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Let them Speak - Slave Stamouers of South Africa

The early Cape was settled not only by ex-VOC workers who became free burghers and the Huguenots but also by slaves who lost their freedom and was brought to the Cape. To fix a date for the arrival of slaves at the Cape is a variable since we know that slaves were ship wrecked and would have made their way to the Cape prior to 1652. With the arrvial of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape we already have a slave mindset since within a month of the establishment of the settlement, van Riebeeck, was already requesting the directors to allow the importation of slaves.

Less than a year after van Riebeeck's arrival at the Cape the first named slave joined the settlement, he was called Abraham, he was fleeing from his master in Batavia, he arrived as stowaway on 2 March 1653, on the ship Malacca. Eva van Madagascar was a gift from Verburgh and was brought to the fort 12 December 1654.

The slaves from very early tried to get their freedom, Anthony from Madagascar ran away 12 March 1655, never to be seen again. A slave with the name Espagniola, from a French ship, was sent to Robben Island on 29 May 1657. There were also very young slaves: "Clein Eva" was about 5 years old and was a gift to van Riebeeck from the King of Antongil in Madagascar. There were two young girls, Cornelia 10 and Lijsbeth 12 years old, from Abyssinia they arrived March 1657 at the Cape. Domingo of Bengal was sent to Robben Island on 17 July 1658. Two other early slaves were Angela van Bengal and Domingo van Bengal.

Enslavement and its practice reveal the dark side of human nature. Unfortunately there has been a certain amount of shame and stigma attached to those who lost their freedom. Some who are descendants of these slaves have shared in this false sense of shame. This kind of thinking is totally irrational, why should one be ashamed of the fact that ones ancestor was the victim of slavery. If one wanted to lay blame it should be leveled at the perpetrators not the victims. The numbers of South Africans who has 'stamouers' who were slaves or descendants of slaves are far more than what one would expect. The irony is that those who could claim slave 'stamouers' would be far greater amongst the so-called coloureds and whites than amongst the blacks of South Africa.

The first slave to be freed at the Cape was Catharina Anthonis, who was born in Bengal, and liberated because Jan Woutersz from Middelburg wished to marry her - this was on 21 May 1656. Another slave Maria van Bengal, was a slave of the sick comforter Pieter van der Stael, she was sold into freedom 6 July 1658 to be married the 21 July to Jan Sacharias. "A dropsical Bengalese woman married to a Netherlander and with the consent of the Commander .. (they) tapped from her fully five mutsjes of water. Another full tankard was removed on the following day. ... She died at daybreak five days later and so was relieved of her pain and suffering." The numbers of slaves at the early Cape amounted to about a dozen until the arrival of two shiploads of slaves from Africa.

The Cape received their slaves mainly from the Indian Ocean basin, since that was the trading domain of the VOC. The Dutch usually captured slaves, who came from West Africa, on the sea from other slaving nations. The first ship load of slaves arrived 28 March 1658 at the Cape on board the ship Amersfoort, with 174 slaves from Angola. A number of these slaves were sent to Batavia, many died and some ran away. These Angolan slaves' numbers reduced within a few years to 43. The myth that the early Cape only had contact with Bantu when the Boers encountered the Xhosas at the Fish river many years later is false, since the slaves from Angola included the presence of Bantu in the Cape society.

The next shipload of slaves arrived 6 May 1658 with 228 slaves from Guinea on the ship Hasselt. Considering the early arrival of these two boat loads of people and the continual stream of other slaves that was brought to the Cape one should not be surprised at the number of slave 'stamouers'. It has only been in recent years that greater research has been focused on these people. The slaves at the Cape came from many countries and cultures: India, East Indies, Abyssinia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Japan, Guinea, and Angola and many other places. There has been a lot of interest in the experience of the Cape Huguenot, it is amazing that only in recent times has the focus started to turn to the experience that the slaves had to endure. There seems to have been an unwarranted shame that has been associated with the slaves. The fact that our 'stamlande' also includes countries such India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar has been very little propagated. Unlike many other slave societies whose slaves were homogenous, the Cape had a real cosmopolitan slave population. The Cape was like the tower of Babel, with very diverse nationalities and languages. The slaves places of origin can mainly be divided in four equal part, Africa, Mozambique, Indian sub continent, and East Indies (Indonesia).

Many slaves at the Cape were brought out in small numbers from the East, and sold for a profit on the returning ships, rather than in slave ships. The slaves were then bought and owned at the Cape and can be divided into three groups: There were the Company slaves, company official's slaves and slaves owned by the free burghers.

