.

Before India became independent, under British rule the northern part of Kerala was part of the Madras province of British India. The culture of Kerala is a syncretic mix of Aryan, Dravidian, Arab and European culture which developed over millennia. From its inception Kerala has been a socialist stronghold (Communist Party) in India, and is one of the most successful economic regions with well-developed infrastructure, social cohesion and social services.

In 1498, the Portuguese began to dominate eastern shipping, and the spice-trade in particular. Francisco de Almeida the greatest Portuguese General of that time was appointed as Viceroy of Portuguese India in 1505, and his headquarters was established at Fort Kochi (Fort Emmanuel) in the Malabar region where he established fortresses all along the Malabar Coast. In 1510 this great Portuguese General was defeated in battle by the Khoi at Salt River in Table Bay. D’Almeida and 60 of his senior officers were killed in that battle by Khoi armed with cattle, spears and archery. Later in 1571, the Portuguese were defeated in the region and the United Dutch East India came into ascendancy and gained control of the spice trade over the 1600. It was during this period Dutch exported slaves from the Malabar Coast and the Coromandel coast across the global Dutch footprint including to the Cape of Good Hope. Most who were sold into slavery were war captives and refugees. Some too were natural-disaster refugees or captives of pirates. Some were taken in payment for debts, in a practice known as debt-bondage.

Within 160 years the Dutch like the Portuguese before them were weakened by constant battles with Marthanda Varma of the Travancore Royal Family, and were defeated at the Battle of Colachel in 1741. An agreement, known as ‘Treaty of Mavelikkara’, was signed by the Dutch and the Travancore in 1753, according to which the Dutch were compelled to break off from all political involvement in the region. The British East India Company then expanded into India when in 1766, Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore invaded northern Kerala. His son and successor, Tipu Sultan, launched campaigns against the expanding British East India Company, resulting in protracted wars which resulted in northern parts of today’s Kerala being ceded by Tipu to the Madras Presidency of British India in 1792.

By the 1770s already the export of slaves by the Dutch from India, the Bay of Bengal and Southeast Asia drastically tumbled and died out with the majority of slaves at the Cape from the 1760s to 1860s being imported from Africa. Up until 1834 the majority of new first generation slaves were African and after 1834 the ‘prize slaves’ known as Liberated Africans followed (as forced apprenticed labour) until 1870.

Grandma Catharina van Malabar had a daughter with a Dutch man Cornelius ‘ Kees de Boer’ Claasz. Their daughter Maria Cornelisse Claasen van der Kaap (1678) was one of my 7th great grandmothers who would marry into the lineage of one of my 9th Great Grandmothers the Khoi interpreter Krotoa of the people who called themselves //Ammaqua (Watermans) and other Khoi disparagingly referred to them as Goringhaicona – our kin who left us or were expelled.

Slaves like Maria and others in my family tree who have the name van der Kaap are what are called Creole slaves. Creole simply mean locally born or a new creation. To illustrate how slaves were named we can see that as a first generation slave from Malabar Catharina was given the surname ‘van Malabaar’. As a child born to a slave woman, Maria was also a slave, even though her father was European. As a second generation creole slave Maria had the surname van der Kaap, but she also had her father’s names as baptism names (Cornelius Claaz) Cornelius se kind/ Claasz syn kind. So her name was Maria Cornelisse Claasen van der Kaap. In the third generation only the surname Claasen would continue. This was one of a number of different naming traditions foisted onto slaves. The names of the month, biblical names and names from Roman and Greek classics were also among the traditions. Slaves had little control over their names or anything personal.

A so it came to pass that Catharina (we don’t know her original name) came to be totally divorced from her rich Kerala traditions and culture and she and her descendants would only know Africa as their home. Into her cultural stream would flow the streams of other Asians and Africans and local Khoi as well as Europeans. Her descendants would be a new syncretic African people who would first suffer almost two centuries of slavery and colonial dispossession, and then de-Africanisation and Apartheid… all crimes against humanity, but with great fortitude rose above adversity, resisted these evils and fought for freedom and dignity.

In this short series that I have been posting I have shown the diversity of slaves from Africa, India and Southeast Asia which came together with Indigenous Khoi Africans and with non-conformist Europeans to give birth to an African-creole people who I refer to as Camissa and the state refers to as Coloured (the colonial and Apartheid brand forced on a range of peoples after 1904.

