About melletpt

Heritage activist - Cape Town, South Africa focused on Cape Indigene and Cape Slavery history and heritage


Part of the story of the researching and writing of my book – “The Lie of 1652” – involves how I went about doing the research (methodology) of particularly the key historical information that challenges the distorted and sometimes false historical claims that frame the “white South Africa foundation construct” that downplays the role of indigenous Africans. I here would like to illustrate my research concerning the claim that it is a false historical narrative that states that only a few European ships stopped at the Cape of Good Hope (Table Bay) between 1600 and 1652.

Richard Elphick in his book “The Khoikhoi and the founding of White South Africa” says that there were only 42 ships that stopped at the Cape of Good Hope between 1617 and 1652. Others would argue that there were even fewer and that “real trade” only started with Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival. It is argued the Van Riebeeck is the founder of the Port of Cape Town and founder of South Africa. THE LIE OF 1652 argues that this is not only false but ideologically driven by a white-supremacist colonial and Apartheid approach to history which ideologised the view of the past which is really much more nuanced.

The cornerstone of my book is the sub-title “A decolonised history of land” and I put forward a figure of 1071 European ships that did the sailing route from Europe to Asia via the Cape. I posit that most of these ships stopped over at the Cape for up to three weeks and sometimes longer and that the ships that stopped over carried over 120 000 people who visited the shores of Table Bay. I point out that the implication of this mass visitation had a considerable impact on the local indigenous Africans and created a new set of economic and social relations associated with port-business. This it is argued has purposefully been edited out of history taught in South Africa under Apartheid nationalist education because it would have contradicted the ideologically constructed history which has Jan van Riebeeck in the role of founder and indigenous Africans only as incidental to that propaganda narrative.

In telling my story of the foundation of the Port of Cape Town I embraced a broad outlook to how a port was defined in the 17th century and referred to the pre-1652 foundational period as “a proto-port” in Table Bay. In doing so I took cognizance of the etymology and evolution of the term ‘port’. I consulted the work of Catia Antunes, Professor of history of global economic networks, at the Institute for History at Leiden University in the Netherlands. In her work, Early Modern Ports, 1500–1750, she explains that the term port comes from the Latin “portus”, which means gate or gateway. Catia Antunes identifies these by their genesis as places where trade activity was located either on the shores of a major river or on the sea. She defines these as gateways for the exchanges of goods, people, and ideas and as bridges between different peoples and cultures. She further defines a port as a settlement of people engaging as interlocuters between vessels and people and suppliers in the hinterland. By implication, a harbour of built infrastructure and facilities are but features of an evolved developed port. It is this definition that I use to explore and argue that what existed before 1652 was an evolving proto-port that was the foundation of the Port City of Cape Town rather than some of the less comprehensive dictionary descriptions of what constitutes a “Port”. Professor Sarah Palmer of the Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich in the Journal for Maritime Research in a paper (1999) “Current port trends in an historical perspective” makes a vitally important point on ports in saying “the operation of a port was, and is, never to be wholly comprehended within the confines of the dock wall or the perimeter fence. Ports are not only interfaces between land and water. They are sources of national wealth, pride, and concern. They are, or have been, points of interaction between cultures and peoples. But above all they are places; places have history and the past of a place affects its present. For ports, in short, history matters.”

But central to proving this, was to show that there was not simply a casual calling at Table Bay of a mere 42 ships over the best part of a half-century, but that Table Bay involved the systematic regular use of shipping stop-overs by several nations ships in great numbers over five decades. Also that this involved engagement with local indigenous Africans with large numbers of Europeans and that therefore the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck was not a novel and starling experience for both indigenous Africans nor Europeans.

The first part of this research exploration was brought about by noting a line in a work by Robin Knox-Johnson, “The Cape of Good Hope – A Maritime History”.  Up to this point my mind was aware of Richard Elphick’s statement that only 42 ship’s called at the Cape between 1617 to 1652, but in Knox-Johnson’s work the figure was mentioned of 1 730 Dutch outward-bound ships that had gone to South and Southeast Asia from 1610 – 1700 and he suggested that furthermore there were at least another 10% of this number of English vessels doing the same. So, the first thing that I thought to do was to find out what was the actual numbers of English, Portuguese, French, Danish, Spanish, and other nations ships calling at the Cape? Then the big question was how many of these visits occurred prior to 1652? I was further interested in how many homeward bound ships there might be and what ships were carrying each way? Part of this was also to question how many people were these ships carrying? Furthermore, I wanted to know what the standard protocol was for stop-overs at the Cape and what was the extent of compliance to this protocol. This was motivated by an oft argued rigid position that ships only called at the Cape three times per year in specific months and indeed too that most ships did not call at the Cape at all.

