About Autshumato 'Herry' Chief of Goringhaicona
In summary: khoikhoi leader and interpreter of the Gorinhaikonas.
Autshumao also known as Herry the strandloper (beach walker), he was chief and interpreter of the Gorinhaikonas. In 1630 he was taken to Bantam by the English and returned to the Cape a year later. He had learned to speak Dutch and English, which made him very useful to his people, and the European settlers who were engaged in a trading relationship. As result of his position as chief and interpreter of the Gorinhaikonas, he became a rich man.
1658 he waged war against the Dutch settlers. The war broke out when Autshomao reclaimed cattle that were unfairly taken from the Gorinhaikonas people by the Dutch. In 1659, after losing this war, he and his two followers, Simon Boubou and Khamy, became the first prisoners on Robben Island. They were banished by Jan Van Riebeck. The following year Autshumao and one other prisoner escaped by stealing a rowing boat, which got them to the mainland. Autshumao and his fellow escapees are the only people to successfully escape from Robben Island.
Autshomao died in 1663. In 1713, Francois Valentyn recorded that the Goringhaikonas had disappeared from Cape Town. He attributed this to the small pox epidemic of 1713.
In the first few decades of the 1600s two Khoe chiefs, Xhore in 1613 and Autshumato in 1631 were abducted and taken to England and Batavia respectively. Xhore made history in becoming the first black South African to go to England. Both Xhore and Autshumato were taught English and returned to the Cape. Chief Xhore later led the resistance to the first attempt to establish a British colony at the Cape with Newgate prisoners in 1614. Captain Crosse and the English setters were forced to beat a hasty retreat from the mainland to Robben Island. Chief Autshumato, named ‘Herrie the Strandloper’ by the Dutch, became the first postmaster on Robben Island and could communicate in English, French, Portuguese and Dutch. He was the man who first assisted and then resisted the Dutch when Commander Jan van Riebeeck established the Dutch settlement in 1652 at Table Bay.
Xhore and Autshumato were remarkable men who have always been relegated to the footnotes of official histories. Other great leaders of the Khoe at this time include Autshumato’s niece Kratoa who became Eva van Meerhof and is one of my ancestors, Gogosoa, Osingkhimna, King Sousoa, Khaikana Maikauka, Nommoa or Doman, Oudasoa, Ngonnemoa, Dorha and so many others. Their stories give a very different perspective to the simplified narrative of European conquest and settlement at the Cape, which was served up to South African schoolchildren throughout the 20th century. The impact of the Khoe on our culture, politics and even the language of Afrikaans has never been given due recognition.
Even the liberal historical narratives are highly patronising. This is particularly true of, the story of those that I call the three ambassadors. Autshumato, Kratoa and Doman, uncover between them, great skills of multilingualism, political shrewdness, people who had travelled and experienced different cultures, strategists, an understanding of economy, and in the case of Doman, military prowess.
Jan van Riebeeck and his successors used a variety of means to wrest the lands of the Khoe for themselves. These included using negotiations and treaties, buy-offs, threat, abductions, violence and conquest. In this process they made diplomatic use of these three local Khoe personalities; Autshumato, Kratoa also known as Eva van Meerhof, and Nommoa known as Doman. While they played out roles of being interlocutors, these three also played a prominent resistance role and walked a delicate tightrope in doing so.
Historical narratives taught to us was stunted by colonial and Apartheid ideologically manipulated story lines. According to traditional colonial history books, for instance, Autshumato was simply a troublesome good-for-nothing, ignorant, beach bum that van Riebeeck accidentally met on his arrival. Yet this ‘beach-bum’ had travelled to Batavia and back, had rendered services to passing ships for three decades, and could communicate in a number of European languages. Too many in our country still justify all sorts of claims based on ideologically distorted narratives of this time, covering our collective past.
Autshumato: To the Dutch, Autshumato whom they called Herrie, was simply the leader of a beachcombing group of Khoe whom they called the Strandlopers. As schoolchildren, we were taught a garbled version of those early settlement days and Autshumato was referred to as ‘Herrie the Strandloper’. It was projected to us that the Dutch upon their arrival had bumped into a beach combing vagabond bumpkin who was living by his wits. No mention was made of Autshumato’s many years of experience as an interlocutor with European visitors, nor his experience in showing the Dutch group the ropes which greatly contributed to their survival in a hostile climate and environment, nor his multi-lingual abilities with Dutch, French, English and Portuguese.
