The Story of the Griqua Re-visited
SPEAKER: Sean O'Connell
The Griqua Story starts well before any influence of Western Civilisation ever reached the shores of the Cape of Good Hope. To understand the Griqua Story it is necessary to understand the Heritage of those people who called themselves “Khoikhoin” (“Men among Men”), or “Khoin” for short.
One has to remember that the Khoin from Central Africa were nomads who travelled south with their livestock wherever they went. They later came into contact with the original southern African hunter-gathering people, commonly known today as the Bushmen.
The lifestyle of the “Hottentot” branch of the Khoi people was one of a community-based, pastoral type of nomadic culture. This culture included a lot of story-telling about life within and among these nomadic family groups. The Hottentots’ way of life may be viewed today as idyllic and something of which modern urbanised culture can only dream about. Put in another way, the Hottentots were a very contented and happy people who lived on meat, milk and edible plants in large family-group, community arrangements with only the basics of shelter, and lots of time to roam around and tell stories. Although a ruling chief might be appointed, the position was no more than that of a "spokesman". In Hottentot culture, no man or women was seen as being "above" the others and all major decisions were taken by the community at large.
This description would have been typical of the culture when Jan van Riebeeck and his men arrived at the Cape. In complete contrast to this Hottentot culture, the men of the Dutch East India Company arrived with the purpose of protecting the flow of profit from Dutch Batavia in South Asia and the spice-rich Far East. This protection required that the landfall immediately adjacent to Table Bay be secured as a refreshment station and a safe haven in order to look after the needs of passing ships.
One cannot imagine, therefore, a more misunderstood clash of cultures between the Hottentots’ way of life and Van Riebeeck’s "profit-based" culture. The Hottentots did not stand a chance of survival against this "need for profit" way of life and for the price of a few shiny glass beads and copper plates and absolutely no comprehension of the meaning of permanent land ownership, the Hottentots gladly welcomed the Dutch visitors, thinking that – like so many seaborne visitors before – they would soon move on. How devastatingly mistaken the Hottentots were!
Within a year of Van Riebeeck’s arrival, the first offspring between the Dutchmen and the local Hottentot women were born – and who could blame the 82 men who arrived with Van Riebeeck without female companionship? And so the needs of these men were thus satisfied by the Hottentot women in exchange for glass beads, copper plates, tobacco, and especially brandy.
With little else to trade other than their bodies the Hottentot women quickly gave in to these addictive pastimes supplied by the Dutchmen and within months the entire social structure of the Hottentot families imploded completely. The Hottentot men equally took on too many of the white man's ways by drinking to excess and signed away their land rights for as little as a bottle of brandy.
It soon came to pass that the new settlers viewed the local Hottentots as being indolent, lazy and having an inferior culture and intellect. It is from this attitude that the Khoin were branded generally by the settlers as “Hottentots” after the stuttering and broken way the settlers heard the language spoken.
It is also against this background that the co-existence of an exploding, "illegitimate Coloured” community gave rise to the Griqua people: a true South African “Rainbow Nation” of mixed bloods including Hottentots, Bushmen, Chinese, Dutch, British, Indians, Malay, Korana, Xhosa, and the descendants of freed slaves from elsewhere in Africa.
In Scott Balson’s book, Children of the Mist a fairly accurate story is told of the life and times of the Griqua people. In the book, Francine is born out of a union between her mother, an indentured slave girl, and the farmer of a settler family. Francine is also a slave and at the age of 14 she is raped by one of the farmer’s sons. After a few months Francine was no longer able to hide the child growing within and just before the birth of her son she is thrown off the farmer’s lands after the dark secret comes out.
Francine walks for miles in the direction of Stellenbosch and collapses exhausted on the side of a road. A farmer by the name of Adam Tas sees Francine, and takes her to his farm where she later gives birth to her son and names him “Adam” after the farmer who helped her.
