Monday, 27 May 2013

Groote Catrijn and the Snyman family

In 1657, a slave called Groote Catrijn arrived at the Cape to serve a life sentence for the murder of her lover in Batavia. This unlikely woman played a key role in early Cape colonial society, and her story forms one of the foundation stones of what is now the Solms-Delta wine estate. Not only was she the Cape of Good Hope’s first recorded female convict (or ‘bandiet’), she was also the mother of the well-known Snyman family..
Groote Catrijn’s story begins long before her banishment to the Cape. She was born around 1631 into an indigenous slave-owning society in Palicatta (present-day Pulicat, in India) - a VOC (Dutch East India Company) textile trading post situated on the Coromandel Coast. The VOC obtained textiles from there, such as indigo, cotton yarn and ‘Guinees lijnwaad’ (Guinea cloth), with which they traded in the Indian archipelago.
The VOC was one of the most successful global trading companies in history, whose power stretched across many lands and oceans. It was probably due to Pulicat’s global trade connections that Groote Catrijn ended up in Batavia (now Jakarta, in modern-day Java), the VOC’s eastern trading and governmental headquarters, working as a slave in the household of Maria Magdalena - a ‘vrije vrou’- who was probably a freed slave herself.
In 1656 Groote Catrijn was condemned to death: to be tied to a stake and garrotted (strangled) until dead, for the murder of her former lover Claes van Mallebaerse – also a slave, from the Coast of Malabar. But she was never to suffer execution. She was pardoned by the Governor-General of Batavia himself, who commuted her sentence to life banishment to the Cabo de Bona Esperan├ža (The Cape of Good Hope). He decided that her killing of Claes was committed in self-defence. The two lovers had become involved in a physical struggle during which Claes assaulted Catrijn sexually. After being thrown to the ground, and fearing for her life, Catrijn grabbed a hay ladder and hit Claes violently in his lower stomach, causing his bladder to burst. He died four days later as a result of this injury. Catrijn was then banished to the Cape, to serve her life sentence as a Company slave of the VOC.
On 21 February 1657 she arrived at the Cape, after nearly three month’s journey from Batavia on board the ship Prins Willem. This was the average time it took to cross the 5,900 nautical miles to the Cape. Following her arrival, Groote Catrijn worked as a washerwoman at the fort - the precursor of the present castle (which was completed in 1674). If Catrijn was a washerwoman for the Commanders of the early Cape fort, then she certainly worked for Jan van Riebeek during his ten year period of rule from 1652 until 1662. After van Riebeeck’s departure a pattern of short-term commanders at the Cape started, lasting for the next 20 years. It was probably partly due to this disrupted rule that Groote Catrijn’s status as a convict and slave for life became blurred in official memory.
On her arrival in 1657 there were only 14 other women (whether freed or enslaved) living at the small Cape settlement. It is no wonder that Catrijn became involved in relationships with freed slave men, and European VOC sailors and soldiers, by whom she reportedly mothered 4 children.
One relationship that had interesting consequences for the genealogical line of many South Africans today was with the Company soldier Hans Christoffel Snijder (or Snijman) from Heidelberg, Germany. In 1667 Snijman was convicted for leaving his post as sentry at the fort “te slapen sijn ten wooonplaets an sekere bekende swarte meijt” (to sleep at the living place of a certain well known black servant girl). He was sentenced to live on Robben Island for two years, and to forfeit two months salary, as well as receiving physical punishment.
Groote Catrijn’s illegitimate son born of this relationship was baptised Christoffel on the 9 March 1669.Throughout his life he was identified by his father’s surname, as were his own children. This Christoffel, who was the progenitor of the South African Snyman family, was the second owner of what is now Delta farm (then called Zandvliet).
In 1671 Catrijn married Anthonij Jansz van Bengale, the first known ‘free black’ to purchase land and be a registered landowner at the Cape of Good Hope. Catrijn became a free woman when she was pardoned by the authorities so that she could marry this pioneering spirit.
By 1690 her son Christoffel was married to Marguerite Therese de Savoye, the daughter of the eminent French Huguenot, Jacques de Savoye. Jacques arrived at the Cape on the 25 April 1688 on board the Oosterland with his second wife, his mother-in-law, two daughters (one of them Marguerite) and his son.
Jacques was one of the wealthiest Huguenots that sought sanctuary at the Cape, as he did not require financial assistance from the government and even bought his servants with him. So how did the illegitimate son of a convict come to marry the daughter of one of the wealthiest, most prominent Huguenots at the Cape?
At the tender age of 13, Christoffel’s entire family suffered a tragedy (presumably due to smallpox) from which he was the only survivor. He might have gone into the care of his godmother - Mooij Ansela - and her husband Arnoldus Willemsz Basson (whose family owned the neighbouring properties called Eensaamheid and Meererust, across the river from Delta).
By 1701, Ansela’s family were the wealthiest property owners in the Drakenstein valley, owning over 300 morgen (or 625 acres) of property. Had Snyman been in the care of his godmother’s family until he married, it would have been a favourable match for Marguerite.

