Community histories of Bloemfontein

Griqua community

Table of Contents:

Adam Kok the third. A Kokstad a Griqua leader. Source: © Scott Balson.

The Griqua people’s history is not directly intertwined with that of Bloemfontein, however their history had an important influence on the history and development of the Orange Free State province. The arrival of the Boers and the colonial masters to the area known as Griqualand West, denied the Griquas the opportunity of following their own developmental paths. They lost their land and traditional resources, and were tossed into a sea of rapid social change which saw them lose the independence they had searched for in the Orange Free State area.

In the course of the 18th century, new communities defined by race, culture, religion and differential access to land and power began to emerge; they became tied together through the spoken word. One of these communities was the 'Bastaards' which referred to offspring of liaisons between Europeans, slaves and Khoikhoi. The term was also used to refer to subordinate Blacks who could speak Dutch, ride and shoot.

On White owned farms, Bastaards or Basters, did more skilled jobs such as transport riders and craftsmen. They took these skills with them later into the interior. The term 'Bastaards' originally denoted people with a greater “civilisation” and attachment to Christianity than the Khoikhoi or slaves.

In the second half of the 18th century, small Baster communities formed in the fringe areas of the northwest and the eastern frontier – Colesberg, Hantam, Roggeveld and Namaqualand. They could speak Afrikaans, had European names and their children were baptised in the church. They were even called up to do commando service. Notwithstanding these facts, they were increasingly being squeezed out from the land they held and they rarely succeeded in winning land claims as burghers invariably had the stronger claim, and better access to the field cornets who reported on any such claims. Basters and other people of mixed race moved first to the outer limits of the colony and then beyond its borders.

The Griquas could trace their forefathers to two clans, the Koks and Barendse, the first made up mainly of Khoikhoi and the second of mixed European descent.

A freed slave, Adam Kok, who managed to obtain burgher rights and a farm near the present Piketberg, founded the most vigorous mixed community. According to one tradition, Adam Kok married the daughter of the chief of a Khoikhoi clan, the Chariguriqua, during the 1750’s. He attracted a following as he moved up from Piketberg to Little Namaqualand and by the 1790’s Cornelius Kok, Adams’ son moved out of the colony to the Orange River and then eastwards along the bank to what is now known as Griqualand West. Cornelius had gathered with him a large number of Basters, some Khoikhoi and escaped slaves.

The two groups, under their respective leaders Cornelius and the brothers Barend and Nicolaas Barends roamed the area around the Orange River until 1804 when they were persuaded by two missionaries from the London Missionary Society to settle down with their followers north of the Orange River.

On the insistence of the missionary John Campbell, they came up with the name Griqua. They established a basic system of government based on leaders known as kaptyns and magistrates drawn from the leading families. Prominent families included were the Kok and Barends families, and the Waterboer family complex.

These families maintained stability by taking on a life of raiding and establishing trade links with their neighbours. It was alleged that Andries Waterboer had no White parentage but was a dependent of Adam Kok. Later, he allied himself to the church, acting as an interpreter and rose to influence after 1820 when he was appointed kaptyn. The Griquas attempted to achieve a greater measure of political autonomy by inviting the missionaries to join them.

Later, the Griquas founded a settlement called Klaarwater, later known as Griquatown. The Griqua communities were constantly bedevilled with internal divisions and environmental uncertainty. One of the greatest causes of tension was between wanting to be within the colonial fold with its security and economic opportunities versus wanting to maintain independence. The missionaries wanted to Christianise the Griqua which would basically transform them into a settled agricultural and pastoral group. By drawing up a constitution, the kaptyns lost much of their power. Even though this created tension, it accorded the Griqua a degree of respectability while the missionaries offered some protection.

Poor relations between Waterboer and the Kok and Barends family complex caused Adam Kok II and Barend Barends to move away from Griquatown with their followers to Campbell and Danielskuil, respectively. Later Barends moved to Boetsap and the Koks to Philippolis. This made Andries Waterboer the dominant Griqua in Griquatown itself and the protégé of the missionaries.

The Griquas were the first people from the Cape to settle in the Transorangia area, beyond the Orange River. Some Griqua raided the Tlhaping, a Tswana speaking community, while others obtained cattle from them which was used to trade with the Cape farmers for firearms, horses and wagons,. The Griqua also acted as middlemen in a lucrative ivory trade between the Tswana and the colony, while others hunted ivory for themselves.