So, I turned to the most notable best maritime history works and databases on shipping associated with Leiden University in the Netherlands. I am a retired most senior officer who was commanding officer for maritime and aviation ports in South Africa and I was familiar with recording, databasing and movement control record-keeping systems for incoming and departing craft, crews and passengers in contemporary South Africa. I turned to the Huygens ING Research Institute into history and culture database of all Dutch East India Company shipping between the Netherlands and Asia 1595-1795 per vessel. I also turned to the maritime experts from Leiden University on shipping movements, as well as experts on one of the biggest areas of trade – the trade in enslaved people. The following works were consulted:

•       Gaastra FS & Bruijn JR; ‘The Dutch East India Company’s shipping, 1602-1795, in a comparative perspective’, in Bruijn, JR (ed.), Ships, sailors and spices. East India companies and their shipping in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, pp. 177-208, NEHA, Amsterdam. (1993)

•       Parthesius R; Dutch ships in tropical waters : the development of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) shipping network in Asia 1595-1660; Amsterdam. (2007).

The work of maritime experts from Leiden University on shipping movements provided much detail on European shipping – the ships, modification of ships, routes, what they carried, passengers carried – Europe to Asia via the Cape and Inter-Asian shipping routes. These studies provide much primary research data in terms of numbers of ships, numbers of crew and numbers of passengers, trade products carried, attrition rates, routes etc. They also were illuminating on the protocols of stopping at the Cape of Good Hope, when these began and deviations from these. These works contradicted the rigid and simply false claims by mainstream South African historians about what transpired before 1652.

Firstly the protocols or standing orders about stop-overs at the Cape were important for me to understand, if I was to counter the claims by those who say that very few ships stopped-over at the Cape and that these stop-overs were restricted to a few months of any one year, and that the standard was not to stop-over at Table Bay.

Gaastra and Bruijn (Chapter 7, pg 188 – 192) state clearly that from 1616 it was prescribed that masters should call at Table Bay on their way to Asia and that the ‘Seynbriefs’ from 1617 onwards state this to be an order. My reading on English East India Company shipping shows that they followed the lead by the Dutch on this protocol. It is noted by Gaastra and Bruijn that the average stay at the Cape was 24 days in the 17th century. Here are some direct quotes from their text on what was the practice:

“The southerly route (preferred by the Dutch) was discovered by Henrik Brouwer (in 1610)… from the Cape to Bantam within two and a half months time, demonstrated the advantage of this route, that since 1617 was obligatory for all the VoC’s ships heading for Sunda Strait.”

“Anchoring at the Cape from mid-May to mid-August was considered too dangerous” but they go on to say that ships did come to the Cape during those times too but dropped anchor in False Bay or alternatively dropped anchor in Saldanha Bay.

They say “the Dutch Company sent most of its ships to Batavia ad that this port could be reached by the prescribed route (as per Seynbriefs) throughout the year. Hence the VoC was less tied to seasons than its competitors”. Gaastra and Bruijn note that there was general adherence to the Xmas Fleet – Dec/Jan, the Easter Fleet April/May and the Fair Fleet Sept/October, but they go on to say …. “This concentration on certain moths did not mean that shipping to Asia was at a standstill at other times of the year. The great and growing number of ships to be dispatched to Asia forced the Chamber on the long run to spread activities in this respect throughout the year.”

So, this this cleared up that the rigid assertions by mainstream colonial distortions about ships only visiting Table Bay three times per year was nonsense.

Now my mind turned to looking first at how many ships of all nationalities went to Asia via Table Bay between 1600 – 1652. Gaastra and Bruijn provide a number of tables for the shipping per national flag for that period per decade right across the 17th century.

This Table shows the number of Dutch ships for outward-bound for 1602 – 1650 it is 655 ships. This table also shows 338 VoC ships traveling homeward bound. There are detailed reasons given as to why there are so many less going home.