About 20 years later, Adam Tas was taken into custody for his opposition to the reign of Cape Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel and his two sons take over his farm. Shortly afterwards, one of the son's wives catches her husband and Francine in adultery and the son is forced to throw Francine and her children off the farm. Sadly, Francine’s experiences were shared by thousands of Hottentot women in similar circumstances across the emerging Cape Colony, where the mixed-blood population, later to be called “Coloured” grows exponentially.
Francine and her family make their way to Piquetberg, some 100 kilometres north of modern Cape Town, in order to escape from the influence of the settlers. Here they live by their wits, raiding gardens for food and stealing livestock. It was into this deeply rejected community that Francine’s grandchild, Adam Eta, born in 1710, a mere 58 years after Van Riebeeck’s arrival.
Three years later, an epidemic of smallpox breaks out and many tens of thousands of Hottentots and others are killed by the disease, leaving only a few pockets of Hottentots to pick up the pieces. Smallpox effectively did what no gun had been able to do – the removal of the local population as a problem for the colony.
With still a sizeable number of people of mixed descent in the Cape and very few original Khoikhoin left, those who were later classified in the late Nineteenth Century as “Coloured” people were now totally cut off from their Hottentot roots and saw themselves more as “Europeans” and so attempted to imitate the settlers’ culture, religion, and lifestyle.
Adam Eta’s parents had both died from the smallpox epidemic and so he ended up being brought up by slaves belonging to a farmer in the Piquetberg area. He was soon noticed as a capable slave and was soon being trained as the farmer’s cook.
At the age of 25 Adam Eta joined the farmer on a journey to Cape Town as his cook and while in Cape Town the Governor of the Cape noticed Adams cooking ability. He was quickly exchanged for an additional parcel of land by the farmer and became Head Chef to the Governor of the Cape at the Castle, the official residence in Cape Town. Here he was given the name “Kok”, meaning “chef” in English.
It was during Adam Kok’s time at the Castle in Cape Town that he realised the extent of the deprivation of the Hottentots since the land that once belonged to his forefathers had been taken and given to the incoming settlers. He saw first-hand how the white man’s influence had crippled and extinguished any connection to his Hottentots roots, so often spoken about while he was growing up in Piquetberg.
Five years later, around 1740, there was a change of Governors that won Adam his freedom. With his large payout of several hundred Rix Dollars he purchased an ox wagon with all the trimmings and on returning to the farm he was brought up on he found it burnt to the ground. He met one of the slaves that had once worked at the farm and was told of the hostilities between his people and the settlers.
They had found an ideal spot on the slopes of the Voorberge to hide out in and for the next couple of years a number of outcasts, both of mixed heritage and white men, took refuge here from the Governor of the Cape while the practice of raiding and looting settlers farms continued as the only means of survival.
As the Dutch settler population expanded and occupied the land in ever-growing circles from Cape Town, however, Adam realised that their once isolated sanctuary on the slopes of the Voorberge was under threat of discovery. By this time, the previous leader, Koos Kleinman, had died and Adam had been selected to lead the community. In the spring of 1743, therefore, Adam packed up the settlement on about ten ox wagons and headed away to the north to become the first Voortrekkers in history.
What is very interesting here is that it was for exactly the same reasons that the Voortrekkers ventured north about a century later: to escape the influence of the Governor of the Cape but more about that a bit later.
From this time on until the establishment of Philippolis by the Griquas in the southern Free State in 1823, this period can best be described as the founding years of the Griqua people. These were the years that saw their settlement of in the Northern Cape and later the southern Free State. The highlights of these years include:
- The merging of the starving Chariguriqua clan of the original Khoi people and Adam Kok’s clan as they travelled north, including the union of Donna, the Chariguriqua chief's daughter, and Adam Kok.
- The raiding of sheep and cattle from Adam Kok's people by the Venters, the first of the Trekboers, or frontier farmers, who were encouraged by to settle in the Cape interior.
- The creation of the Griqua Bergenaars, a group of marauding scouts of the Griqua who effectively annihilated the Bushmen wherever they went.
