The Khoikhoi carry out a series of raids on the free burghers’ herds

Monday, 19 May 1659

With the coming of the Dutch settlers, the Khoikhoi faced a stronger demand for their cattle. Trade disputes and charges of theft caused great tension between colonists and the Khoikhoi who feared that the settlement of free burghers (farmers) in 1657 would eventually deprive them of their valuable pastures and watering places.

Into this increasingly volatile situation stepped a Goring-haiqua (Khoikhoi group) named Doman, who was sent to Batavia to learn to become an interpreter in about 1657. Since he had witnessed first hand the capacity of the Dutch to reduce indigenous people to positions of servitude, he became a staunch opponent of European colonisation.

Unfortunately for Doman, his earlier attempts at Khoikhoi trade with the Dutch, exclusive to the peninsular Khoikhoi groups, left him dangerously short of allies. Therefore he could not persuade local chief Gogosoa to attack the Dutch. However, Doman was able to persuade some of the younger leaders to join him in what he regarded as a 'war of liberation'.

On a cold and drizzling day on 19 May 1659, the Khoikhoi carried out a series of raids on the free burghers' herds. Doman had waited for rainy weather, knowing that the Dutch matchlock muskets could not be fired in the rain with damp powder.

The First Khoikhoi-Dutch War followed, which lasted almost a year and resulted in only a few deaths. Initiative lay chiefly with the Khoikhoi, who attacked, often in groups of several hundred. Instructed by Doman, who had witnessed Dutch military tactics in Java, they darted about erratically to frustrate Dutch marksmen.

Commander Van Riebeeck responded with defensive tactics, withdrawing the free burghers to the fort, temporarily arming the slaves (an extraordinarily risky measure), and building a strong kraal to protect the colony's remaining livestock.

Lacking firearms and unwilling to storm the central fort, the Khoikhoi eventually signalled their willingness to parley. A peace was negotiated, and the war had ended in a stalemate. The Khoikhoi returned no livestock seized during the war and paid no reparations. Yet they did accept the continued European occupation of the Cape peninsula, a threat to their perseverance as an independent people.

The Dutch erected fortified posts and planted almond hedges (some of which still survive) to prevent cattle being driven off again. Khoikhoi were obliged to use specified routes and paths, and to enter the settlement only at certain guarded gaps in the hedge.

Horses which arrived from Batavia gave the colonists the mobility they had lacked in the war, and expeditions from the fort became longer and more frequent. As trading contacts were established with more Khoikhoi groups, the settlement gradually became independent of the Peninsular Khoikhoi, whose wealth and importance waned rapidly.

References:
• Hermann Giliomee and Bernard Mbenga (2007). New History of South Africa. Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town, pg 50.
•  Bulpin, T.V. (1985). Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa, Cape Town: Reader's Digest Association South Africa, pg 46.
• SAHO "Doman: biography" [online] Available at: sahistory.org.za [Accessed 12 May 2009]

Last updated : 12-May-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011