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!

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