Opinions

Love in the time of imperialism: Krotoa ‘Eva’ van Meerhof

  • Posted on March 12, 2013

South African Post Office, 2012 South African Post Office, 2012
Love can be an overwhelming feeling. I can think of only a few words that expresses this emotion. As African American singer and songwriter Shirley Bassey sings, “I’d like to run away from you, but if you never found me I would die; I’d like to break the chains you put around me but I know I never will”. In two sentences she alludes to a threat, death and enslavement. As complicated as it is, most of us fall ‘madly’ in love. Usually obsession and fatal attraction are the warning signs that this kind of love can be the cause of a range of feelings and behaviours, like jealousy, pain, stress, selfishness, power struggles, guilt, and even suicide. Many people will testify that love conquers all. Even the Bible attests to this: “That which God has put together let no man put asunder until death do us part”.

I would really like to see how it can work in our society today when we are struck on the love that fairy tales are made of. This kind of love is fed by notions of cultural and religious beliefs that blind us to who we are, where we come from, who and how we should love. This has smothered the true natural side of our humanity and freedom to just loving someone.
One extraordinary woman who is the subject of my story reveals a remarkable spirit that transcended the odds against her in 1600s Cape Town, South Africa. It is with great respect and admiration that I chose as my Valentine Krotoa ‘Eva’, birth mother of generations of South Africans, White, Black, Indian, etc. Her journey and short life sometime mirrors my own contemporary challenges as a woman and as lesbian, that of being judged.  She is the first Khoe woman to appear in the European records of early settlement at the Cape. Many of us have not yet made an association with her because of reasons that might sometimes be out of our hands. Contributing challenges are lack of access to information and skewed historical interpretations of her life. In many respects one of the major causes of her tragedy was her love and marriage to European surgeon Pieter Van Meerhof in 1666.

Krotoa ‘Eva’ van Meerhof becomes my tragic heroine. She, in her own right, actively opposed the takeover plans the Europeans were making in the early 1600s at the Cape. “She was a remarkable woman who, in six or seven years, had bridged the divide between Europe and Africa and as some people have attested to, became a symbol of what the new country could become”. I might not agree as it becomes ironic later when the expansionists coerce indigenous labour and invade more and more of their land (Krotoa ‘Eva’ van de Kaap, SM/PROG [c. 1641 – 1674]; http://www.geni.com/Surnames/, van de Kaap Genealogy and van de Kaap Family History).

Their love becomes the first ever inter-cultural, interracial marriage ever in the history of Cape Town, South Africa. I believe this would undeniably become the cause of her tragedy. V. C Malherbe notes that Krotoa “pioneered hazardous terrain, namely the frontier between the Cape’s Khoekhoe herders and premier European trading mercantile giants, the Dutch”. Yet we know that the journey leading up to her death had much to do with her identity as a newly christened Dutch-speaking indigene. She got trapped into Van Riebeeck’s household at the tender age of seven and was later coerced into the dealings of the powerful colonial masters at the start of the expansionist era at the Cape.  This meant her changing her ways of engagement both socially and culturally. It is said that she dressed in both her Indigenous attire and later got into her western clothes when she came back to Van Riebeeck’s fort. (Malherbe, 1990: p. 62 ).

Kratoa came from a complex extended family of Khoe intelligentsia: she was the niece of Autshumato who was leader of an independent Goringhaicona group. They became interpreters stolen from Cape Town and taken by the British to Batavia to teach them English and provide training in the English ways. They became multi-linguists, had political shrewdness and were people who had travelled and experienced different cultures. Krotoa had a sister who had been married first to Goeboe, the Chainoqua chief, and later married Chief Oedasoa of the Cochoqua at the Cape. These individuals’ stories remain footnotes obscured from public discussion.

Furthermore, Krotoa became the first indigene South African to be baptised a Christian, and Van Riebeeck named her ‘Eva’. It becomes evident that her role as KhoeKhoe interpreter, linguist and later strategist and negotiator for both the Dutch and her Goringhaicona people, which included contact with other indigene groups, became a liability to both the Europeans and the Khoe at the Cape. Later in her life the bridge that she was aspiring to build was not required by the Dutch as they had their sights set on invading indigene terrain, which she realised too late.

Falling in love with and marrying Pieter van Meerhof was fraught with complications, leading her to live a double life. In one extract it is recorded that the van Meerhofs were an embarrassment at the fort (Castle), so the Dutch sent Pieter to work on Robben Island.  A year after their marriage he left on a slave-trading expedition to Mauritius and Madagascar but later died in a skirmish. I ask the question why he had to leave his wife with their children when he knew she was not coping. Was he running away from his responsibilities? The mistrust between her, the Europeans and her own people centred on the fact that the 1650s onwards saw the gradual colonial takeover of her own people’s land and forcing the Europeans’ will onto them.  As her familiarity with the settlers further complicated her existence, she ended up following a dissolute lifestyle, which brought her into disrepute with the Dutch community and resulted in her losing custody of her children. Her love for van Meerhof eventually killed her.

At the age of thirty three Krotoa ‘Eva’ died of a broken heart, a prisoner on Robben Island. This is what was said by Dutch diarist on her death: “This day departed this life, a certain female Hotentoo, named ‘Eva’, on the 29 July 1674 long ago taken from her African brood in her tender childhood by the Hon Van Riebeeck and educated in his house as well as brought to the knowledge of the Christian faith and being thus transformed from a female Hottentoo almost into a Netherland woman…” (Malherbe, 1990: 62).This sets the scene for a complete European takeover of the Cape, including the notion that the native is an inherent savage. This prejudice would later persuade generations of whites that African people were inherently inferior.

Krotoa ‘Eva’ van Meerhof transcended all impossibilities of her time. She was not afraid to love or to be judged by both the worlds she was living in. She lived her short life knowing that she could love and be loved. Happy Valentine’s month, Krotoa.

Reference
Malherbe, V. C. 1990. Krotoa, called ‘Eva’: A Woman Between. Cape Town: UCT Centre for African Studies.

