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.

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