Johan Fourie's blog

I'd rather be a comma than a fullstop

Posts Tagged ‘Khoisan

The Autshumao and Krotoa International Airport of Cape Town: My letter to ACSA

with one comment


Renaming of Cape Town International Airport: A proposal

I would hereby like to submit a nomination for Cape Town International Airport’s new name.

Cape Town is an international, cosmopolitan city, a ‘melting pot of cultures’. Many individuals from Cape Town’s rich history deserve to be celebrated in the renaming of Cape Town International Airport. Yet I often find that little attention is given, in place names, traditions, and heritage symbols, to the indigenous inhabitants of the region before the arrival of European settlers in the mid-seventeenth century.

I therefore feel it is appropriate that Cape Town’s international airport should celebrate the people who had lived in the region for several centuries before European arrival, who had contributed to the economic and social development of the Cape, often in subordinate positions of indentured labour, and whose descendants still reside here, now mixed with more recent immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa, a city that is, indeed, a ‘melting pot of cultures’.

My proposal is therefore to rename Cape Town International Airport to the Autshumao and Krotoa International Airport of Cape Town.

Autshumao was the first inhabitant of South Africa to travel abroad. In 1630, Autshumao was picked up by a British ship – called ‘King Harry’ on board – and travelled to the East. There he learned Dutch and English, and when he returned to the Cape, he would become postmaster on Robben Island. He would also act as the first translator and trader when the Dutch East India Company settlers established a refreshment station in 1652. Autshumao later fell into disfavour as trading partner, and was banned to Robben Island. Nelson Mandela would later call him the ‘first freedom fighter’.

His niece, Krotoa, was a translator in the household of Jan van Riebeeck, the first VOC commander of the Cape. She would marry a Danish surgeon and her progeny would include several South Africans of note, including Paul Kruger, Jan Smuts and FW de Klerk.

Naming Cape Town International Airport the Autshumao and Krotoa International Airport of Cape Town would signal recognition of the first inhabitants of Cape Town, and the ‘melting pot of cultures’ that Cape Town has become.

Kind regards,

Johan Fourie


I, Krotoa

with one comment


Last Friday at around noon, I ended a class on European settlement at the Cape and the demise of the Khoesan by lamenting the lack of public acknowledgement for some of the Cape’s most famous Khoe inhabitants. Autshumao was one of the first translators and interlopers between the trading Dutch and local Khoesan clans. Gonnema was a proud leader of the Cochoqua, who fought the Dutch in three Khoe-Dutch Wars. And then there was Krotoa, Autshumao’s niece, who was brought up by the Van Riebeecks. Here is her short Wikipedia bio:

On 3 May 1662 Krotoa was baptised by a visiting parson, minister Petrus Sibelius, in the church inside the Fort de Goede Hoop. The witnesses were Roelof de Man and Pieter van der Stael. On 26 April 1664 she married a Danish surgeon by the name of Peter Havgard, whom the Dutch called Pieter van Meerhof. She was thereafter known as Eva van Meerhof. She was the first Khoikoi to marry according to Christian customs. There was a little party in the house of Zacharias Wagenaer. In May 1665, they left the Cape and went to Robben Island, where van Meerhof was appointed superintendent. The family briefly returned to the mainland in 1666 after the birth of Krotoa’s third child, in order to baptize the baby. Van Meerhoff was murdered on Madagascar on 27 February 1668 on an expedition.

Krotoa returned to the mainland on 30 September 1668 with her children. Suffering from alcoholism, she left the Castle in the settlement to be with her family in the kraals. In February 1669 she was imprisoned at the Castle and then banished to Robben Island. She returned to the mainland on many occasions just to find herself once more banished to Robben Island. In May 1673 she was allowed to baptise a child on the mainland. Three of her children survived infancy. She died on 29 July 1674 in the Cape and was buried on 30 September 1674 in the church in the Fort,

Pieternella and Salamon, Krotoa’s two youngest children from her marriage to van Meerhof, were taken to Mauritius in 1677. Pieternella, who was known as Pieternella Meerhof or Pieternella van die Kaap, later married Daniel Zaaijman, a VOC vegetable farmer from Vlissingen. They had four sons and four daughters, one of whom was named Eva, and the family moved back to the Cape in 1706.

I ended my class by suggesting the students consider these local figures when they think about renaming campus buildings, as had happened last year during the #FeesMustFall movement. What I had not known, was that at that exact moment, Krotoa’s spirit was returned to the Castle of Good Hope where her remains had been removed from a century ago. Here’s the news report:

Gathered around a tree at the Groote Kerk, they [traditional and religious leaders] burned an incense plant and beckoned for her soul to rise from the unmarked grave where her bones had been held.

Her remains had been removed from the grounds of the Castle of Good Hope, nearly a century after she was buried there.

On Friday, some of her descendants returned with her spirit to the castle.