Autshumato, a leader amongst the Goringhaicona, had acquired the name Harry or Herrie two decades earlier in 1631 when the British had removed Autshumato to Batavia to ‘teach him English’ and provide some ‘training’ in English ways. The aim was for him to act as an agent between the British and the Khoe at the Cape. Thus began a favourable relationship between Autshumato and the British, which he played for all that it was worth.
When Autshumato ran into trouble with other Khoe groups on the mainland, he had the British install him and 20 followers on Robben island. Autshumato became the postmaster general, lighthouse-man and provisioner for passing British ships. He also looked after the French, Dutch and other European ships and became quite a linguist, diplomat and trader. The relationship was mutually satisfying for both parties.
Unfortunately, when the Dutch arrived to settle, all of this came undone for Autshumato. He would simply be a local black heathen to them. Initially Autshumato tried to take advantage of the Dutch presence, but as it became clear that the Dutch were in the Cape to stay and that they were prepared to use others to their greater advantage, the relationship turned to one of resistance. Autshumato did everything in his power to outsmart the Dutch at their own game, but once Autshumato lost his strategic bargaining power, it was the beginning of his end.
During the first few months of their arrival, the Dutch were quite vulnerable. Food and shelter for three shiploads of people was their chief concern. The workforce of Jan van Riebeeck had to quickly find their land-legs and the work at hand was to be back-breaking. They were surrounded by dangerous wildlife and the summery weather was beginning to change to the harshness of the Cape of storms. The local people lived a totally different lifestyle to that of the Europeans and were not interested in assisting them with their strange requests and tasks. Van Riebeeck was also highly pre-occupied with establishing defensive structures, aware of potential threats and risks from local inhabitants and from other passing ships including the British who had already proclaimed Table Bay, crown territory.
Van Riebeeck, through Autshumato let it be known that he wanted to barter for cattle and any other form of assistance. He found negotiations with the Khoe very difficult as the intrusive and threatening behaviour of the Dutch had made the Khoe cautious. Also worrying was the quantities of meat required and demanded by the new-comers. The killing and eating of livestock that was practiced by the Dutch would clearly put ‘supply and demand’ pressure on the local subsistence economy. The Khoe were rightly worried about the sustainability of their carefully managed livestock. Further worrying was the scarring of the environment as the Dutch felled trees, broke up stone, altered water flows and cleared tracts of land.
The Peninsular Khoe knew about issues of survival and withheld their livestock from the Dutch, regardless of the new products on offer such as copper, tobacco and alcohol. The Dutch interpretation of this non-cooperation was from a perspective that said that Europeans were civilised and reasonable and that the Khoe were uncivil, tricky and unreasonable. Van Riebeeck’s recorded responses were typical of European adventurers of his time. He wrote in his journal that it would have been much easier to take the cattle by force and enslave the Khoe. But the VOC compelled him to build good relations with the local population as it suited their long term vision.
The Dutch settlement party wrestled with how they would establish themselves under the circumstances. Van Riebeeck was forced to use Autshumato and anything that he could provide them with, to establish the settlement bridgehead. Autshumato was the only local person who could speak some European languages so as to facilitate the navigation of local bartering, bartering in the interior and who knew the landscape. The Dutch were wary of Autshumato and him of them. The Peninsula Khoe had effectively drawn a cordon around the Dutch to prevent them from independent contact with groups beyonf the Peninsular. Van Riebeeck had much to write about this uneasy relationship in his journal. It thus became a priority for the Dutch to develop other relationships and to train others who might be more loyal. This is how they turned to Autshumato’s young niece Kratoa.
Kratoa (Eva van Meerhof): Kratoa as a little girl, not yet ten years of age, had landed up on her own after her father died and her mother married another chief. Somehow she landed up at the Fort de Goede Hoop and got drawn into the van Riebeeck household. While Kratoa always retained her links outside of the fort, she also assimilated into the Dutch community and was renamed Eva. She was taught Dutch and adopted the Christian faith and lived in the ways of the Dutch settlers. Kratoa came from a complex extended family of notables amongst the Khoe people. Kratoa was the niece of Autshumato who was leader of an independent Goringhaicona clan, but she also had an uncle in the Chainoqua tribe and women regarded as mothers in the Goringhaiqua and Cochoqua respectively. She was well connected through her sister who had been married first to Goeboe the Chainoqua chief and was later, in a twist of war, married to Chief Oedasoa of the Cochoqua.