Comments

  • Dear Ms Campbell

    Extensive research on the life and legacy of Krotoa Havgard is required. Your article, however, confuses this reader.
    Why would you still make use of the stereotypical racist race classification to refer to South Africans? (“South Africans, White, Black, Indian, etc.”)In fact, it is quite possible that she was a descendant of the Jansz and Proot group, who were stranded at the Cape during the late 1640’s.

    Krotoa never opposed any colonial expansion. She was housed in the colonial Fort and actively contributed to the Khoikhoi’s cattle losses. In your view, she belonged to this exclusive group of intelligentsia, and as such she should have realised that what she was doing, would lead to the downfall of the economic independence of the Khoisan.(“Later in her life the bridge that she was aspiring to build was not required by the Dutch as they had their sights set on invading indigene terrain, which she realised too late.”)(“She, in her own right, actively opposed the takeover plans the Europeans were making in the early 1600s at the Cape”)

    Your statement about Khoe intelligentsia” sounds very elitist, as if those who were not collaborating with the Dutch, were not able to think for themselves. Intelligentsia is an imported term that does not fit well in our African context.

    “Her love for van Meerhof eventually killed her.” His surname was Havgard (confirmed by the Danish consulate). Peter was Danish and his surname was Dutchified by the VOC. There is no place such as Meerhof in Denmark.

    Krotoa was rewarded with alcohol for increasing the VOC’s meat supply. This dependence, leading to casual sexual relations in order to fix her needs, eventually led to her death.

    I have not yet observed any objection regarding the little ceramic bench, set up by the City Council to ‘honour’ Krotoa. In fact, where exactly was Ms Havgard buried? Why does the City of Cape Town not admit that they do not know where she is buried? How many children did she have and what were their names?

    It is about time that we stop abusing historical icons if we have not shown them the respect that they deserve. Any historical account is a representation and flawed facts lead to a misrepresentation.

    Kobus Faasen

    By Kobus Faasen on 15/03/2013
  • Dear Lucy

    I have a different perspective to many of the things written about Kratoa including the ‘love story’ approach, but I also differ with some of the approaches expressed here by Mr Faasen. All histories are versions and perspectives which draw on limited facts often handed down to us by victors over the vanquished. Each different lens used to view the facts produces a story. Mr Faasens rigid approach to history as though it were a science is rather dangerous as it introduces control and censorship to discourse and free expression. Indeed has little to do with showing respect. We must subject everything that we know, to continuous questioning and sharing of perspectives. I have revisted this story so many times and each time I find something new. And sometimes I have to even change my outlook.

    Lucy, you do great work in the realm of tourism and exposure of our heritage to so many. keep up the great work my sister.

    I believe that the real story of Kratoa, like that of Pocohontas, has been missed by historians and novelists, because of the lenses used to examine the facts.

    A little phrase of Commander Jan van Riebeeck holds just one important clue of many clues that help one to build a character picture of Kratoa. Van Riebeeck talks of Kratoas as ‘Drawing the Long Bow’ in carrying out her interpretation work with her sister’s people and warns that she is not to be trusted.The phrase ‘drawing the long bow’ means exaggerating, lying or deliberately misleading. Van Riebeeck suggests that Kratoa is playing him at his own game. He says “she knows well by now how to introduce a little flattery and say the sort of thing she imagines you want to hear”.

    Another important thing to note is that Kratoa was never takern into Jan van Riebeeck’s family as a foster child as is often projected. Jan van Riebeeck clearly gives us a view of her status in his household by noting that she was taken into the service of his wife from the beginning (1652). She was a servant from the age of 10 before she became an interpretor at the age of 15. During her teens she was clearly abused and fell pregnant twice. Van Riebeeck had an approach towards the slave wmen at the Fort which he called ‘fruitification’. It is worth looking into this. Kratoa, treated as a slave, also seems to have fallen foul of ‘fruitification’. Note too that kratoa did not wear European clothes as some suggest, as the facts show that as a servant she wore slave clothing at times and Khoena clothing at other times. Her space in the Fort was shared by Lysbeth and Cornelia Arabus two slave children from Abyssinia. Although it is a fact that she was taught the Christian faith, she was never baptised as a Christian during her long stay with the van Riebeecks. This too shows her servitude status in the van Riebeeck household. She was only baptised at her own request as an adult. I could go on and on to demolish the mythology that surrounds Kratoa, but perhaps it would be best to read my article on Kratoa, below…..

    DRAWING THE LONGBOW AT THE FORT - Kratoa and the roots of the people of Camissa

    The indigene Goringhaicona were well acquainted with Europeans by the time of the Dutch settled at what the Europeans called the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. The Khoena people referred to the area as //HUI !GAEB, the place where the clouds gather.

    Kratoa of the Goringhaicona was born around 1642 at the emerging Khoena settlement on the banks of theCamissaRiverwhich flowed from the greatHoerikwaggoMountainto the sea. The European travelers called the bay Table Bay and the mountain was calledTableMountain. The Camissa settlement became known as the Cape of Good Hope orCape Town.

    Kratoa who was well connected to the royal houses of different Khoena clans, lived a most extraordinary but short life, spanning only three decades. She died in 1674. (The Khoena is the plural for Khoe, also referred to as Khoi peoples who consisted of many clans with a range of wonderful names. The word simply means ‘people’ and in its singular form – ‘person’)

    The Goringhaicona (children of the Goringhaiqua), were a relatively settled offshoot clan of maroons from the other Khoena groups – the Gorachoqua, Goringhaiqua, Chainoqua and the Cochoqua clans of the Western Cape of South Africa. They are described by Richard Elphick, a specialist in Khoena history, as runaways, outcasts, refugees, orphans and other persons ‘whose parents and husbands were dead’. 