GENEALOGY SERIES: Madagascar Roots

Madagascar has a Malagasy population made up of diverse roots – African, Austronesian and Southeast Asian in the main, but with Somali, Arab, Indian, Chinese and some small European admixture. These constitute many kingdoms. This mixing goes back to migrations between 200BCE and 500 CE.

The Sub-Saharan African Bantu-language speakers were settled in Madagascar by 500 CE. Malagasy slaves are in diaspora across the world as a result of the slave trade. Madagascar is a member state of the Southern African Development Community SADC.

Madagascar was a major source of slaves at the Cape of Good Hope. The complexity of Malagasy society is matched only by the complexity of Cape Slave society. The roots of my Malagasy slave ancestors shows that these slaves brought from Madagascar like the two Arabus sisters – Cornelia and Lysbeth go back to Sulawesi and to Ethiopia, even although they were children from a royal family in Madagascar. The two young girl slaves were initially gifted to Maria van Riebeeck by a visiting French Captain but were handed over to the VOC as company slaves. Lysbeth Arabus is one of my 8th Great Grandmother and her daughter Lysbeth Sanders van der Kaap is one of my 7th Great-grandmothers. Cornelia is one of my 8th Great Aunts. The two Arabus girls were 10 and 12 years old when they arrived at the Cape and were contemporaries of Krotoa of the //Ammaqua (Watermans) aka Goringhaicona.

Another of my 8th Great Grandmothers was Tamara van Madagascar. Tamara was one of five slave women who had children by Johann Vosloo their owner, Johann eventually freed his offspring born into slavery.

Tamara’s freed-slave son, Johannes Vosloo, married one of my 7th Great Grandmother’s (Lysbeth Sanders van der Kaap) freed-slave daughters – Gerbrecht Herbst. (Gerbrecht’s grandmother was Lysbeth Arabus).

Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap was quite a character in early Cape society. She lived a long life until the age of 85 when she died in 1744.

The son of Gerbrecht Herbst and Johannes Vosloo (bn 1694) by the name of Arnoldus Vosloo (1724) married Anna Catharina Verkouter (bn 1737) the daughter of Frans Verkouter (bn1660) and Maria Groothenning.(bn1703) – (daughter of Darius van Bengal (bn 1677) and Anna Groothenning van Bengal (bn 1676) – whose story of origin goes back to Myanmar-Laos – Thailand’s golden triangle…. As per an earlier post on this another of my 8th Great Grandma’s.

This illustrates a web of slave ancestry involving Madagascar, Ethiopia, Sulawezi, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and the African-Creole offspring at the Cape.

There is a wonderful Madagascar Music group called Tarika whose many songs speak of the ancestral mix of Sumatra and Sulawezi and East African roots. Our cultural heritage like that of Madagascar is a beautiful tapestry of over 150 tributaries, but unlike the Malagasy we do not tap into this rich heritage and most are unaware of their heritage. Os Is! Is ja! Camissa!

GENEALOGY SERIES: Sulawezi Indonesian Roots

Remember when the adults would say “Da Bogeyman gonna come ‘n getcha!” Well it emanates from a large island in Indonesia where two of my ancestors originate; the island of SULAWEZI also known as the Celebes. One of the peoples of Sulawezi are the Buginese – the Bogey Men.

The Island has a peculiar shape with four peninsulas and with some small islands along its coastline. The major centre of Sulawezi was the town of Makassar where there was a huge slave trading market which imported 106 000 slaves and exported 155 000 slaves over 60 years from 1720 – 1780.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Dutch fought on three fronts against the Portuguese, the Muslim Arab Sultanates and against Indigenous kingdoms. Each of these groups also battled with each other to convert people respectively to Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. Religious converts were then turned into soldiers. The only united approach by the three imperial forces was against the old indigenous faiths and cultures which they all stomped upon.