Over time, Kratoa found herself split in her loyalties and, as a result of her closeness to the Dutch, her Khoe people distrusted her as a black Dutch woman. Likewise the Dutch also saw her as an untrustworthy local. But to the Dutch at a crucial time she was invaluable. Her command of the Dutch language and understanding of Dutch custom and needs, far outstripped that of Autshumato and as soon as she was able to assist them, the Dutch wound down their dealings with Autshumato whom they found to be too shrewd and double-dealing. This move only served to alienate Kratoa even more from her people. Nonetheless history does show us that Kratoa’s heart was with her people and she often used her influence with the Dutch, to protect the interests of her people.
When she was no longer a naïve young girl pampered in a Dutch family, she was tormented about where she belonged, but she continued to work as an agent for the Dutch. Her Uncle, Autshumato was also going through his own turmoil, as he was no longer accepted amongst many Khoe in the changing environment. Another chief, Nommoa also known as Doman of the Goringhaiqua was antagonistic to both Kratoa and Autshumato. He organised in the wings to replace them as the main interlocutor with the Dutch. The Dutch were only too happy to have choices and also played each of these against the other. But particularly with Doman they were playing with fire.
Doman: Nommoa, similarly to Xhore and Autshumato before him, but consentingly, was taken to Batavia for instruction and developed a good understanding of Dutch. He promoted an image of himself to the Dutch, as a preacher-like man with leadership style, who looked up to them, even adopting the name Anthony. The Dutch nicknamed him ‘Dominee’ - Reverend - from which came the name Doman. He fooled the Dutch into seeing him as a friend of the Dutch, but to his own people he warned that the Dutch were over-running the Khoe, their lands and culture. He urged resistance and spread the word that all of the troubles brought upon the Khoe was due to Autshumato and Kratoa having delivered their people to the Dutch. Doman also warned his people about the slavery he had seen in the East Indies and how it would take root in the Cape. He believed that the Khoe would become the slaves of the Dutch. Of the three diplomats Doman most resembled the Trojan-horse type character adopting the guise of a diplomat who only ditched the veneer of facilitator and go-between, after the Dutch realised that he had dragged them into a war of his own making. Strange as their relationship was (being both resisters and diplomats) without Autshumato, Kratoa and even Doman, the Dutch would have been lost. Other European attempts at settlement in many parts of Africa and Madagascar floundered at this time in history. The Dutch at the Cape were not having an easy ride. The three diplomats tipped the balance of forces in the favour of the Dutch regardless of their resistance. But they tried to play too many strategies at the same time and did not bargain on the Dutch linking up with their enemies behind the Peninsular Khoe lines. Had they played the Dutch and made alliances with the Cochocqua and other groups at the same time, the Dutch would have been checked. Also too much store had been placed on short-term gains. The Dutch furthermore also had a rear base in Saldhana Bay and a sea route to that base. The final advantage was when the Dutch brought horses to the Cape and developed a cavalry, giving them the superiority of mobile firepower.
Chief Xhore back in 1615 had a more workable approach to resistance – don’t allow a defendable beachhead to be formed, because it would become the base for offensive action. Xhore’s descendent Doman took too much time to mount his offensive and was too divisive in settling scores with fellow Khoe.
Resistance was mounting as the Dutch became more entrenched and skirmishes became more common. But the defences had been well established. War was brewing as cattle herds dwindled and the Khoe were also excluded from grazing lands. Each of these three diplomat-interpreters in one way or another turned their minds and actions to forms of resistance. But all of them also once mistakenly thought that they could ride and exploit the tiger. Autshumato alienated his base. Kratoa lived in a no-mans-land and had no base. Doman chose to fight on too many fronts against fellow Khoe and the Dutch who had already been given enough time to develop superior defences and become cavalry-mobile. Doman tried to bolt the door after the beast had broken out of containment.