    Amongst the Goringhaicona were also offspring born of relationships with passing seamen over the many decades of interactions prior to European settlement. The Camissa people were the root people for what can be called the ‘Camissa footprint’ which spread across South Africaover time. With European settlement and the arrival of slaves from other parts of Africa, Madagascar, India, Chinaand Indonesia, who worked and lived alongside the Gorinhaicona, further relations between slaves and the Khoena also produced offspring in the Camissa community. By the mid 19th century when the Camissa roots were much layered and the Goringhaicona forgotten, the colonial authorities in an act of de-indigenisation labeled the Camissa descendants as ‘Coloured’ people.

    During her years with Jan van Riebeeck as an interpreter, emissary and negotiator, Kratoa adopted the Cochoqua as her people and by all accounts they adopted her. Kratoa’s sister was the wife of Chief Oudasoa of the Cochoqua. Kratoa also had a second ‘mother’ amongst the Cochoqua. She further had kinship ties with the Goringhaiqua and the Chainoqua. Simultaneously Kratoa maintained her ties with the Goringhaicona headed by her uncle Autshumao.

    One of the greatest misrepresentations in South African colonial history narratives is that of the status of relations with the indigenes ofTable Bayparticularly in the 50 years prior to, and at the time of the landing of Commander Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. The inaccurate depiction of Chief Autshumao of the Goringhaicona as an ignorant vagabond leader of a bunch of beachcombers (Strandloopers) runs counter to much reliable historical information that has always been available but most often ignored or even suppressed. It is only in understanding Kratoa in the context of the first two decades of European settlement and with the background of the previous fifty years events at Camissa that her legacy can fully be appreciated.

    Kratoa’s community context

    According to European history, the Europeans had been passing through Table Bay since 1488 and, according to the Chinese accounts the Chinese passed throughTable Bayin 1421.  From the time of that Chinese voyage around theCapeby Admiral Zheng He, until 1652 when the first Dutch settlement occurred, there had been two centuries of interaction by the indigene Khoena people with a wide range of foreign visitors.

    An introduction on the trading links, the communication and the cooperative relations of the Gorachoqua, Goringhiaqua and then the Goringhaicona with the passing Europeans was first provided to a mass readership in some detail by historian Richard Elphick in his book ‘The KhoiKhoi and the Founding of White South Africa (1975). Much of the source material is to be found in the journals of Commander Jan van Riebeeck and he in turn was able to record this largely from the stories of Kratoa and other interpreters.

    The initial informal though brisk trading relationships that took root between passing ships and the Khoena people in the latter 1500s began to take a more formal form under Chief Xhore of the Gorachoqua after he was kidnapped to England in 1613 and returned a year later. Chief Xhore had later led the resistance to the English attempt to settle Newgate convicts at Camissa in 1615 under Captain Crosse, but nonetheless maintained relations as a trader with the Europeans until his death.

    After Xhore’s death (at the hands of the Dutch) Elphick notes that trade relations with the Khoena took a nose-dive.  But a short while later this gap was filled after Chief Autshumao, the uncle of Kratoa, was taken on a visit to Batavia(Jakarta) in 1631. 
    A new and intricate relationship was developed with Autshumao’s clan, the Goringhaicona, involving a range of services including a postal service to passing ships. This first involved establishing a service station for ships onRobbenIslandserved by more than 30 Khoena under Autshumao and later by 1638 this service-community relocated back to the mainland where they continued to provide services. Under the entrepreneurial Autshumao an interlocutor bartering service relationship developed which slowly resulted in rebuilding the supply lines for the European travelers for the acquisition of meat and fresh water in exchange for a commission on transactions.

    The Khoena name of the fresh water river running down from the sacred mountain known as Hoerikwaggo (TableMountain) was ‘Camissa’ or the ‘Sweet Waters’ (soetwater).  The Dutch referred to the Goringhaicona as the ‘Watermen’ because of their association with theCamissaRiverand the seashore. It was from Camissa that foreign ships were supplied with the vital commodity – fresh water, by the Goringhaicona. All the hallmarks were in place to regard this as the first proto-refreshment station at the Cape and thus the true foundation ofCape Town.

    The settlement of his people around Camissa was a strategic move on the part of Chief Autshumao. When there were no ships in the Bay his people lived off fish and other seafood. By camping at the Camissa Autshumao controlled a constant fresh-water supply, giving him a strategic advantage right on the beach. By all accounts the Goringhaicona were typical ‘survivors’ and highly entrepreneurial.  Although a much smaller group than the other Khoena groups they initially dominated relations between the Khoena livestock herders and the Dutch by setting themselves up as the negotiators at a lucrative commission. It was because of this, as can be seen in the Dutch Commander’s journaL that Jan van Riebeeck was so antagonistic to Autshumao as Commander van Riebeeck believed that he was being over-charged for the services.

    Autshumao and another of the Camissa people, Isaac (of whom little is known), had through their travels toBatavia(Jakarta) returned with much linguistic and other knowledge about the Europeans and this was used to their own advantage. Twenty years later, after much interaction with the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, the Camissa community – the Goringhaicona as a group, would have been well acquainted with European languages enough to get by with general communication.

    Authsumao, with his niece Kratoa at his side, stands out as playing a major role in all of the initial interactions with the Dutch Commander of theCape– Jan van Riebeeck, due to his reliance on their linguistic skills. Even when van Riebeeck moved from the tent camp into the north wing of the partially built Fort five months after his arrival, he noted that Autshumao remained camped on the opposite bank of theCamissaRiverrunning below the north wing. 

    Although van Riebeeck is recognised as the colonial ‘founding father’ of Cape Town (and South Africa), he only actually resided in South Africa for 10 years and none of his family remained in South Africa. Kratoa’s descendants however are today to be found among thousands of South Africans of all national groups.

    Commander van Riebeeck first provides a note on Kratoa in his journal in 1654 by referring to – ‘a girl living with us’ who was taken away by her uncle Autshumao and his group of followers after he had made off with a large number of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) cattle herd.