- The move of Kok’s people across the Orange River into the Langeberg after huge herds of game had stampeded through the Griqua’s camp totally demolishing everything in their path to get to the other side of the river.
Within 50 years of the arrival of these frontiersmen these massive herds of game
- had been decimated to such an extent that they disappeared from the area.
The arrival of vagabonds such as Stephanus who held himself out to be a prophet and who was a great story teller, you might say the story teller of story tellers. And Jager Afrikaner, a vicious marauding bandit on the Cape' frontier. Both men were renegades on the run from the long arm of the Governor of the Cape.
- The arrival of Barend Barends together with 30 men women and children and several hundred head of cattle from the Cape. He was being harassed by the notorious Jager Afrikaner who often took delight in firing gunshots into the ground which scattered Barends livestock making them easy pickings for Jager and his men.
- The establishment of Hardcastle in the Northern Cape and the official appointment of Adam Kok as "Kaptein" of the area, meaning Leader or Chief in Charge. This was declared by the outgoing Dutch Governor who was to be shortly replaced by the British Governor when the British took over the Colony for the first time in 1795.
By this time, Adam Kok I was 85 years old and an aged leader of a people who looked forward to a bright future. Adam handed over his Captaincy to his son Cornelius Kok. With so many new arrivals from Hardcastle, Cornelius decided to move his outgrown camp to what is today Griquatown in the Northern Cape. This town was initially known as Klaarwater.
Into this mix came the first missionaries, Anderson and Kramer, who managed to tame some of the wild ways of these frontiersmen and women. Then came another missionary called Campbell who took offence to the name given to these people initially called “Basters”, a term derived from the Dutch, meaning “illegitimate”. He came up with the name “Griqua” from the association of Adam Kok I with the Chariguriqua people, a name which was an instant hit with Adam’s followers, and so the town was renamed “Griquatown”.
The influence of these missionaries on the Griqua was in some ways cruel, as they imposed an imported Western ideology on top of a culture relatively unchallenged in its way of life, free of the Trekboers, free of the influence of the Cape Colony, free to hunt, laze around, tell stories and watch over their herds of cattle sheep and goats.
The imposition of these Western laws and regulations and their associated harsh penalties on the Griquas by the missionaries caused intense internal conflicts among the leading Griqua families and a movement away from these established leaders to set up separate Griqua settlements.
Also, let us not forget the Korana people, the original Khoi clan, that had long before settled just north of these new Griqua settlements as well as the groups of Griqua Bergenaars who were constantly on the move, and which now included every creed living in the area.
During the first quarter of the 1800s, some large changes occurred in the lives of the Griqua people. One of these was the establishment of a Bushmen mission station at Philippolis in the southern Free State by Dr John Philip from the London Missionary Society, who had accompanied the missionary Campbell during his first missionary visit to the area.
Dr Philip was later appointed as Super-intendant of the London Missionary Society and while on a previous visit to the Griqua area, Adam Kok, the son of the now Kaptein, Cornelius Kok, had spun Dr Philip a wonderful tale of how he and some fellow Griquas had come to the assistance of some Bushmen who had been cornered by a pride of lions.
The influence of this humanitarian theme was cause for Dr Philip to award Cornelius Kok’s Griquas the area north of the Orange River, today known as the Free State, in exchange for the assurance that the Bushmen in the area would now be protected. The good Doctor had no idea he had been hood-winked and the fate of the Bushmen was now certainly sealed.
It must be pointed out that, had the Griquas not exterminated the Bushmen, the Boers would most certainly have done so for it was the method of their execution that was learnt from the Boers that was applied by the Griquas whenever they came across these unfortunate Bushmen families. The male Bushmen was shot in the legs effectively immobilising him and thus being unable to hunt for food resulting in the excruciating death not only of the male Bushmen but his entire family, who eventually died from starvation. One has to understand that life on the frontier was difficult and harsh, as was the method the Bushmen used on both Boer and Griqua in stealing their livestock – the Bushmen would shoot the herdsman with a poisoned arrow if need be, usually in the neck area, who also then died an excruciatingly painful death, whereupon the Bushmen would take off with some of the livestock.