A competitive rivalry twist also developed between the old interlocutors Autshumato and Kratoa, and Doman, which was to lead to the downfall of each in turn.
The fall of the three diplomats: Autshumato, no longer trusted by the Dutch, faced redundancy as an interlocutor between the Dutch and the Khoe. He rebelled and organised the theft of some VOC cattle and fled inland but then failed to garner broader local support. Kratoa initially went along with Autshumato and remained away from the fort for some weeks waiting to see how things would pan out. In the course of this rebel activity, a young Dutch herdsman of livestock was killed and this resulted in much tension between the Dutch and the Khoe. The Dutch however were not strong enough to engage in reprisals. They responded with initial conciliatory approaches, which lured Autshumato back.
Autshumato returned to the Fort due to the hostility that he faced amongst the broader Khoe groups. He brought van Riebeeck a peace offering of 40 cattle. He also protested his innocence of involvement in both the cattle theft and the killing that had taken place. But this is when Doman stepped in to usurp the place of both Autshumato and Kratoa, by building the case against Autshumato.
Kratoa had returned to the fort and somehow managed to dodge any tainting by these events. But full trust from the Dutch was no longer there. Autshumato’s trust credit with the Dutch had completely evaporated. He was found guilty of disloyalty, theft and being a danger to the settlement and as a result was exiled to Robben Island. He had been turned in by Doman, who then assumed Autshumato’s place. Doman also cast aspersions on Kratoa’s loyalty. Along with Autshumato, van Riebeeck records two other rebel Khoe men as being accomplices - Jan Cou and Boubou, who were also sent to Robben Island.
Kratoa began to display behavioural difficulties. Already as a young teen she had fallen pregnant by a passing French sailor and had taken to drinking strong alcoholic drinks. The alcohol addiction was to ruin her life. The banishment of her uncle to Robben Island, the tension in the Dutch community about her short disappearance and the ascendency of her detractor Doman led to further alienation with both the Dutch and Khoe communities. But this was about to change at least in terms of her relationship with the Dutch.
In 1658 all civil relationships between the Dutch and Khoe had deteriorated and war broke out. Doman, previously a covert resister, now chose to play open cards, exposing his hostility to the Dutch by leading a rebellion. Doman had shed the diplomat figure to become an open advocate of resisting Dutch settlement and expansion. The war that he launched was a series of raids and small attacks on Dutch infrastructure organised by himself and his ally Osinghkhimma, son of Goringhaicona Chief Gogosoa (known as the ‘Fat Captain’). This forced the Dutch to turn again to the imprisoned Autshumato for assistance.
The Dutch returned Autshumato to the mainland to assist them to end the conflict but Autshumato’s time was past and his willingness to assist had also dried up. Seen as a waste of time, the Dutch took him back to Robben Island, but Autshumato was now encouraged by the resistance. He stole a boat on the Island and rowed back to the mainland – the first escapee from Robben Island.
Autshumato disappeared for many months during the rebellion and emerged at the disastrous negotiations for peace in 1660. Autshumato gained nothing for the Khoe in the peace terms which favoured the Dutch and was a broken old man. He died in 1663 having lived a remarkable and complex life in very difficult times of momentous change. Any critical historical appraisal must count him amongst the founding fathers of modern South Africa. He was an enigma. He was a facilitator of settlement at times and a fierce resister at other times – a victim of colonialism and a fierce rebel. He was also the father of the tricky art of diplomacy in South Africa.
Nommoa or Doman was seriously injured during the first Khoe-Dutch war and the Dutch gained the upper hand. With Doman’s defeat and diminished status, the Dutch also secured a favourable peace and the Khoe lost their grazing lands for all time. The first ‘forced removal’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ of black South Africans from their land, was complete. Van Riebeeck established that the European notion of ‘right’ to the land by ‘conquest’ was the rule of law. Although this Khoe-Dutch War was comparatively short and un-dramatic, it was this war and formal act of conquest that was the foundation of colonial South Africa. A now cripple Doman in defeat returned to serving the Dutch as an interpreter. On 11 December 1663 Commander Wagenaar notes that Doman died in a ‘Hottentot’ hut outside of the fort. The note remarks that his death would be a loss which will be regretted by none.