This table shows the English East India Company and the French ships between Europe and Asia going via Table Bay/Cape of Good Hope. Which are 286 and 24 respectively and when adjusted by adding the two years to 1652 it is 301 and 25 respectively. When we add this to the outward-bound VoC ships (655) we have 981 ships going to Asia via Table Bay.

This third table shows the figures for the Portuguese and the Danish. There are unfortunately no reliable figures for the Spanish. There are thus another 197 vessels but this is the total up to the year 1700. Given that after 1652 there was more shipping movements, I added just 90 of these to come to a total of 1071 ships going to Asia via Cape of Good Hope.

I subsequently in further checks against the constantly updated Huygens Shipping database when physically counting every VoC ship from 1600 to 1652 came up with 793 records rather than just 655 as per the first table (also noting that the years 1600 – 1602 and 1650 – 1652 were not counted in that table. Thus 138 Dutch more vessels could be added to the 1071, but because I had already concluded my script I remained using the earlier figure erring on the side of caution.

The evidence was thus conclusive in showing that the figures for shipping having stopovers at the Cape were ridiculously low to the point of being false in traditional mainstream colonial literature and even in most of the progressive research literature that had moved beyond the ‘Terra Nillus’ fabrication in colonial history books.

I then took this evidence in the tables and further tested it against the Huygens database of 8195  United Dutch East India Company’s ships between the Netherlands and Asia for the years 1595-1795, segment of 1600 to 1652. This database is a constant work in progress drawn from each listed vessel’s logbooks archived. About 10% of all of the ships information has been verified for the period I was scrutinising. The archive is edited by J.R. Bruijn, F.S. Gaastra and I. Schöffer, with assistance from A.C.J. Vermeulen and E.S. van Eyck van Heslinga. 

For the period 1600 – 1652 there is record for some ships where it clearly states their average stopovers, others where they still do not have that detail transcribed to the database, and a few where the vessel did not stop at the Cape.

So far in the research there is only 34 Dutch ships out of 793 from 1600 – 1652 that have verified logs of no-call at the Cape. There are 261 Dutch ships that have positive verified logs of calling at the Cape of Good Hope. With 37.7% of the archive verified for stop-over or non-stop-over only 4,4% are verified as not stopping over at the Cape of Good Hope. Based on verification thus far if we apply the same ratio on the research still to be done less than 15% of Dutch ships did not call at the Cape. Thus my not adjusting the Dutch figure given in the first table above with a further 138 ships reveal by Huygens balances out the non-stopover figure of up to 15%.

This screenshot of the Huygens database illustrates how the database is organised, with each field being searchable. You will see too that there is a field for arrival and departure at Table Bay in the Cape. This very similar to movement control systems that I worked with in our modern-day ports. Where there is a blank means that there is ongoing verification or log entries still to be found. It does not mean that there is no stop-over. The latter will be illustrated in the third screen-shot.

This screenshot shows a well populated database record but where just a little more detail is still to be found or verified. Eg. For the ship MEDEMBLIK entry 0242.1 the Ship’s Master is yet to be identified, and the actual date for arrival at Table Bay is still missing even though the departure is recorded, but indication from the other sister ships all out of Texel is that they all seem to have arrived two months earlier. That means that they remained at Table Bay for much longer than the average of 24 days. It also contradicts the denialist mainstream historians views of minimum contact between indigenous Africans and Europeans.

The following screenshot shows an example of a database entry where it indicates clearly that there was no stopover at Table Bay/Cape of Good Hope. This shows that there is no ambiguity arising out of using the database as a research tool, and thus no justification for misrepresenting the facts as many of the colonial-Apartheid minded historians do to promote ideologically impregnated versions of history in South Africa. This screenshot shows all three scenarios…. NO INFORMATION YET; A VERIFIED STOPOVER; and A VERIFIED NON-STOPOVER. Then when one goes into the detailed section of the archive one sees the reasons as to why no stop over. The ship had taken two months to get to Brava Island (Cape Verde) where it stopped over for just a week and then went straight on to the west coast of India. Notably this ship never returned to the Netherlands.

Once my research had yielded all of these answers, I wanted to also know how many people they carried, because this would indicate how many travelers may have step ashore at the Cape. The following tables indicate the numbers of people on board of these ships.