    From this first mention in the record, the Commander went on to mention her name over 200 times in 65 entries in the journal. Kratoa was a dominant factor in Jan van Riebeeck’s entire time at theCape of Good Hope. Further light is shed on her status in the household when the Commander notes that she was taken into the service of his wife from the beginning (1652).  Van Riebeeck also notes that Kratoa perfected the Dutch language and came to a full understanding of religion and Dutch culture under the tutorship of his wife. From the age of 15 years, Kratoa’s service to the VOC transformed to become that of interpreter, emissary and negotiator.

    The Commander studied Kratoa like a hawk as she was manipulated to provide the VOC with intelligence and as much strategic advantage as possible. He also cultivated back up interpreters as distrust later set in. He used these to try and catch her out. Interpreting became a terrain of struggle and Kratoa turned diplomacy into an art. She played a chess game with van Riebeeck and his journal shows that he suspected her of this.

    Commander van Riebeeck started with some muted paternalistic statements about Kratoa in the beginning of his journal and proceeded to describe the advantages and pitfalls of her contribution. As time marches on he exposes distrust and sounds warnings about Kratoa. He uses a phrase many times – Kratoa is accused of ‘drawing the long bow’ – meaning exaggerating, lying or deliberately misleading them. He also suggests that she is playing him at his own game. He says “she knows well by now how to introduce a little flattery and say the sort of thing she imagines you want to hear”.

    By the third part of his journal, Eva, as she is referred to, pre-occupies van Riebeeck and dominates the journal as much as the struggle between the Khoena and the Dutch intensified. Different patterns of struggle with the colonists emerged and these were not in sync with each other. Indeed they were competitive and conflictual. Kratoa clearly came down on the side of the Cochoqua, her sister’s people and in his journal van Riebeeck identified a strong sense of loyalty in her for her own kin.

    Kratoa’s role as interpreter, emissary and negotiator continued over seven years. It is remarkable that this crucial role was carried out by a teenager and a woman who not only rose to the challenge, but was also able to subtly turn the tables on her master so as to advantage her own people.

    Kratoa in the service of the Dutch

    Who was this extraordinary young woman who lived for only just over three decades? Why was the 10 year old Kratoa chosen by Jan van Riebeeck out of all the other children of the Camissa settlement which hosted the early Dutch fort?

    The Europeans literally established their tent camp right in the midst of the existing Camissa settlement for convenience and protection. TheCamissaRiveritself was diverted to form a moat around the Fort when it was constructed. TheCapewas still a place teaming with wildlife. It was an inhospitable place in winter and winter was fast approaching. For the first five months in the heart of a terrible Cape winter, the Europeans and the Goringhaicona lived cheek by jowl on the banks of theCamissaRiverwhile the Fort was being built. Kratoa was a curious ten year old who along with her peers would have been running around inquisitively amongst the Europeans and the Ambonyese soldiers as they busied themselves fortifying their bridgehead at Camissa. When she was not running around with the other children she would be at her uncle Autshumao’s side.

    Maintaining a good relationship with the Khoena at Camissa was the key to the survival of this Dutch settlement project. The local people of the Camissa settlement right down to the children already had enough understanding of various European languages through years of interaction by passing ships with which they traded. Kratoa clearly stood out as her ‘uncle’s child’ who probably was more conversant with rudimentary Dutch, English, French and Portuguese than the others. She was a prime candidate for further instruction.

    By the written accounts of her appearance, she further stood out as having both Khoena and some European features and was of fair complexion.  Kratoa had no father and had a strained relationship with her mother. Her appearance suggested that somewhere down the line it was likely that there was some European ancestry. Her family connections with the inland Cochoqua and the fact that she was related to the royal families that inter-connected some of the Khoena clans was a strategic issue for Jan van Riebeeck. Control of such a young person who could walk into royal kraals, gave van Riebeeck a strategic advantage. She could carry information back and forth and positively influence key role-players if she could be trained and molded.

    Historian Richard Elphick makes the point that we should be careful not to overlay the traditional European concept of kinship or nuclear family on the Khoena people. Words such as ‘uncle’ or ‘mother’or ‘sister’ and ‘niece,’ ill-fit the Khoena kinship connections. Likewise there were no rigid kinship walls between Goringhaicona, Goringhaiqua, Cochoqua and the Gorachoqua, even although with the arrival of the Europeans, tensions and conflicts evolved between these groups and also with others such as the Chainouqua. Elphick shows us that Kratoa had a complex set of family relationships across these clans, and that these included persons of influence and power.  (Pg 107, KhoiKhoi and the founding of White South Africa by Richard Elphick)

    Some writers have chosen to project Kratoa’s place in the van Riebeeck household as though she were a foster child taken into the bosom of the Commander’s family. There is very little facts to support such assumptions. The living arrangements too would not have allowed for Kratoa to be part of the nuclear family of the Commander. When the early rudimentary Fort was complete, the van Riebeecks only had three tiny rooms for a household of 12 persons – his immediate family, slaves and Khoena servants. This was hardly the intimate family environment where a fostered Khoena child was taken into the bosom of the Commander’s wife.  Kratoa’s world was also shared by two Abyssinian slave girls of her own age – Lysbeth and Cornelia, given to Maria de la Quellerie, the Commanders wife by a visiting French naval officer.

    Karel Schoeman in his chapter on Kratoa in ‘Seven Khoi Lives’ gives us a much more comprehensive picture of Kratoa’s upbringing between the ages of 12 and 17. It shows a teenager who was as much, if not more so, a part of her traditional Khoena society as she was a fringe member of the Commander’s household. For strategic reasons it was in the interest of Commander van Riebeeck to also nurture the relationship between Kratoa and the Cochoqua and thus the contact was facilitated. Schoeman refers to this as ‘promising contact’ in van Riebeecks eyes.