The Dutch destroyed the Makassar Sultanate by 1669 and dominated the slave trade there for almost a century. Sulawezi has nine ethnic groups, one of which are the Bugis (Boegies) peoples. The original Bugi-man was a notorious pirate from the region. Besides the Buginese, the other ethnicities are the Makassarese, Mandar, Minhasa, Gorontala, Toraja, Butonese, Bajau, and Mongondow. It was captives from these traditional societies largely un-converted to the European Christian or Arab Muslim faiths who were sold to slavery at the Cape. (When Sheigh Yusuf of Makassar was exiled to the Cape his mission to the slaves won many of these ethnicities to Islam)

Sulawezi was a place of many wars between the Europeans and the various ethnic principalities and between the Europeans themselves. War captives and pirate captives resulted in many people being sold into slavery and a number of slaves at the Cape are recorded as ‘van Celebes’, ‘van Sulawezi’, van Makassar and ‘van Boegies’. Among these slaves were two of my 9th Great Grandparents – Mosesz van Sulawezi (1651) and Sara van Makassar (1667), both from Southern Sulawezi (aka Celebes).

The island of Sulawezi was first colonised in part by the Portuguese in 1523, then the Dutch 1623 and then also by the English. During the 16th century the Topasses (black Portuguese or Indo-Portuguese) dominated many of the islands and were also a force to be reckoned with across Southeast Asia. One of the most powerful Black-Portuguese Topasses families were the da Costas who originated from Portuguse relationships with Indian slaves. Maai Monica da Costa of Goa was the Indo-Portuguese mother of Simon van der Stel’s mother Maria Lievens.

Grandpa Mosesz and Grandma Sara were taken as slaves by force and sold through the port of Makassar as slaves destined for the Cape. The long journey to the Cape was broken by the compulsory stop at Mauritius which was the embarkation point for slaves going on to the Cape of Good Hope. My two 9th Great Grandparents would arrived at

Grandpa Mosesz was at least 15 years older than Grandma Sara, who was the second of his three wives. He also lived ten years longer than Sara. They had only one child together and that was Rebekka van der Kaap who married Otto van Graan. Sara van Makassar died in 1710 while Mosesz van Sulawezi died in 1721. During their life and until the 1780s there was quite a large Sulawezi community in Cape Town.

Over time the sands have blown over the Makassarese and Buginese cultural footprints of these our ancestors, but their spirit is still conveyed on the winds that blow from afar. Sulawezi ancestral and cultural influence are also strong among the people of Madagascar. In both the Cape and Madagascar the Sulawezi cultures and ancestry have mixed with African and other Asian countries as well as some European resulting in African-creole cultures. This also occurs strongly in Mauritius which was a stop-over port. Few among our Camissa people know and appreciate the diversity of these roots. Sulawezi has a rich a deep history and culture which at least in part is relevant to descendants today.

PICS – What Mosesz and Sara would have looked like. Old photos of traditional Sulawezi people

GENEALOGY SERIES: Angola roots

One of my 9th Great Grandmothers was Marij van Angola who was born around 1641 around the time the Dutch with the help of Queen Njinga Mbande overthrew the Portuguese Colony of Luanda in Angola. They controlled Luanda for only eight years when the Portuguese again seized control of the Colony City that they had founded in the 1500s.

At the heart of this fight for supremacy in Angola was the lucrative slave trade. The Dutch allied with the famous warrior Queen Njinga (Donna Ana de Sousa) of the Mbundu people in the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms, a legendary military tactician who led her forces into battle resisting the Portuguese at every turn including allying with the Dutch temporarily to defeat the Portuguese.

Finally thwarted from establishing their base in Luanda, the Dutch decided on establishing their much needed base at Table Bay, four years after their defeat in Angola. In the early 1600s as a result of the Portuguese foothold in Congo and Angola there was also much travel by Angolan nobleman as in one of the attached pictures. With the huge amount of sea traffic, including Portuguese, stopping at Table Bay (over 1071 outward bound + 800 homeward bound), it is more than probable that these African noblemen would also have visited Cape Town before Jan van Riebeeck too….(before 1652 around 150 000 travellers would have visited Table Bay since 1600)

People of Sub-Saharan African roots, speaking what we know to be branches of the Bantu family of languages have a long history in Cape Town going back to the Khoi-Xhosa mixed-society known as the Chainouqua, before the Dutch Colony was established. But when the Dutch were first setting up the colony in 1658 two events occurred that resulted in a mass migration of sub-Saharan Bantu-languages speakers to Table Bay. (NOTE: Over 400 different ethnic groups covering much of three-quarter of the territory of Africa speak some forms of Bantu languages. Bantu is no a people or ‘race’ – it is a family of languages). Both events occurred in 1658.