For the period 1602 – 1650 for Dutch ships alone there were 114,200 people on board ships outward bound and a further 36 400 homeward bound. If we added those on the 410 ships of other nationalities (just the outward-bound figure) one could add at least another 65 000 people bringing the two figures to 215 600 travelers coming to the Cape of Good Hope. In my book I conservatively stated“ over 120 000 travelers had come to the Cape, taking into consideration that 15% of the ships are likely not to have stopped at the Cape given the evidence outlined in this paper.

In concluding my research on pre 1652 visitation to the Cape of Good Hope by Europeans I was also interested in getting a researcher’s viewpoint who had also used the same research resources that I had used. I thus consulted a work by Robert Parthesius, Leiden University, Archaeology Department, who is a prominent researcher on Dutch shipping –  Parthesius R; Dutch ships in tropical waters : the development of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) shipping network in Asia 1595-1660; Amsterdam. (2007).

Contrary to what some white South African historians who argue that only a few ships actually stopped at the Cape, Parthesius, states clearly that the normal practice was that, “on most voyages between Europe and Asia, ships made a stopover at the Cape of Good Hope” and he gives reason as to why this was the case. “By 1620 the VOC had established the fastest route over the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope and the route to Java over the southern part of the Indian Ocean. If the skipper followed the prescribed course and if no extraordinary setbacks were encountered, a voyage from the Netherlands to Batavia could be made in a minimum time of four to five months.

Some ships made the trip to Java without a stopover, although passing the Cape of Good Hope without taking on refreshments was not without risk. For instance, in January 1627, the Wapen van Delft (ID:273) arrived after a voyage of 8 months with 183 deaths. In May 1646 the ship Nieuw Delft (ID:711) left the Netherlands and passed the Cape without taking on refreshments. It then proceeded to sail along Madagascar and Mozambique, finally arriving in a desolate condition on the west coast of Sumatra. 165 people had died including the merchant, the skipper and other officers. (Pg 92).”

I further wanted to get some idea of non-Europeans going back and forth via the Cape as part of these shipping movements and this consulted the works of prominent historians dealing with the Indian Ocean Slave Trade – namely Markus Vink and Richard B Allen. There are two works of Vink that gives one an excellent picture of the world of the Indian ocean arena and what went on in the 17th and 18th century. The mainstream South African historian presents an inward-looking bubble version of history that defends an ideological laager mentality. One can only really understand what was going on at the Cape of Good Hope when one looks at the context of world events in the broader Indian Ocean arena. The two works are – Vink M: The World’s Oldest Trade – Dutch Slavery and Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century”. Journal of World History 14, No:2 (2003) and Vink M: From Port-City to World-System: Spatial Constructs of Dutch Indian Ocean Studies 1500- 1800; Itinerario 28, No:2 (2004). From these works I can glean that the Cape of Good Hope’s strategic importance had been realised and used long before 1652.

The English East India Company’s attempt to colonise Table Bay with Newgate Convicts in 1614 and the English annexation of Cape of Good Hope/Table Bay in 1620 which failed to get ratification by the Crown emphasise this understanding of its strategic value. In 1620, Andrew Shillinge and Humphrey Fitzherbert, commander of the tow fleets of English East India Company on their way to Surat and Bantam, landed on Table Bay and claimed possession of the Cape in the name of King James 1. They planned to establish a plantation to supply refreshments to British ships on their way to India. When the British first took possession of the Cape in 1795 the raised this fact of their original annexation in 1620 which though not acted upon by James 1, had not been forgotten.

More importantly the relegation to subscripts in the European stories of two important historical facts, and personalities, Xhore and Autshumao, whose travels with the British (to London and Java) and acting as their agents from 1613 – 1626 and 1630 – 1652 respectively also indicated mischief in the historical record. Both indigenous Africans had encountered many nationalities and the practice of enslavement on their journeys and were wise to the Europeans ways.