    Kratoa’s pre-teen and teenage years must have been very difficult. The child entering puberty was prone to abuse by any of the 140 roughneck men in the 146 strong (female depleted) European and Ambonyese community where protection was hardly able to be guaranteed. For instance, two years after entering service at the Fort, Kratoa had absconded with her uncle and had to be brought back to the Fort after Van Riebeeck had pursued them. Between the age of 12 and 15 she was further instructed in language, religion and culture of the Dutch, not for philanthropic reasons, but to act as an interpreter and diplomat. At 15 already the Commander indicated in his journal that she was doing interpretation work.

    A clear indication that she was not fostered nor truly accepted into Dutch society in the traditional sense was that she remained un-baptised, a sign of non-integration into the European community, until the age of 22 and then this was by her own request. Baptism was the true measure of acceptance into the European community.  Her dress amongst the Europeans is also noted as not that of the European women and children, but that of the Asian slaves.  This was symbolic of her servitude status at the Fort.

    From 15 years to 22 years old Kratoa was set to work as the official interpreter, emissary and negotiator. She was initially prized by Jan Van Riebeeck and commended for her service.

    Increasingly as Kratoa entered her post-teens, the tone in the Commander’s journal changed to view her more disparagingly and with suspicion.  She was suspected of aiding her people with strategic information and advice, particularly during the first Khoe-Dutch war of 1659 – 60. Kratoa was both a clever and wise young person. She too must have recognised that she was in a powerful position to carry useful information, warnings and good counsel to her people.

    Commander van Riebeeck notes that the child, the teen and the young adult over a 12 year period regularly stripped off her Asian dress- kabaka, sarong and kaparangs, and donned her traditional Khoena clothes and adornments to engage in rituals and communion with her people. By all accounts she took great pleasure and pride in doing so.

    Kratoa clearly also experienced a tug-o-war of emotions and mental conflict, as well as conflicts of loyalty. Kratoa was torn between being Eva and Kratoa; between being part of the European world and part of the Khoena. She was being marshalled, briefed and de-briefed by her handler, the Commander. She was asked to go amongst her people and to report back. She was also asked to go amongst her people to lie to them even although the religion taught to her said that lying was wrong. She saw the ruthless and manipulating side of the Commander one day and the gentleman singing her praises the next. Contradictions jumped out at her. As she matured she was less able to be manipulated by van Riebeeck and was split in her loyalties between the VOC and her sister’s people, the Cochoqua.

    Kratoa’s entire life was filled with trauma heaped upon trauma. It was a life full of danger. She was distrusted by the Dutch and also by various persons with differing interests amongst her own people.

    One day she was journeying in a caravan of cattle atop a prized beast – happy with her own people and treated like a princess; another day she was travelling with European men who plied her with alcohol and abused her at night; and yet another day being waylaid and robbed by a rival Khoena band. The inner turmoil must have been great.

    Her skills as a diplomat and linguist also had a lot riding on it. The wrong word in the wrong company could result in reprisals and death. What a responsibility for a young girl. The lives of the people you loved would have been at stake. There were also intense periods of violent conflict and war.

    Kratoa’s experience would have been one of longing for normality. On top of all of these experiences she was a young unmarried mother with two small children.

    In her later teens Kratoa had two ‘illegitimate’ children at the Fort, indicating that she had been abused as a female teen in this overwhelmingly male environment. This abuse would have gone hand in hand with the introduction of alcohol into her life. This latter aspect of her experience was to have a devastating effect on her future.

    Kratoa was able to delight in returning to her people on visits. Tell-tale signs of a yearning for love, and to be settled emerges even from the observations of the Commander in his journal.  The teenager had been thrust into a political world of intrigue, drama and tension with little chance of delighting in simple childish things. There was also little chance to follow in the path of the other women around her as she was thrust into a male world. There was little chance to enjoy love and motherhood. She was outstanding at the same time as a woman at this point in history, as no other female contemporary is to be found engaged in a role that was otherwise exclusively a male domain.

    All of these factors together amounted to a cocktail of pain and must have resulted in much inner conflict. It is no wonder that with all of these things piling up inside of her that in the last decade of her life, Kratoa was pushed over the edge.

    Kratoa and Resistance

    Kratoa frequently went off to live amongst her people, most particularly to her sister and brother-in-law amongst the Cochoqua. Van Riebeeck tolerated and even encouraged this because it opened up a rewarding trade relationship and resulted in intelligence gathering. For van Riebeeck, Kratoa was the source of a wealth of knowledge.

    But it was not a one-way street. Kratoa was enterprising and was able to discharge her own loyalties to her people. She was able to provide intelligence and to position her people to gain strategic advantages. Amongst her people she blossomed and showed an enterprising streak. Her Uncle Autshumao’s skills for being an adept trader and entrepreneur came to the fore in her.

    Kratoa particularly between 1658 and 1661 blossomed and found herself. She turned a situation of being used and abused into an advantage for herself and the Cochoqua people. She made her unique position both work for her and contribute to her people.

    Kratoa’s chief critic was her competitor, the fellow interpreter and an open resister of the Dutch, Nommoa (Doman). He criticized her and implied that she was a sell-out. But was she?

    Kratoa certainly gave excellent interpretation and diplomatic service to the Dutch, but equally she provided the same for Oudasoa and the Cochoqua. In looking at the information available, one is indeed sometimes left wondering whether Kratoa worked for Oudasoa rather than Commander van Riebeeck. It also emerges that she was quietly providing intelligence to the Cochoqua in their more subtle struggles with the Dutch. Her information from Oudasoa conveyed to the Dutch during the Khoena-Dutch war was nuanced in favour of the Cochoqua’s stance.  She further showed great loyalty to her uncle Autshumao when he increasingly became persona non grata to the Dutch. All of this was noticed and commented upon by Commander van Riebeeck.

    In his final testimony before leaving theCape, Commander van Riebeeck established that Kratoa mainly worked as an interpreter with the Cochoqua and other inland Khoena clans. He also states that not all of her information could be dependable as well as referring to other facts relating to her ‘dependability’ which were ‘verbally conveyed’ but ‘because of its nature must remain unknown’.  The Commander provided his successors with advice to keep her on a short leash.