A few months ago, after uncovering an old computer file that contained my genealogy, I discovered that the wife of my paternal great-grandfather – Wynand Breytenbach Fourie – was one Johanna Beatrix Fourie. Her maiden name: Zaaiman.

Many other South Africans also descend from Krotoa. It is in the math – here’s Stephen Fry on the topic. Almost all white South Africans today must have some non-European heritage, given the women of Khoe or slave (especially) origin who married Dutch or German or French (or, in Krotoa’s case, Danish) men at an early stage in the country’s history.

Although several novels have appeared that feature her – most famously Dan Sleigh’s Eilande and Dalene Matthee’s Pieternella van die Kaap – Krotoa, and the tumultuous times she lived in, has been largely neglected from popular discourse. Fortunately, that is changing. In the ceremony on Friday, she was variously described as a child labourer, a feminist, and a language fighter who helped create Afrikaans, even a martyr. An Afrikaans/Nama movie that feature her life is now in post-production stage. Armand Aucamp plays Jan van Riebeeck and Crystal Donna Roberts an older Krotoa.

But more should certainly be done. Monuments and renamed buildings and public places can play a role, but because Krotoa’s story is claimed by so many (as Heritage Consulatant Tracy Randle explains in this interview), these memorials will remain contested. Some activitists protested outside the Castle on Friday, for example. Last year, a bench which had Krotoa’s face engraved in mosaic art, and which was located at Krotoa Place, the small square at the intersection of Castle Street and St George’s Mall, was destroyed.

Much like 350 years ago, Krotoa embodies the tragedy and disillusionment but also the hopes and aspirations of our fractured society. Unshackled to anyone or any group, hers is our story.

Or, as Lara Kirsten observes in her poem Vir Krotoa (For Krotoa):

in haar skyn die hoop
wat nog by ons mense spook

(in her shines the hope that still frightens our people)

Written by Johan Fourie

August 25, 2016 at 08:46

The vanquished people

with 3 comments

WE ARE THE EVIDENCE: Names of groups that have disappeared in the US (National Museum of the American Indian; photo by Johan Fourie)

WE ARE THE EVIDENCE: Names of groups that have disappeared in the US (National Museum of the American Indian; photo by Johan Fourie)

It is often said that history is written by the victors. (The quote is attributed to Churchill but its origin is unknown.) But perhaps it is better to think of it another way: History is written by the survivors. Or, more accurately, the descendants of survivors.

This is because even our recent past includes frightening numbers of vanished peoples; groups of indigenous people that have disappeared and are now retired to the footnotes of history. In September last year, Helanya, Dieter, Wimpie and I visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, a museum dedicated to the indigenous peoples that lived across the North American continent when Europeans arrived in the fifteenth century. Over the following four centuries, European guns and especially European diseases killed millions of these peoples; I found the image of the names of the vanished tribes, shown above, bone-chilling.

Of course, the American experience is not dissimilar to our own. The Khoesan, consisting of the nomadic, pastoral Khoe and hunter-gatherer San, inhabited most of the Western Cape, Northern Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape when Europeans arrived in the mid-seventeenth century. (Read this for more on the origin of the Khoesan.) Two centuries later, the descendants of the Khoesan and imported slaves were an underclass, living mostly on farms as labourers and subjected to harsh work and living conditions. Several smallpox episodes, notably in 1713 and 1755, had killed a large proportion of the population and those that would not work on settler farms were forced to move deeper into the drier interior, settling in areas with little economic potential. Their economic and social way of life soon disappeared; names such as the Attaqua, Chainouqua, Cochoqua, Damaqua, Gonaqua, Gorachouqua, Namaqua, Hessequa, Hoengeiqua, Outenique and Sonqua all but vanished.

What we know about these groups we must learn from the records of the victors; the journals of European travellers, letters by settler farmers, reports by Company officials. Even here, there are large gaps. We don’t know, for example, how many Khoesan worked on settler farms, and exactly what they did. Because the Khoesan could not be enslaved, mention of them is also missing from tax censuses or probate inventories, records that kept meticulous account of the number of slaves (imported from south-east Asia) working on farms. So when calculating things like Cape per capita production, or levels of inequality, or slave productivity, what historians (myself included) simply did was to ignore the Khoesan: somewhere in a footnote we would note the existence of a group of people we cannot count because we have no quantitative information about their size and whereabouts. All our earlier estimates of the Cape economy had the caveat of the missing people.

So Erik Green of Lund University and I decided to do something about this. We use the qualitative information available from traveller accounts, settler journals and letter, and Company reports to reconstruct the size of the Khoesan population. Making several assumptions based on anecdotal evidence (anecdata?) and using the eighteenth century tax censuses, we calculate an annual estimate of the Khoesan population. We then use these new estimates to adjust earlier estimates of slave productivity, societal inequality, and GDP growth. It turns out that earlier estimates for slave productivity was much too large, between-group inequality much too low, and GDP per capita too high. The paper is now available as an ERSA working paper.