The slaves were snatched away from family and friends. Banished from their familiar environment, becoming the property of some strange person. Their fate was not just a singular experience, they were subject to being purchased and transported many times. They were treated as commodity. They could not marry. They had no right to their own children. They did not share in the Civil Law but were allowed to share in the laws of nature, they could cohabit even though they could not marry. But breaking this relationship was not adultery, since they were not married. They could not possess property. Their production and reproduction was controlled. They could not choose where they lived or for whom they would work, or what work they would perform. On the other hand the slaves did have the following rights: they could inherit, bear witness, earn money and initiate legal cases. It may be of interest to note that many sailors who worked for the VOC had many of their rights also curtailed when they succumbed to the 'zielverkopers'.

Most of the slaves had even their original name taken off them and were then given new names. The naming pattern varied greatly: Calendar names, where they were given the name of the day of the week or one of the months - Februarie, September, Oktober, Vrydag. Classical names; the slave was named after an emperor or some mythical figure or a god - Alexander, Hector, Kupido, Hannibal, Venus, Scipios, Darius, Adonis, Apollos. Old Testament names - Adam, Moses, Abraham, David. Some were named after their owner, or after the one who fathered the child - Adams, Abrahams, Jacobs, Jantjies, Anthonissen, Hendricks. Others had Portuguese names which may indicate that they received it in a Portuguese territory or ship - Domingo, Fatima, Manuel, Gracia, Rosa. Others were given tongue in the cheek names - Dikbeen, Pasop, Fortuijn. Some of these names that were given is still present amongst the population in South Africa. Further research is required to identify more of these 'stamouers'.

The slave's contributions to the culture, history and genealogy of South African are far more significant than has been given credit. The food of the countries of slave's origin has become an integral part of South African cuisine with curries and spices adding to the variety of flavours. Dishes such as sosaties (kebabs), bobotie (curried mince dishes that are prepared as one meal dishes) and bredies (meat, tomato and vegetable casseroles) have survived thanks to our slave ancestors.

The physical features of the people from where the slaves were taken are present and reflected in the population of South Africa today. The beautiful handcrafted Cape furniture is a reminder of the master craftsmen who were slaves. These ancestors built many of the Cape buildings with its distinctive gables, which form part of the distinctive Cape heritage. The building, which symbolizes the slave experience the most, is the Slave Lodge in Cape Town. Today the Lodge has been totally upgraded and converted into the South African Cultural Museum, the present beauty hides the horrors that our ancestors experienced there in the past. The day may come when it will be restored as a Monument to our slave 'stamouers'.

The influence by the slaves with the creation/evolution of the Afrikaans language is evident. Afrikaans has the presence of Malay words, which were used by many slaves. In comparison the French language of the Huguenots had very little lasting impact. Putting it another way, the Dutch had more success stamping out French than they had on the language of the slaves . The lingua franca amongst the VOC was a Portuguese/Malay language. Some of these words that have been adopted into Afrikaans such as baadjie -jacket, baie - a lot or plenty, piering - saucer, sjambok - whip, blatjang - chutney, piesang - banana, pondok - hut, rotang - cane, mandjie - basket. Some other words are outa - used for elderly man or servant, aia - for a lady servant and kaija - rough dwelling, njonja became nonna which is mejufrouw in Malay. It is rather interesting that most words deals with food, punishment or dwelling. David Achmat wrote a book: "The Words the Slaves Made", he refers to some other words: nonnie, baie from 'bannyak' meaning plenty or much, tamaai from 'utama' meaning big, soewaar which was first said as tjoewaar coming from 'tjoba' meaning assuredly. Other words include baklei - fight. Hans den Best of the University of Amsterdam supplied further linguistical insights: 'sosatie', 'kabaai', 'katel', 'bobotie', 'oorlam', [oor]'krabbetjie', 'amper' meaning almost [Ndl. amper is 'nouliks'], 'saam-saam', 'tjakki-tjakki'. Even the structure of Afrikaans has Malay influence, it should be remembered that most of these slaves were from East-Indonesia. Thus the use of titles as personal pronouns "Moenie Oom/Dokter vir my pla nie". The use of "Jan-hulle". The Dutch would make names like Willem into Wim, and Abraham into Brammetje, but the East Indonesian would change it into Wimpie, Ampie or Ammetje.

There were two main languages of the slaves which influenced Afrikaans. One group of slaves from India, Ceylon and Indonesia who had Indonesian parents used non-standard Malay. Another group of Slaves from Bengal, Coromandal Coast, Mallabar Coast and Ceylon historically had connections with the Portuguese. Thus the development of Creole-Portuguese. Hans den Besten a linguist from the Amsterdam Univesity supplied me with some of the following examples . In Afrikaans we can see words like 'koelie'; 'tronk' from 'tronkoe' - tarungka meaning jail; 'tamaai' from tama(n)joe; 'outa' from ou and 'ta'; also 'tata'; 'sambreel', 'tarentaal', 'kombers', 'koperkapel', 'kraal', 'mielie', 'ramkie', 'brinjal', 'kiepersol'; 'baba' which may have been derived from a term which originally meant father in Indo-Arian.