    To understand Kratoa’s resistance role one needs to look at the Khoena’s overall resistance strategy – one that ultimately failed after the second Khoena-Dutch war of resistance. The Khoena strategy was one of containment. That is to keep the Dutch isolated from the interior by means of a blockade and, to keep them economically dependent on the Khoena. Jan van Riebeecks counter-strategy was to break out of any blockade and to open direct contact with the interior by means of divide and rule tactics.

    The Khoena’s Achilles’ heal was their own divisions. There were three different tactical approaches to dealing with the Dutch and these were unfortunately competitive. Kratoa played her crucial part in the third approach as an ally of Chief Oudosoa.

    Autshumao’s tactic was to pressurize the Dutch to stay locked in to theTable Bayarea and to remain dependent on the Goringhaicona for all trading with the interior. He went to great lengths to ensure that direct contact between the Dutch and the other Khoena clans were kept to a minimum. Autshumao also resorted to trying to play up the English threat to the Dutch which he knew to be their fear. Autshumao and his small Goringhaicona clan were however soon overwhelmed by the Dutch.

    The second tactician was Nammoa also known as Doman, who had learnt much about the Dutch weaknesses after he had travelled toBatavia(Jakarta) and back to theCape. He followed a similar tactic to that of Autshumao, but with significant differences. He saw Authshumao’s Goringhaicona as insignificant in numbers, not militant enough and undisciplined. Nammoa sought to replace the Dutch dependency on Autshumao and also on Kratoa with himself. In turn he also attempted to develop a united front between the Goringhaiqua and Gorachoqua to stand up against the Dutch and flex their muscles. Under Nommoa the Peninsula Khoena went to war in the first Khoena-Dutch war of resistance from 1659 – 1660. The result of the conflict was a stalemate, but Nommoa’s power and influence was reduced and the Dutch made significant gains.

    The third tactic was employed by Chief Oudasoa of the Cochoqua with his ally Kratoa. The containment strategy took a completely different approach through what was essentially a diplomacy and brinkmanship tactic. Oudasoa had large herds of cattle outside of the immediate reach of the Dutch as well as the numerical strength to oppose the Dutch and isolate them to thePeninsula. But he needed to bring his entire operation nearer to effect a blockade. He also faced the hostility of all of the Peninsula Khoena clans. Oudasoa needed to tread carefully and played his approach very carefully. He needed to either subject the Peninsula Khoena to his rule or he needed to win them over to a united front. He thus operated in a manner which kept both options open.

    Oudasoa knew that if he entered the territory being occupied by the Dutch in a piecemeal manner, and if small groups of Cochoqua were constantly attacked by Peninsula Khoena, the Dutch would eventually get the upper hand. Oudasoa utilizing the skills of Kratoa, attempted to present the Dutch with an offer he believed that they could not refuse. He offered to bring his cattle and people into thePeninsulawhere he would keep order amongst all of the Khoena as long as the Dutch assisted him in such a move and extended a sole and direct trading relationship with the Cochoqua. Effectively this would have made the Cochoqua the sole Khoena authority in the region and a large and economically powerful enough Khoena presence surrounding the Dutch would have effectively contained them.

    Kratoa played a crucial part to realize this strategy. She first did her rounds raising enough cattle to provide van Riebeeck with a taster for the economic gains that he could make. She then set up meetings at the highest levels between Jan van Riebeeck and the Cochoqua. And finally as interpreter she passionately argued the case for the Cochoqua.

    But van Riebeeck smelt a rat. He began to distrust where Kratoa’s loyalties lay. He refused to go along with Oudosoa and first wanted the Cochoqua to demonstrate loyalty to the Dutch by allying with the Dutch against the Peninsula Khoena. This would have amounted to removing the thorn in the side of the Dutch without any immediate gain for Oudosoa. The chief was no fool and decided to walk away, telling van Riebeeck that he would have no part in his war. 

    The diplomatic brinkmanship of the Cochoqua through Kratoa did not win the day and Oudosoa’s struggle would continue for another decade. Kratoa however had exposed herself and her loyalties to her people and was to pay a heavy price for this. Her role as interpretor and emissary came to an abrupt end and her relationship with her protector, Jan van Riebeeck, soured and this threatened her place in Dutch society at the Fort.

    There were few entries about Kratoa in the Commander’s journal from this point onwards and the last entry showing Kratoa as interpreter was in 1661.  By 1662 the Commander and his family were also about to leave theCape. Over the next decade after the Peninsula Khoena had been subdued, the Dutch and the Cochoqua were on a collision path that ultimately resulted in the second Khoena-Dutch war of resistance leading to the defeat of the Cochoqua and the Khoena strategy of containment. The importation of horses, more soldiers and guns gave the Dutch the strategic advantage in war.

    The last tragic decade of Kratoa’s life

    Kratoa’s life underwent a new dramatic change in 1662 when Commander van Riebeeck left theCape. It coincided with the death of her uncle Autshumao, her mother’s death and the death of her sister, the wife of Chief Oudasoa.

    Faced with her uncle, mother and sister’s deaths, and with the growing distrust in her by the Dutch, the deaths of the few Dutch friends that she still had and, the fact that her main patrons the van Riebeeck’s were about to leave theCape, Kratoa needed to find some security.

    She found her tenuous security in getting baptized as a Christian and by entering a marriage which could be characterized as one of convenience with a VOC official. While some Europeans opposed this marriage as scandalous it was a convenience not only for Kratoa but also for the VOC as it provided a means to spirit Kratoa away from the public gaze without too much ado.

    The man that she married was a Danish man, Peter Havgard who by a custom enforced by the VOC adopted the Dutch persona of Pieter van Meerhof. Known as the VOC surgeon, he worked as a barber, responsible too for amputations. The marriage allowed the company to quickly dispatch Kratoa and van Meerhof to company duties onRobbenIsland– a kind of exile. This did two things – it cut off Kratoa from supplying information to her people and it took her out of circulation amongst the emerging gentry where the presence of the young Khoena woman was an embarrassment, particularly because of the prior dalliances of their husbands during the time when women were in short supply.