Through excavations at Solms-Delta, archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a 17th century colonial dwelling - almost certainly the very structure that was inhabited by Snyman and Marguerite as they started a family together. It was most likely built by the farm’s first owners, their immediate predecessors: Hans Silverbag and Callus Laut. This was an extraordinary find, as very few such ruins have been excavated; it is the oldest intact floor plan ever found at the Cape.

The most unique element of this archaeological find lies in its connection to a prehistoric site lying alongside it. Thousands of late Stone-Age artefacts dating to between 4,000 and 6,000 years old were found less than one metre away from the 17th century ruin. Both indigenous hunter-gatherers and colonists chose to settle on this same site, a tranquil plateau overlooking the Dwars and Berg Rivers. From past to present, the history of Solms-Delta is connected to the ordinary people who inhabited the land; from its Stone Age beginnings to modern South Africa, the farm embodies our shared origins.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Able Seaman Just Nuisance

Just Nuisance was entitled to the same benefits as any other Able Seaman, which included a cap. Here he sports a cap from HMAS Canberra, in one of many promotional photos taken during World War II.

Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was a Great Dane who between 1939 and 1944 served at HMSAfrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon's TownSouth Africa. He died in 1944 at the age of seven years and was buried with full military honours.

Early life
Although the exact date of Just Nuisance's birth is not known, it is usually stated that he was born on 1st April 1937 in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town. He was sold to Benjamin Chaney, who later moved to Simon's Town to run the United Services Institute (USI). Just Nuisance quickly became popular with the patrons of the institute and in particular the ratings, who would feed him snacks and take him for walks. He began to follow them back to the naval base and dockyards, where he would lie on the decks of ships that were moored at the wharf. His preferred resting place was the top of the gangplank. Since he was a large dog even for a Great Dane (he was almost 2 metres (6.6 ft) tall when standing on his hind legs), he presented a sizeable obstacle for those trying to board or disembark and he became affectionately known as Nuisance.
Statue of Just Nuisance in Simon's Town

Train travel
Nuisance was allowed to roam freely and, following the sailors, he began to take day trips by train as far afield as Cape Town, 22 miles (35 km) away. Despite the seamen's attempts to conceal him, the conductors would put him off the trains as soon as he was discovered. This did not cause the dog any difficulty, as he would wait for the next train, or walk to another station, where he would board the next train that came along. Amused travellers would occasionally offer to pay his fare but officials of the State-owned railway company (South African Railways and Harbours) eventually warned Chaney that Nuisance would have to be put down unless he was prevented from boarding the trains or had his fares paid.

Naval service 
The news that Nuisance was in danger of being put down spurred many of the sailors and locals to write to the Navy, pleading for something to be done. Although somebody offered to buy him a season ticket, naval command instead decided to enlist him by the book. As a member of the armed forces, he would be entitled to free rail travel, so the fare-dodging would no longer be a problem. It proved to be an excellent idea. For the next few years he would be a morale booster for the troops serving in World War II.
He was enlisted on 25 August 1939. His surname was entered as "Nuisance" and, rather than leaving the forename blank, he was given the moniker "Just". His trade was listed as "Bonecrusher" and his religious affiliation as "Scrounger", although this was later altered to the more charitable "Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)". To allow him to receive rations and because of his longstanding unofficial service, he was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman.

He never went to sea but fulfilled a number of roles ashore. He continued to accompany sailors on train journeys and escorted them back to base when the pubs closed. While many of his functions were of his own choosing, he also appeared at many promotional events, including his own 'wedding' to another Great Dane, Adinda. Adinda produced five pups as a result, two of which, named Victor and Wilhelmina, were auctioned off in Cape Town to raise funds for the war effort.