Erroneously some have claimed the Afrikaans language to be the language of the 'Baas'. Afrikaans is the result of bringing together the East and the West, the North and the South. It was and should be the language that celebrates our cultural diversity rather than the language of exclusion. On the other hand those who attack Afrikaans is attacking not the language of the white man, but also the legacy that our slave stamouer have left behind in the development of this language

Another article dealing with the Malay influence on Afrikaans

There were obviously liaisons between the slave women and the men at the Cape. The Slave Lodge served as a de facto brothel. The Slave Lodge thus served as the breeding house for many families since that was the dwelling place of many a stammoeder. A number of the slave women were manumitted and got married. A far greater number of their daughters who were 'half-slag' became brides for the free burgher. These Cape born children often had as their last name the toponym 'van de Kaap', 'van de Cabo'. It should be kept in mind that sometimes this toponym was also used for burghers born at the Cape. There are some of these people who are referred to as 'van de Kaap' and one may suspect that they are from slave descent but unfortunately who their mother or father was are not known.

A large number of the slave families would have constituted single parent families, comprising mother and children. This in effect limits their true reflection of the slave contribution genealogically. Taking into account that the family name was usually derived from the male, in effect thus excluding the single parent family headed by a female. Only the tip of the iceberg is revealed when it comes to the slave component of the Cape society. The prohibition of slaves getting married, the number of illegitimate children that slave women had, with either slave or free men, all tend to hide the true contribution by the slaves. Even this 'stamouer project' which looks for both a stamvader and stammoeder of families - requiring both a male and a female curtails the true story. When one looks for the progenitors of a specific family surname, and taking foregoing into account, a priori excludes many slaves. Only a limited picture of the slaves contribution genealogically is evident.

The female slaves had a greater chance of assimilation into the free society, whereas the male slaves never had any opportunity such as this. The total male population at the Cape greatly outnumbered the females. Thus male slaves had to compete for slave female companionship with the burghers, VOC workers, as well as sailors and soldiers who stopped at the Cape and who frequented the female slaves. If a male slave had a sexual relationship with an European woman he would be sentenced to death. The male European, even though the authorities did not approve, was allowed to have a relationship with female slaves. The legal line of descent for both slaves and free were matrilineal. This meant whether you were slave or free, dependend upon the status of the mother not the father. If the mother was a slave then the child was a slave, if the mother was free then the child was free. The male did not come into account.

Due to the lack of records on the slaves and their descendants the scope of this paper only record some 'stamouers'. Some of the 'stamouers' who were slaves or whose ancestor were slaves are included here, this list is being expanded. There were many others with no traceable family record and thus they are not included. The majority of genealogical traceable slave 'stamouers' were female. One of the few documented cases of a slave stamvader was Christoffel Snyman. Some of the more well know families are listed in the left column. Many other families have slave connections, which have not been included, since these slaves were not 'stamouers'. Keep also in mind that a 'stamvader' of a particular family may have had more than one partner, or there could be more than one stamvader of a particular surname even though the surname is similar. Therefor not everyone with a particular surname can necessary claim having a slave 'stamouer'.

There awaits a lot of further research to determine which slaves had a relationship with whom, and who are the parents of others. Such research will help to identify more 'stamouers'. The second challenge is for the descendants of the slaves to trace their family ancestry, this has only been partially done. Our slave 'stamouers' are a sad part of human history. But in no way does a descendant need to be ashamed of what others did to our 'stamouer', the shame needs to be placed somewhere else, and most definitely not with the victim or the descendants.


1. Anna Boeseken, Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658-1700, Cape Town 1977
2. Victor de Kock, Those in Bondage 1950 G.C. de Wet, Die Vryliede en Vryswarte in die Kaapse Nedersetting, 1657-1707, Cape Town 1981
3. Elphick and Gilliomee The Shaping of South African Society
4. Hans Friedreich Heese, Groepe sonder Grense: Die rol en status van die gemengde bevolking aan die Kaap 1652-1795, Belville 1984
5. J.A. Heese, Die Herkoms van die Afrikaner 1657-1867, Cape Town, 1971
6. Robert C.-H. Shell, Children of Bondage: A Social History of the Slave Society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1838
7. PW Laidler and M Gelfand South Africa Its Medical History 1652 - 1898: A Medical and Social History
8. Robert Ross, Cape of Torments: Slavery and Resistance in South Africa
9. M.F. Valkhoff New Light on Afrikaans and Malayo-Portuguese

Refer also to:
Raidt Afrikaans. en sy Europese verlede
Ponelis The development of Afrikaans
Boshoff & Nienaber 'Afrikaanse etimologiee', die etimologiese woordeboek van Afrikaans.


The Creolist Archives - Netherlands


Vrij van Slavernij

Arbeid op Contract - Suriname

Indische Genealogiese Vereeniging