    The years of sexual abuse to which Kratoa seemed to have been exposed now needed to be forgotten as the Company men and their new European wives wished to look respectable. The van Riebeeck project and experiment with her life had deeply traumatised Kratoa, who in the last decade of her life stepped over the edge.

    Pieter van Meerhof grew tired ofRobbenIsland, even although unlike Kratoa he was away from the island periodically on expeditions. After having another child with Kratoa, he seized an opportunity to go on a slaving operation toMadagascarand in the course of the expedition he lost his life.

    Their marriage had only lasted three years. After her husband was killed, Kratoa was temporarily allowed back on the mainland and she tried to fit into the very different European world to that of her teens. Kratoa had two more children viewed as ‘illegitimate’. She was rejected by the new gentry and forced to ‘know her place’ amongst the transient lower classes, mainly men, who only wanted her as a drinking companion and to satisfy their sexual urges.

    With van Meerhof’s death, Kratoa’s only security was gone and the full weight of the years of trauma and displacement weighed heavily on her. Her ever deepening dependency on alcohol, first introduced to her in her childhood, took her right over the edge. Her children were removed from her, she was hunted down, thrown into the Castle dungeon and then she was banished toRobbenIsland.

    During this time on Robben island, in 1673, a certain Willem ten Rhijne, a Dutch visitor to theCape, described Krotoa as:

    ”…. a masterpiece of nature. She had embraced Christianity, spoke fluent English, Dutch, French and Portuguese and was conversant with the Holy Scriptures…. in short, she was most commendable, being trained in all womanly crafts and married to one of the surgeons serving the company.”

    This description contrasts sharply with the figure painted by the Church Council and the VOC authorities at the time.  (W ten Rhijn – Early Cape Hottentot; page 125.)

    Historian Karel Schoeman points out how this version by Willem ten Rhijne and another positive note in 1672 by JP Cortemunde contrasts sharply with the accounts in Commander Wagenaer’s Journal for 1671 -74 wherein he refers to Kratoa as ‘drinking herself to death’ and to her ‘vile unchastity’.

    Kratoa had walked a thin line that determined her relations with her own people and the Dutch. When it mattered most, in the time of war and she truly found herself caught in the middle. She played an important role in choosing to provide her people with strategic information. She also became the advocate for the Cochoqua strategy to isolate the Dutch settlement and develop an equitable trading relationship. For this she was scorned by the Dutch, rejected and treated as one who had betrayed them.

    As she found herself more and more of an outcast she turned to alcohol and it took her closer towards her tragic end. She was called a deceitful whore and a vixen by the people who once embraced her. Karel Schoeman says that on her death Commander Wagenaer’s Journal talks of her ‘irregular life’ and says that ‘she finally quenched the fire of her lust by the passive acceptance of death’. It would seem that the Journal tells us more about the writer than about Kratoa.

    The last decade of her life when she was clearly suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome after a decade of abuse often is projected in an amplified and judgmental manner without due analysis of the other two decades.

    Kratoa had developed her own form of resistance to colonialism after having found herself in the extraordinary circumstances of her teenage years. Right up to her death she refused to be down at heal and cursed the society which had abused her.

    It was only in death that Kratoa found a place of her own in being buried first in the grounds of theCastleofGood Hope. Her descendants crossed every group, ethnic and class boundary. Perhaps it was only much later that her spirit found peace when her remains were moved to a plot at the Groote Kerk built alongside the then still visible Camissa stream. Camissa received back her own. Kratoa truly can be regarded as the founding mother of many.

    What was Kratoa’s Legacy?

    The first thing that must be acknowledged is that without Kratoa and the information she provided, Jan Van Riebeeck would never have been able to pass on such a rich wealth of information on the local indigene people to us. Kratoa provided the information even although she could not write. Van Riebeeck, in a sense, was the scribe. In his journal, regardless of the flaws and bias, there is a result available for posterity of the peculiar teamwork which paints a picture of all of the Khoena clans named and described in details which may never have been conveyed for the future and of Khoena characters who may otherwise have been lost in the sands of time. This is a great legacy which makes Kratoa much more than an interpreter and diplomat.

    Kratoa’s life is bound up with the hidden story of the people and events on the banks of theCamissaRiverof the 1650s and 1660s. By looking at the life and times of Kratoa and her other indigene and slave contemporaries we are able to discover something of ourselves that has been lost in time. Like theCamissaRiverwhich still flows hidden beneath the City ofCape Town, so is it with the descendants of the Camissa people. Connecting with Kratoa is one of the keys to unlocking the heritage of many South Africans and rediscovering the strength symbolised by this great ancestor.

    By understanding Kratoa, what she was up against and how she handled herself regardless of what was thrown at her we can have a better sense of who we are as a people who rise up above adversity. Kratoa was a linguist, a diplomat and emissary and a powerful woman in her own right. Faced with incredibly difficult circumstances, she walked amongst landmines of her day and found her own way to make her mark for her people. While adversity dragged her down she refused to live her life down at heal. Adversity took its toll and took her to an early grave but she remained unbroken into the social conformity that had been thrust upon her.

    Linguistically Kratoa was a pioneer of the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans is a Creole language with strong Seaman’s Dutch at its roots. But it also has German, Portuguese and French roots too. However, Afrikaans itself largely emerged amongst two streams of people who had European languages as their 2nd or 3rd languages – the Khoena and the slaves of theCape.

    The Khoena of the Camissa Settlement and the slaves of the Camissa Settlement were exposed to all of the European languages and likewise had their own Khoena and Melayu dialects which were also introduced into daily discourse. Thus the languages of the Khoena and slaves influenced the emergence of Afrikaans in an indelible manner.