Adam Kok II then took the opportunity given by Dr Philip to leave the strife torn areas around the now established Griqua settlements of the Northern Cape and establish his group at Philippolis in the southern Free State.
Around this time the Ndebele tribe, having moved away from the influence of Shaka’s Zulus in the East, was now plundering the Mantatisi’s tribe, the Griqua’s allies in the north, from whom game and elephant tusks had been traded which in turn had been traded by the Griquas to the Trekboers in the south for brandy, guns, and ammunition.
Reports came in from the Griqua Bergenaars that Mzilikazi, the Ndebele chief, and his men were away plundering tribes in the far north leaving their large herds of livestock unprotected, which appeared to the Bergenaars to represent easy pickings – or so they thought.
Word spread quickly through the Griqua settlements and within a day or so, 800 armed Bergenaars prepared themselves to steal and plunder the Ndebele’s large herds. It took several days just to round up the large number of animals that the Bergenaars wanted to take with them. Being far too many to successfully drive back to the Griqua lands, the raiders were nevertheless consumed by an overwhelming desire for this enormous wealth in livestock, so they miscalculated the enormity of the task and began determinedly to drive the cattle slowly back home.
Soon the Ndebele scouts were tracking the Bergenaars’ progress, while planning their attack on the slow-moving trail of dust. When it came, the Ndebele attack was quick and fatal. Now knowing by observation that there were no Bergenaars awake during the early hours, they struck at dawn. Several Ndebele men were able to surround each Bergenaar as they slept and on the given signal, all 800 Bergenaars were simultaneously slaughtered as they slept and the stolen livestock was taken back. Word quickly spread of the annihilation of the Bergenaars and what was left of the Griqua nation grieved at their loss, since every living Griqua at the time would have been related in some way or another to one or more of the men that were now dead.
Moreover, the Ndebele were now moving south and all the Griqua settlements were consequently also under threat of annihilation, having lost so many of their fighting men. This would have been the case had it not been for a fearless missionary from Kuruman by the name of Robert Moffett. Unarmed and alone, he entered the Ndebele stronghold and somehow (I would like to think by Divine intervention) negotiated with Mzilikazi to take the Ndebele tribe further north and to settle in the area known today as Matabeleland in Zimbabwe.
Adam Kok II and his people were relatively unaffected by the loss of the Bergenaars at Philippolis in the south and he took the ascendancy as Kaptein of the Griqua people. Word of the good grazing and plentiful supply of water spread, which encouraged many Griquas in the other settlements to make the Trek and re-settle in the lands around Philippolis.
It must be explained that at this time the political situation in South Africa was that the Cape Colony had been under British Control since 1795. The Cape Colony was given to the British as bounty for their part in the Napoleonic wars in Europe. The British had quickly imposed their style of colonial administration on the original Dutch settlers who promptly took exception to their Rule of Law, which included the abolition of slavery in 1834. This seriously affected the livelihood of many Dutch settlers in the Cape and consequently led to the mobilisation, known today as the “Great Trek”.
The Griquas had already established long-standing and mutually beneficial trading relations over several generations before the Great Trek. Both had experienced the harsh conditions of the interior of the Cape Colony.
The Voortrekkers, on the other hand, were more like established townsfolk. Numbering some 15,000 strong, they were well educated and very angry at having been displaced from the Colony. Having trekked to the north, they subsequently made their way through to the reqion of Philippolis on their way to settle in Natal.
As the Voortrekkers trekked north to Natal and, finding that Natal had been annexed by the British, remembered the good lands they had passed through that had belonged to the Griqua people, so the Voortrekkers headed back over the Drakensberg into the Orange Free State, where they outspanned on the plentiful sweet grass and good supply of water albeit on Griqua land.