South Africans have mostly surrendered the history of these peoples to the dominant narrative of colonisation and liberation history (first, white, now black). There are attempts under way to address this: the Department of Traditional Affairs has, for example, decided to include the descendants of Khoesan in the National Traditional Affairs Bill. Yet, given that the Coloured population in the Western Cape are now genetically between 32 and 43% Khoesan (see a recent study by De Wit et al. in Human Genetics), it is not obvious who would qualify as ‘descendants’, and what their interests are. With land claims before 1913 now a possibility, expect more enthusiasm for any evidence that ties current descendants to ancestral lands.

To be able to claim land, I suspect, the location of the ‘original’ Khoesan inhabitants must first be established and, secondly, the modern-day descendants (and claimants) must be linked to those original inhabitants. This is, in truth, an almost impossible exercise in the absence of detailed records for the early Cape Khoesan. And, to be sure, given the high levels of mortality, it is highly likely that most of the Khoesan in the south-west Cape would have left few, if any, descendants.

Again, it seems, history will be written, if not by the victors, then certainly by the survivors.

Written by Johan Fourie

March 19, 2014 at 09:34

We are all European

with 5 comments

We are from Europe. Oh, we are too.

“We are from Europe.” “Oh, we are too.”

Kids, throw away those South African history textbooks. Or those coffee table history books with pictures of Kirstenbosch or Groot Constantia or the Company’s Gardens on the cover. Or those serious historical works that proclaimed that South Africa’s system of apartheid between the descendants of European immigrants and native Africans began in 1652 when a motley bunch of sailors and soldiers arrived in Table Bay to build a refreshment station for the fragile ships of the Dutch East India Company. Throw them away, because they are all untrue.

No longer can it be claimed that Europeans first settled in South Africa in 1652. Instead, Europeans arrived much earlier, around 1000, and settled throughout the western and northern Cape, trading with the indigenous inhabitants – the hunter-gatherer San – and often using them as servants, slaves or wives. They brought with them new resources and technologies – cattle-farming, for example – as they settled the some of the nicest regions of the country, forcing the San, or Bushmen, into the more rugged and less fertile regions, like the  Kgalagadi (with which we now associate them).

Who were these ‘European’ invaders? They were the Khoe, and they were – at least, partly – European. That is the startling conclusion of a recent study published in New Scientist. By using DNA analysis, a team of Harvard scientists found traces of European DNA – “sequences from southern Europeans, including Sardinians, Italians and people from the Basque region” – in the DNA of modern-day Khoesan tribes. The scientists estimate that the European DNA made their way into Khoesan DNA sometime between 900 and 1800 years ago – which was well before known European contact with southern Africa.

We know that the Khoe migrated into South Africa from modern-day Botswana. They were a cattle-herding people, slowly moving south from their roots in modern-day Kenya. In South Africa, they settled first along the Gariep (Orange) river, and then, over decades and centuries, moved south to settle in parts of the Eastern Cape, where they met the Xhosa, and Western Cape, where they lived alongside the San. We knew that the Khoe descended from east African tribes. What we did not know was that these tribes were descended from migrants with a very similar DNA to modern-day southern Europeans:

Archaeological and linguistic studies suggest that a subset of the Khoisan, known as the Khoe-Kwadi speakers, arrived in southern Africa from east Africa around 2200 years ago. David Reich and his team found that the proportion of Eurasian DNA was highest in Khoe-Kwadi tribes, who have up to 14 per cent of western Eurasian ancestry. What is more, when they looked at the east African tribes from which the Khoe-Kwadi descended, they found a much stronger proportion of Eurasian DNA – up to 50 per cent.

Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa between 125000 and 60000 years ago, and it is from this migration that all humans descend. Recent evidence suggests that these migrants interbred with Neanderthals in Europe, to the extend that Neanderthal DNA survives in some European population groups today. But the return migration into Africa (probably through Ethiopia) is something that few scientists expected. Moreover, the proof of this return migration is in the fact that Neanderthal DNA was also found in many African populations, including the Khoesan and tribes in modern Nigeria.

So much for apartheid history which taught us that Europeans first ‘discovered’ the southern tip of Africa on 3 February 1488 when Bartholomeu Dias’ ship entered what he called Aguada de São Brás, later renamed Mossel Bay. Or for apartheid racial hierarchies. Or for current distinctions between ‘European coloniser’ and ‘indigenous African’. As the lead scientist, David Reich, suggests, ‘the cultural implications are complex and potentially uncomfortably close to European colonial themes. I actually am not sure there’s any population that doesn’t have west Eurasian DNA’.

We are not only all African, we are all European too.

Written by Johan Fourie

February 11, 2014 at 05:39