    But perhaps more importantly Xhore, Autshumao, Kratoa and Doman as interpreters were the earliest midwives in the birthing of Afrikaans as a language. They were the first to cross the borderline of suiwer-Nederlands into the world of thepatoisCape low-Dutch or the Creole Afrikaans language. The first 12 slaves mainly fromIndia, and the new waves of slaves from West Africa andIndonesia andMadagascar all also contributed to the emergence of this new language. It was vital for communication that boundaries in language needed to be crossed.

    Kratoa was the first indigene African to convert to Christianity inSouth Africaand she was the first indigene African to formally marry a European.

    It is with Xhore, Kratoa, Austhumao, and Nammoa and the Camissa settlement that the people today labeled as ‘Coloured’ have their roots. The indigenes of Camissa and the slaves who were forcibly brought to Camissa from other parts of Africa,Madagascar,India,IndonesiaandChina, gave birth to the many people throughoutSouth Africatoday who can share a pride in being the children of Camissa.

    REFERENCES / BIBLIOGRAPHY

    HB Thom edt; Journal of Jan van Riebeeck 1652 – 1662; Van Riebeeck Society; AA Balkema, Cape Town / Amsterdam (1958)
    Anna Jacoba Böeseken; Die dagregister en briewe van Zacharias Wagenaer 1662 – 1666; (1973)
    Anna Jacoba Böeseken; Memoriën en instruction 1657 – 1699; (1966)
    Mansell Upham; Made or Marred by Time; http://www.e-family.co.za/remarkablewriting/MadeorMarred.pdf
    Karel Schoeman; Seven Khoi lives; - Cape biographies of the seventeenth century; Protea; Pretoria (2009)
    Alan Mountain; First People of the Cape; David Philip; Cape Town (2003)
    Riaan Voster and Alan Hall; The Waters of Table mountain;  http://dev.webdesignbytanya.com/hike-tm/the-waters-of-table-mountain/
    Nicolaas Vergunst; Hoerikwaggo – Images of Table mountain; SA National gallery Iziko Museums; Cape town (2000)
    Nigel Worden, Elizabeth van Heningen, Vivian Bickford-Smith; Cape Town Making of a City; David Philip; Cape Town (1998)
    Adrien Delmas & Nigel Penn; Written culture in a Colonial context: Africa and the Americas 1500 – 1900; Written culture and the Cape KhoiKhoi – From travel writing to ‘full description; UCT Press (2011)
    William Crooke edt; Tavanier: Travels in India; transl V Ball; (1925)
    Sir Richard Carnac-Temple; The travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia 1608 – 1667; (1967)
    JP Cortemünde; Adventures at the Cape of Good Hope; (1962)
    HCV Leibbrandt; Precis of the archives of the Cape of Good Hope; Journal 1662-70, 1671-74; WA Richards & Sons (1901, 1902)
    John Cope; King of the Hottentots; Howard Timmins; Cape Town (1967)
    Richard Elphick; KhoiKhoi and the founding of White South Africa; Raven Press; Johannesburg (1985)
    O Schapera edt; Dictionary of South African Biography: The Early Cape Hottentots – Willem ten Rhijne; (1933)

    By Patric Tariq Mellet on 16/03/2013
  • Thanks so much Lucy Campbell and Tariq Mellet for the incredibly important history you both make it your life’s work to keep alive. These ancestors can never be acknowledged enough. In these histories lie the roots of all the brutality, prejudice, inequality and dysfunction that continue to destroy us.

    By Gabrielle Le Roux on 17/03/2013
  • Serious questioning and expression of doubt are agreeable when historical data are misrepresented. Krotoa Havgard’s contribution to the success of the VOC is still underestimated. Ms Havgard was an active VOC agent and VOC diplomat, continually betraying and misleading Khoisan leaders to please Baas Van Riebeeck.
    We would be betraying ourselves if we mislead the public with our own home-made version of the early Cape history. To avoid re-colonisation of our minds, we should rather establish whether the following is correct or not:
    1)  The use of ‘race’ or ‘national group’ as a demographic denominator. Even advocates of race, ethnic or class categories are not able to provide legitimate definitions of such groups.
    2)  The continual use of Van Meerhof, a Dutchified version of Havgard. This is seen as disregard for the person’s own identity. He was born as an Havgard from Denmark and concealing his true identity is counter-productive.
    3)  The continual reference to Krotoa as Madam Van Riebeeck’s servant.
    4)  The notion that Krotoa requested the VOC to be baptized.
    5)  The notion that Krotoa could not write. 
    6)  The notion that Krotoa did not actively support the illegitimate conquest. She supplied the VOC’s military officials with tactical information and assisted the bartering officials to obtain Khoisan livestock with the least possible resistance (i.e. plying the Khoisan with enough liquor, tobacco, beads and copper wires). She was fully aware that she was undermining the Khoisan economic structure and values.
    7)  ‘Krotoa’s Place’ is still an enigma. The mosaic bench serving as Ms Havgard’s memorial bears no inscription to contextualise her life. The Cape City Council does not want to demystify her Khoisan persona by acknowledging that she was officially married. Such acknowledgement is still forthcoming. It is also important to note that no Khoisan activist, surrogate or legitimate cultural leader protested against this re-colonisation of Krotoa Havgard. This pseudo-memorialisation of Krotoa Havgard is in fact more of an insult than an honour.
    8)  The Groote Kerk possesses no written record that someone known as Krotoa Havgard or Eva van Meerhoff was ever buried there. Similarly, there is no record of her ever being buried in the Castle. Requests to the Cape City Council to help find her grave were unsuccessful.

    The VOC and its band of fortune hunters exploited Krotoa Havgard’s skills. When her services were no longer required, she was rejected and abandoned. Reinforcement of stereotypes (such as ‘race’ and ‘national group’) and falsification of history such as referred to in 3), 4) and 5) are retrogressive and an insult to Krotoa Havgard and all her descendants.

    By Kobus Faasen on 18/03/2013
  • The previous three comments do not add value to the discussion. They clearly indicate that editorial censorship is still required.

    By Kobus Faasen on 07/04/2014

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