In the case of Richard Allen’s work his many detailed tables of shipping movements and the transportation of hundreds of thousands of enslaved persons all over the Indian Ocean arena and beyond to the Americas, St Helena, the Cape of Good Hope and Europe tells us that Indigenous Africans would have been aware of the slavery system before the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck and the introduction of slavery by the Europeans at the Cape. They also would have been aware of diverse other peoples, other than Africans and Europeans. Richard Allen’s book is – Allen R B; European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean 1500 – 1850; Indian Ocean Studies – Ohio University Press; Athens; Ohio (2014). Allen shows that there were up to 65 000 movements of enslaved persons by European ships in the Indian Ocean arena and to Europe and the Americas in the 18th century period. Of course, this is a fraction of the Indian Ocean slave trade by Europeans in the 18th and 19th century, but when looked at in comparison the Europeans transported on the high seas it is a significantly large figure of human movement.

Then there is also the matter of who crewed these European ships. Various sources indicate the manning of European ships included Chinese, Arabs, Southeast Asia, Indians, and Africans alongside Dutch and other European seamen. Gaastra and Bruijn mention that in the first half of the 17th century up to 50% of the crews of VoC ships were foreigners. They mention that this lowered later in time but in the late 18th century that East Indiamen ships requiring over 100 seamen were then made up of 75 – 85 Dutch to 25 Chinese. Thus, it is important to note that ships staying for lengthy periods at Table Bay and having mixed European and non-European crews would have seen engagements with local people not too much different to those witnessed today. As a former head of port movement control in our seaports I have a pretty good idea of what happens in terms of human engagements between visitors and humans in ports.

Finally, while we have already seen proof that ships remained at Table Bay for between three weeks and two months, there are at least two occasions when this was for much longer. In 1644 the Dutch Ship Mauritius Eylandt was shipwreck at Cape Town, leaving 326 marooned at the Cape of Good Hope for 4 months before all could be picked up. At that time three other ships including an English ship also happened to be around and came to the aid of the shipwrecked. This case illustrates two realities. The first is that Table Bay was much busier a proto-port than recognised. It was not just happenstance that four vessels were near each other. Secondly, four months for 326 Europeans to be living at the Cape surely would not have gone unnoticed by indigenous Africans nor would there have been no interactions nor no trade in food. In another shipwreck in 1647, that of the Nieuwe Haerlem, 60 persons remained at the Cape for 9 months. This was a well-documented stay at the Cape where a favourable account had been given by Captain Leendertz Janzsens on their time at the Cape and on their interactions with indigenous Africans. The fleet that picked them up were 12 ships in all. Even by today’s standards this is a large busy visitation.

In conclusion my research methodology not only on this aspect of THE LIE OF 1652 but also on the string of falsities and distortions in the name of ideology that we were brought up with under the Apartheid Education system, and propagated by those who call themselves historians, is here demonstrated by just one issue. If there was this huge amount of traffick and engagement at the Cape of Good Hope, and it had become a proto-port as per the definition given at the beginning of this paper then other role-players were the founders and not Jan van Riebeeck. He certainly is the father of the European colony but his ten-year stay at the Cape, which was not hugely successful when one closely examines the project financially cannot be granted the title “founder” of the port nor “founding-father” of South African. The African indigenous peoples are the ones to be bestowed with those titles. Van Riebeeck spent three years at Malacca after the Cape with no promotion, and then ended up at his own request to be the holder of an even lower post in Batavia as a clerk. A young man with a promising future, fluent in the Vietnamese tongue, as a result of sneaking out at night in Tonkin (Hanoi) to illicitly conduct business for his own pocket in violation of company rules, was dismissed and recalled to Batavia. There he was convicted in court and given a sentence of a fine, and banishment back to the Netherlands. Initially because he was refused another position, he then resigned from the company. Later he made a play for the post of commander at the Cape of Good Hope. His smooth tongue and the promises he made (but failed to deliver on in his ten years at the Cape) secured him the post of Commander, somewhat different to the genteel post of Factor or Director of a going VoC concern.