The story of Great Grandma Marija (Maria) involves one of these forced migratory events.

In 1657, the 16 year old girl Marij was captured inland in Angola and marched to Luanda, forced onto a ship with over 500 others bound for the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Out on the high seas the ship was intercepted by a smaller Dutch vessel, the Amersfoort , which quickly took over the slaver vessel after a short fight. The Dutch found the ship overladen with a slave cargo of mainly children from Angola. Between 1500 and late 1800 Angola was literally denuded of its children taken as slaves to the Americas, mainly Brazil.

The late great historian Karel Schoeman provides us with the factual data. The Dutch removed 250 children from the badly disabled slaver ship, leaving the rest of the slaves adrift. Marij van Angola was one of the 250 seized as prize cargo and taken to the Cape of Good Hope. Only 174 of the 250 slaves taken on board survived the journey to the Cape. Another 32 of these children died within the next six weeks at the Cape. It was then decided that 92 would be taken to be sold in Batavia (Jakarta) and probably 50% of these died before reaching the end of the journey. Then 24 of the child slaves were sold to Free-Burghers, and 26 were retained as Company Slaves, but 7 of these escaped to seek refugee with local indigenes and were not recaptured.

Marij van Angola was sold to Jan van Riebeeck and became part of his household for just a few years before being sold again when Jan van Riebeeck left the Cape to Batavia.
In the second forced migration of West African slaves 271 slaves, again mainly children but also some very old people, were bought from those who had captured them in Guinea, marched them to Grand Popo and then after negotiations over the per head price, they were loaded on board the Dutch ship the Hasselt.

The attrition rate was heavy on the sea route to Table Bay as 43 of the slaves on board died on the journey. Of the 228 landed at the Cape, 80 would be sent on to Batavia (Jakarta) which was the seat of the VOC Governor who ruled over the Cape and its Commander van Riebeeck. Again around 50% of these died along the way. Of those remaining 52 died and 41 were kept by the Company as slaves and 55 were sold to Free-Burghers.

This African slave population (146) by end of June in 1658 was almost as big as that the European population (166) of 95 Company Garrison and 20 Dutch women and children, 51 Free-Burghers, 15 Asian slaves and 7 Asian Exiles (Free Blacks). Together with the Asian slaves and exiles there was just one more of the forced migrants than the VOC and Free-Burghers. A company of Amboyna soldiers among the VOC population resulted in there being more migrants of colour than Europeans in 1658, with Africans being the largest ethnic group.

Those that falsely spread the nonsense that people of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, speaking Bantu languages, are recent arrivals in Cape Town and disparagingly referred to as Eastern Cape refugees by the likes of Helen Zille, are simply ignorant or racist, or both.

He then 17 year old (9th great) Grandma Marij who probably looked like the Angolan lass in the picture had undergone a harrowing journey and was lucky to be alive. When all the emaciated and sick children landed, Jan van Riebeeck and his brother in law decided that there was only one way to control the young slaves and this was by issuing them with rations of alcohol and tobacco every day. No wonder so many of these traumatized children died.

In this largely male colonial scenario the young Marij had two children, both girls, who by birth to a slave also became slaves. One of these girls, named after her mum, was my locally born slave ancestor Maria Lozee who, like her mother Marij van Angola, is one of the direct ancestors of my father’s grandmother.

All of the different women who were my root (or progenitor) ancestors at that time knew each other and interacted, sometimes living with each other. Among them were strong connections with the Guinea slaves. The daughter of one of the Guinea slaves died as one of the richest women in Cape Town in 1713 leaving an exceptional will. Besides other farms that she owned she was the first owner of the farm that became Camps Bay. She was also known as Maria. They called her Zwarte Maria Evert – Black Maria the African. Her one son became the greatest winemaker at the Cape in the 18th century. He owned part of the Constantia Estate. Another Free Black woman, Anna de Koningh owned Groot Constantia after Simon van der Stel. Her husband had bought the farm and soon after he died and she inherited it.