Nuisance's service record was not exemplary. Aside from the offences of travelling on the trains without his free pass, being absent without leave, losing his collar and refusing to leave the pub at closing time, his record shows that he was sentenced to having all bones removed for seven days for sleeping in an improper place — to wit, the bed of one of the Petty Officers. He also fought with the mascots of ships that put in at Simon's Town, resulting in the deaths of at least two of them.

Discharge and death 

Nuisance was at some point involved in a car accident. This caused thrombosis, which gradually paralysed him, so on 1 January 1944 he was discharged from the Navy. His condition continued to deteriorate, on 1 April 1944 he was taken to Simon's Town Naval Hospital where, on the advice of the naval veterinary surgeon, he was put to sleep. The next day he was taken to Klaver Camp, where his body was draped with a Royal Naval White Ensign and he was buried with full naval honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post. A simple granite headstone marks his grave, which is on the top of the hill at Klawer, at the former SA Navy Signal School. A statue was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon's Town to commemorate his life.

The Simon's Town Museum has an exhibition dedicated to his story and since 2000 there has been an annual parade of Great Danes from which a lookalike is selected.

Rude and critical

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


~ The Tokoloshe ~ 

Tokoloshe or Tikoloshe. From the Xhosa word uthikoloshe. 

The tokoloshe is a short, hairy, dwarf-like creature from Bantu folklore. It is a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by swallowing a pebble. Tokoloshes are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. At it’s least harmful a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but it’s power extends to causing illness and even death upon the victim.

The penis of the tokoloshe is so long that it has to be slung over his shoulder. Thus sexually well-endowed, the duties of the tokolosh include making love to its witch mistress. In return, it is rewarded with milk and food. In common with European myths and legends concerning familiars, salt must not be added to food offerings for tokoloshes. The witch keeps the tokoloshe docile by cutting the fringe of hair that hangs over its eyes.

In South Africa, where many white families have maidservants, the maids would often raise their beds by placing the legs of their beds on bricks. It was an almost universal belief, among white people, that this was to keep the occupant of the bed out of reach of the tokoloshe.

The way to get rid of him is to call in the n’anga or witch-doctor who has the power to banish him from the area.

Source of information With thanks.

Look out here comes the Tokoloshe
be sure you don’t annoy him
he’s evil and he’s hard to see
and you never will destroy him

He’s eaten a pebble but you know that he’s there
because strange things are occurring
there’s a rattling in the rafters
and the cat has ceased his purring

The fire’s gone out and a cold wind swirls
and a window is flapping about
then suddenly everything’s quiet
a silence as loud as a shout

You’d best call the n’anga now
he’s the only one who can save you
he’ll exorcise the tokoloshe
before he can enslave you 

Poem courtesy of

Who do YOU travel with?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Alexander the Great

SA Myths: 3 quick ones for you!

Umlindi Weminigizimu
The African people believed that Qamata created the whole world.  When he wanted to create the dry land, Nganyamba – a dragon who slept under the sea – tried to stop him from doing this.  Qamata realised that he would need some help so he approached the one-eyed goddess, Djobela, and she cast a spell to create four giants who were to guard the land from the north, south, east and west.  There were many battles and eventually the giants were defeated, but, as they were dying, they asked the goddess to turn them into mountains, so they could continue to look down on the land and protect it.   She did this and the giant of the south, known as Umlindid Wemingizimu, became Table Mountain.

Adamaster is the spirit of the Cape of Storms.  The first story about him was told by the Portuguese poet, Camoens in the 1500’s.
Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese explorer was approaching the Cape with his fleet, when they were surrounded by a huge dark cloud, in the shape of a gigantic human.  The figure asked them why they were so foolish as to attempt to sail in such dangerous and stormy waters and told them that there would be awful disasters if they tried to sail round the Cape of Storms.  He told the terrified sailors that he was Adamastor who had tried to overthrow the gods.  The gods punished him by turning him into a mountain and placing him at Cape Point to guard the seas of the south.

The Circle of Islam
The story goes that the Muslim, Nureel Mobeen escaped from the prison on Robben Island, made his way over to the mainland and hid in the caves on the mountainside, near the Twelve Apostles.  His tomb (kramat) is now a shrine at Oudekraal.
In Cape Town, there are six kramats that form the Circle of Islam – one in Somerset West, one on Robben Island and four in the Cape peninsula (including the one belonging to Nureel Mobeen).  Muslims believe that the Circle protects those who live within it from natural disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves, fire, plague and famine.