By this time, Adam Kok II had passed on and the Kaptein position was taken up by his son, Adam Kok III. Several years later, after the Voortrekkers had come back from Natal, Adam Kok III realised later that the underlying need of the Voortrekkers was to achieve "selfstandigheid" or autonomy, which came at the expense of the Griqua people. Aided by the British authorities, the Boers had taken up 40-year leases with the Griquas in the Orange Free State. One of the conditions of these 40-year leases was that ownership would revert to the lessee (that is, the Boers) should the improvements made on the land not be re-imbursed. And of course, no individual Griqua would be able to do this, given the Griqus community based lifestyle.
This realisation came too late for Adam Kok III, who had entrusted the land allocations to Hendrik Hendriks, the Secretary of the Griqua Governing Council, or the “Raad”). After further negotiations, however, Adam Kok’s people were able to occupy Noman’s Land below the Southern Drakensberg, a region having been previously emptied of people at that time by Shaka’s Zulus, now known as Kokstad.
Later, a complete misunderstanding arose among the Griqua Council and its people, and the British were soon making accusations against them for maladministration of the area of what was then called East Griqualand and promptly annexed the area in 1874. To add to the woes of the Griqua people, Adam Kok III died in 1875 leaving a leadership vacuum that was never effectively filled.
It was during this time that the Griqua people, still with no understanding of land ownership, signed away their title deeds for brandy and credit at Strachan & Co, who also took Griqua title deeds in lieu of the many outstanding loans payable by the Griquas, who had no way of paying them back. It was not long before more white people came into the Kokstad region buying up valuable land for a fraction of the value being asked by their Griqua owners.
And so for a second time the Griqua people became displaced and despised by the whites and, with no real leadership, the community imploded once more before calling forth from among its ranks the Griqua profit, Andrew Andries Stockenstroom Le Fleur, who married Rachel Susanna Kok, daughter of one of the direct descendants of the Kok family. Le Fleur was thus chosen by the Griqua people to be their Paramount Chief. He began by stirring up the Griqua people against the British, who then regarded him as a rebel. Le Fleur was duly taken into custody and was sent to the Breakwater Prison in Cape Town in February 1898. He was later released along with Boer prisoners-of-war in 1903.
Le Fleur then successfully established a long- standing girls’ choir called “Die Roepers” (“The Callers”). Their mission was to travel around South Africa, singing and working for Griqua unity. Many of their descendants continue this tradition to this day.
Le Fleur also organised various treks in the 1900s, of which the 1917 trek from Kokstad to Touwsrivier, about 200 kilometres from Cape Town was the most disatrous, causing the people returning to Kokstad to be a lot poorer than when they first started out.
In 1928, however, Le Fleur set off again from Kokstad on a more successful trek to Kranshoek, just outside Plettenberg Bay. This more successful trek drew many Griquas from around the country as word spread of its progress. And so today we have the Griqua National Conference head-quartered right here in Kranshoek.
Despite Le Fleurs failings and controversies that seemed to follow him wherever he went, therefore, he nevertheless ended up as a successful leader and a continuing inspiration for the Griqua people. His vision from God inspired him and in turn his prophesies inspired the Griqua people and it is through him that the Griqua independent church flourishes today in all the active Griqua communities of Namaqualand, Campbell, Kimberley, Griqua-town, Kokstad, Philippolis, the Cape Peninsula, and, of course, here in kranshoek.
Le Fleur died in 1941 and is buried on the Robberg Peninsula, close to Kranshoek. His Grandson, Alan Le Fleur of Kranshoek is now the Paramount Griqua Chief, a direct descendant of Adam Eta Kok who started it all those years ago in the 1700s.
With the build-up of the first free and fair democratic elections in SA in 1994 the Griqua people amalgamated with the general Coloured population but today the culture and traditions of the Griqua people are remembered through their independant church, as well as the singing and dancing traditions celebrated throughout their calendar year.