So many Marias…. Whenever I hear one of my favourite pieces of music, it is these women all named Maria that I think about – AVE MARIA!

Marij is one of 26 enslaved ancestors in my family tree from Angola; Madagascar; Ethiopia; India; Myanmar-Laos-Thailand; Sulawezi; and Makassar; and the others who are locally born African-Creole slaves. There are also 5 Khoi ancestors and 19 root European ancestors.

I celebrate them all as part of my Camissa heritage as an African and South Africa. There is much to learn about the survival, fortitude, innovation, resilience and resistance in this heritage of rising above adversity – the adversity of colonialism, dispossession and crimes against humanity such as genocide, slavery, de-Africanisation ad Apartheid. Os is! Is ja! Camissa Os is!

GENEALOGY SERIES: Myanmar-Laos-Thailand roots

In the 1670s on the northwestern coastline of Southeast Asia where today we have Myanmar, also known as Burma, the Dutch who had a footprint all over the region had a slave-market station in Arakan, today Rakhine province of Myanmar. At that time the borders of China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar/Arakan frequently shifted in a region where wars proliferated. The confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers in particular were marker reference points in the shifting borders where a great ethnic mix occurred in times of great fluidity and mass movements of peoples fleeing conflicts.

War captives were the main source of slaves sold through Arakan and many slaves sold to the Cape of Good Hope were known by the toponym of “van Bengale” denoting the Bay of Bengal, running from the Coast of Coromandel and Bengal all the way down to today’s Malaysia and Singapore.

This makes the tracking of the Southeast Asian component of Cape Slavery ancestry very difficult when this toponym or the toponyms of “van Batavia” and “van Java” is used. While other toponyms more often specifically relate to the territory named, these three toponyms like that of “van Ceylon” are merely slaver station names where the slaves themselves may be from a broad range of locations. “van Arakan”, “van Tonkin”, “van Burma” and “van Siam” are all used along with “van Bengale”. So here is where dna testing becomes very useful and it is possible for a straight line of direct descent of a current day descendent to track the mtdna of a forebear.

Around 1676 a child who would be known by the name of Anna was born in this region today known as the Golden Triangle where we have the confluence of the Ruak River and Mekong River and where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos border each other. The Golden Triangle involves all three territories which share a history. This was the birthplace of one of my 6th Great Grandmothers, the child Anna. She may have had one of a number of local names but I choose to call her Maenaam (child of the River). Working back from the time she was sold from on board the ship Spiegel by the skipper to a man by the name of Gerrit Meyer in 1698, she would have been around 17 years of age on capture, like the young woman in this old photograph of a girl from that region.

The first part of a long journey that would have taken a probable four years and involved unspeakable indignities and abuse, would have been an overland journey to the Arakan coast where she entered the slave trade market. From there she may have been moved either to the Batavia (Jakarta) staging post or the Colombo (in Sri Lanka) staging post. From there slaves were taken to Mauritius another staging post, and then finally to the Cape of Good Hope.

The entire journey and processes involved could have taken three or four years with many incidents and re-sales occurring. By the time my 6th Great Grandmother Maenaam was sold to the tavern-keeper Gerrit Meyer she would have been 21 years old, and her name had become Anna ‘Groothenning’ van Bengale. The middle name was an old German facetious slang name meaning a ‘good lay’ in bed. Tavern’s at that time doubled as pick-up joints or brothels, and slaves were considered fair game.

It is in this circumstance that her life became quite complicated. She became the concubine of a fellow slave from Bay of Bengal by the name of Darius, for just a few years, and they had two children. This relationship ended when she was sold again twice, during which she became the lover of a German fellow by the name of Christiaan Bok with whom she had three children. Anna later married Bok a couple of years before he died. Bok was a partner in bakery business with another German Hans Geringer who by this time owned Anna and her children. There is a possibility that her first child with Bok was fathered by Geringer. The relationships of Anna and the men in her life has been subject of much speculation. When he died he granted Anna and her children their freedom in his will.

Sixth Great- Grandma Anna ‘Maenaam’ died at the age of 57, never to see her homeland in the Golden Triangle again.

We will never know her definitive ethnicity (if indeed there is such a thing) – Maynamar, Thai, Laos, or Chinese, but we can know with some certainty that the Golden Triangle was her most likely homeland.