View of Hout Bay; View of False Bay from Chapmans Peak; Table Mountain, Twelve Apostles and Camps Bay from Lion’s Head. All ©Bruce Stevens.
YOU ARE HERE: Shared Ancestors ► 8. Reflections
It was quite confronting when doing this research to read that an ancestor was awarded as the compensation for a theft. She, wasn’t required to pay compensation. She, herself, was the compensation. Equally confronting was the story of her mother being kidnapped as a little girl and given as a gift – essentially to the head of the Cape settlement. There are meticulous records of these women being bought and sold and being passed from one Companje official to another. They are shown in inventories that list them and their prices, but no family names. Chattels; commodities; objects. But ancestors of ours.
Then there are the children. Multiple children with a list of fathers from amongst the Companje officials and fellow slaves. Young slave girls as the only unattached women at the mercy of owners, officials and even fairly lowly ranked employees. One can only guess at what took place and much of what took place was undoubtedly brutal and traumatising.
It is also a little disturbing to see that these slaves went on to own slaves themselves once they had been freed.
But it wasn’t all brutality. Some relationships appear to have been genuine within the constraints of slave ownership. Willem Schalk van der Merwe incurred the wrath of a Companje official for caring for the pregnant Koddo. Pieter Evrard bequeathed a material sum of money to provide for his daughter. It is also clear that senior Companje officials were sympathetic to their circumstances in many instances. All of the slave ancestors were freed and, whilst most were undoubtedly treated as lower down the social order, they were nonetheless treated as citizens. They were helped financially. They were considered equals to the vrijburghers. They were granted land, including very good land, alongside the vrijburghers and some married into the highest tiers of society. Their situation was possibly helped by the fact that Governor Simon van der Stel was the son of a freed Indian slave because later slaves were not treated as well.
It is sad that the vigorous contribution of these women to the building of South Africa, and especially certain Afrikaner families, was denied and buried for so long. I find it amazing that much of the information collection and research that allows us to trace our links back to the 1650s was carried out for, and funded by, the Apartheid government – who then worked very hard to hide it. I can’t complain too loudly, however, because I didn’t even know that I had an Afrikaans connection until relatively recently.
One can only admire the resilience and enterprise of these women. They took the chances they were given and built solid, commendable lives and families. Some prospered and became wealthy; some very wealthy. They were clearly very strong, determined women. Quite uplifting.
©Alun Stevens 2019