All of these issues are overlooked by the propagandised version of Jan van Riebeeck by white-nationalist ideologues presenting themselves as historians. Besides researching the shipping at the Cape pre-1652 I also did some in depth research on the embellished figure of Jan van Riebeeck. It is well worth reading this analysis of Jan van Riebeeck in “Malacca Under Jan Van Riebeeck” by W. Ph. Coolhaas and other authors like Hoang Anh Tuan professor of history, chair of urban history, and acting rector of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University, Hanoi). He is the author of “Silk for Silver: Dutch-Vietnamese Relations, 1637-1700” (Brill, 2007), World Trade and Vietnamese Integration, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (VNU-Hanoi Press, 2016), in which he gives an account of Jan van Riebeeck in Vietnam. Hoang Anh Tuan is also visiting professor at University of Montana (2009) and Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main (2012-2013). He has also taken several academic counselling positions such as member of SEASREP Foundation board of trustees (since 2012), Gerda Henkel Foundation’s country representative (since 2012), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Ambassador Scientist (since 2017). As you read THE LIE OF 1652 take some time out to visit the citations/references and introduce yourself to the many works that you can source to make your reading even more exciting and personalised. Every person looking at a source text is bound to discover something new.

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


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.

CHART: 195 Tributaries in Coloured or Camissa (African Creole) Ancestry



Click on the highlighted text above to access a chart which breaks down the over 195 ancestral origins of people classified Coloured and also illustrates that almost 73% of these tributaries are African. Between 1904 and 1911 in an act of de-Africanisation a census committee created a new use of the term Coloured and decided who all would be placed under the umbrella term. This act is known as forced assimilation. After the Second World War in defining Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, it was agreed that forced assimilation of peoples was a crime against humanity. Apartheid was also later classed as a Crime Against Humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Coloured race classification though repealed in 1990 has found itself into two post-Apartheid pieces of legislation and it is still used frequently in practice by the post-Apartheid government. Shamefully for government Courts have also found government guilty of marginalization and discrimination on the basis of using Coloured race-classification. There is no justification for continuing the colonial and Apartheid practice of de-Africanisation of Coloured people.

There is nothing in law that forces us to use the term Coloured. Self-determination of how you wish others to recognise your culture as an African by ancestral birthright is protected in international law and Constitutionally.

The state now thankfully has restored the rights of the San peoples’ and the Khoe people’s (Nama, Korana, Griqua and Cape Khoe) as African peoples who were stripped of their ancestral birthrights as Africans in 1911.

Many more people were also de-Africanised in 1911 and want their African heritage restored as African people of Camissa or African-Creole cultural heritage. While there are some who do not mind the term Coloured and self-identify as such, there are many who do not want to be called Coloured and prefer to self-identify their sub-cultures in different and more positive ways. But the starting point is for the State to first recognise that what happened in 1911 was an act of de-Africanisation and to restore our African-ness. We are African Conscious just as much as other African brothers and sisters numbering over 50 distinct cutural hertage groups were classified as ‘Natives’ and forcibly assimilated into 9 linguistic so-called nations – Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Pedi, Tswana, Venda, Shangaan, Ndebele, Swazi, andTsonga. A number of Cape indigenous Aftican cultures – Griqua, Nama, Damara, Korana, San, and nine Cape Khoe peoples were among other African peoples de-Africanised and forced under the umbrella term  – Coloured. Our African sub-culture has multiple tributaries which define as African-Creole or Camissa Africans and we have a proud history of surviving crimes against humanity such as colonial disposession, ethnocide, genocide, slavery, de-Africanisation and Apartheid. In this cruc9ible of criminal acts against our forebears they stood up for themselves and though constantly brutalised they rose above this adversity. We have learnt their stories and learnt about their many cultural threads and are proud of our heritage – not in a narrow chauvinistic manner – but nonetheless proud of the lessons for all humankind therein. Other African identities under the Coloured identity term are Mazbiekers, Liberated Africans, Kroo, Zanzibari, Malagasy, African Caribbean, African-American and others. These incorporate around 50 West, East, North African root peoples as well as from Madagascar, Zanzibar, Cabo Verde and Mascarenes.

It is high time that government stops colourism and racist classifications. Stop pouring new wine into old wine-skins. Restore our African identity, restore our sub-cultures just as that of the Khoi and San have had their dignity rightfully restored. We too have indigenous African bloodlines of many African peoples in us. We can show that almost 73% of our ancestry is African, and we also have Asian and some European roots too. These cannot be unraveled. Restore our dignity.

Os is! We are! Camissa! An African-Creole people. Proudly African and Proudly South African.

The chart is there to see our roots in full. We cannot chop part of ourselves off and still be authentic. We are! And our fellow countrymen and women should accept us for what we are even as we accept all others for who they. We celebrate all our diverse cultures in South Africa for indeed they can all be found within us! Os is! Is ja!