Kratoa ‘Eva’ found it difficult to cope with these events and with her role of interpreter and interlocutor. Her Khoe world had changed dramatically and her uncle was a broken man. Her own importance to the Dutch had reached its peak and she needed to become more rooted in their society or face a dejected future in the wilds. Her persona as Kratoa receded and she became Mrs Eva van Meerhof when she made history in becoming the first Khoe woman to formally marry a Dutch man, Pieter van Meerhof, in 1659. She had already had a child with Pieter and was pregnant with a second child by him when they agitated for marriage.
Their decision was frowned upon by all and they defied everyone including the VOC in insisting on getting married. Kratoa married van Meerhof just at the time that her family life with the van Riebeeck’s was disrupted.
Van Riebeeck was transferred to Batavia that year and Kratoa had just managed to secure a new anchor for her precarious existence in early Cape Society. With van Riebeeck gone, the van Meerhofs were an embarrassment at the fort, so Pieter was made the overseer of Robben Island and the family retreated to an isolated life on the island which now served as a prison or place of banishment. Here, for three years, Kratoa led a lonely life looking after her children, drinking and seeking out the few banished Khoe prisoners with whom she socialised. Often she and Pieter would fight over her neglect of the kids, her drinking, and dance sessions on the beach with her people.
Van Meerhof was a soldier and medic and thus the Robben Island stint was something of a slap in the face. After three years he got a break that he seized with enthusiasm. He was also an explorer who had travelled on behalf of the VOC to Namaqualand and now he got an opportunity to go on a slaving expedition to Madagascar. He jumped at it. It was to be his last chance at anything. Pieter was killed in a skirmish at Antongill Bay in Madagascar in 1667.
Mrs Eva van Meerhof was now the widow van Meerhof. She was a broken woman, totally messed up by the schizophrenic life that she had lead. The Council of Justice ordered that her neglected children be taken away from her and put into the care of the Church. Kratoa had become a drunk, abused herself and was abused by all. She was sent to Robben Island again, now as a prisoner, but later returned to the mainland. This continued over and over again. She fell pregnant a number of times by different men and each time her infants were taken from her into care. This tragic founding mother of modern South Africa and early diplomat died at the age of 31 in 1674. She is the early ancestral mother of many Coloured, white Afrikaner and indigene African families of today. She is one of my forebears and is buried at the Castle of Good Hope.
The story of the three diplomats, Autshumato, Kratoa and Doman are as much a part of the founding of modern South Africa as that of Jan van Riebeeck. Commander Van Riebeeck’s fortunes were absolutely bound with those of these three complex Khoe figures steeped in tragedy.
It is recommended that anyone with a greater interest in these figures and times, read the three-volume Journal of Jan van Riebeeck to gain a greater insight. Van Riebeeck was quite candid in the journals. Perhaps one day, the city of Cape Town may chose to address its ignoring of the three diplomats and find a way to highlight this history for our children. Many streets, buildings and sites celebrate much lesser and dubious figures and any reference to black historical figures are obliterated by a highly entrenched colonial bias. Because of this ideological bias we project a dramatically skewed version of our past with layer upon layer of partial truths served up as history. All history is a version or interpretation. This account is also an interpretation. But part of reconciliation and nation-building is to begin to draw the versions together and emphasise the ties that bind us, even if we may not find these to be too agreeable to our various ways of thinking.
Dan Sleigh's book 'Islands' (translated from the Afrikaans by Andre Brink) - tells the story of Krotoa/ Eva; the Hottentot chief Autshumao/Harry/Herrie; & Pieternella, Krotoa's daughter - amongst others.
(c. 1611 - 1663)
Leader of a group of Goringhaicona Khoikhoi. Commonly known as 'strandlopers' (beach-rangers), these were among the first indigenous people to have dealings with the Dutch colonists. Autshumao had previously been taken to the Orient with an English fleet, and was thus able to act as interpreter for Van Riebeeck's settler party. He was later imprisoned on Robben Island (for cattle theft), but he made good his escape and was eventually permitted to re-enter the Cape settlement.
Source: A Concise Dictionary of South African Biography by Peter JOYCE, Francolin Publishers (Pty) Ltd, 1999.
Added by Y. DROST, 6 MAY 2013