The rounding of the Cape and the establishment of the trade route to the Far East had far reaching consequences not just for the Cape, but for Southern Africa. Firstly, ‘discovery’ of the Cape by European sailors resulted in the increasing use of the Cape coast as a trading area. Vasco da Gama who sailed round the Cape all the way to India, stopped briefly and bartered for cattle with the Khoikhoi on 26 November 1497. With the discovery of the route to India, European sailors increasingly set up temporary tents along the coast to facilitate trading with the Khoikhoi.

Secondly, frequent contact between the Khoikhoi and European sailors increased tensions and resulted in outbreak of armed confrontation either over trade disputes or resources. This was even before the establishment of the Cape as a trade and refreshment outpost. The Khoikhoi fought to defend what they viewed as unfair exchanges during battering and in defence of their cattle when sailors attempted to take them by force. For instance, in 1503 Antonio de Saldanha, a Portuguese fleet commander, sailed into Table Bay and then disembarked to follow the freshwater stream to the foot of Table Mountain. During the visit, the Portuguese attempted to barter with the Khoikhoi. They offered mirrors, glass beads and a rattle in return apparently for two sheep and a cow. When the sailors took the animals away, a group of 200 Khoikhoi ambushed the sailors and took the animals back wounding De Saldanha in process.

One of the first serious clashes between Khoikhoi and sailors was in 1510 and involved Francis de Almeida the first viceroy of Portuguese Indies. Like, Antonio de Saldanha, De Almeida also sailed into the Table Bay with a fleet in search of fresh water. Some of his crew went to a nearby Khoikhoi settlement in the area around Salt River to trade for cattle and sheep. When the sailors attempted to kidnap two Khoi children and cattle, an armed conflict ensued. The sailors were driven back to their ships, ending in victory for the Khoikhoi.

De Almeida sent a punitive expedition of one hundred and fifty men to deal with the Khoikhoi. After the expedition had set fire to Khoikhoi huts, they were surrounded by a band of Khoikhoi armed with arrows and assegais. The Portuguese force was overwhelmed and defeated, leaving 67 Portuguese sailors including de Almeida dead. Conflicts with the Khoikhoi prompted the Portuguese to avoid the Table Bay area.

Confrontation and cooption

The British, who entered the maritime trade after the formation of the English East India Company also made efforts to barter with Khoikhoi at times adopting methods of trying to co-opt the Khoi as intermediaries. For instance in 1610 the Khoikhoi refused to accept iron in return for their cattle and sheep.

A Khoi named Coree was the first to be groomed by the British as an intermediary between the local inhabitants and European traders. Coree was kidnapped by the crew of the Hector in 1613 and taken to England. The British wanted to teach him English and return him to the Cape where it was hoped that upon his return he would further British interests. Coree resented his stay in England and was returned to the Cape in June 1614. His resentment of the way he was treated by the British made the procurement of livestock even more difficult for Europeans.  Coree later used Europeans to advance his own interests by encouraging them to attack Khoikhoi rivals and build his flocks and herds. Around 1626 Coree was killed by the Dutch apparently for refusing to give them food. Coree’s death made trade between Europeans and Khoikhoi even more difficult.

British sailors then groomed another person for Coree’s role. Autshumato (named Harry by European sailors and traders) was a chief of the Strandlopers, a group of the Khoikhoi who lived on the Table Bay area. Strandlopers or Watermen is a name given to this group of Khoikhoi by Europeans. In contrast with other Khoikhoi groups in the Cape Peninsula, the Strandlopers were less wealthy. In 1631-32 theBritish took Autshumato to Bantam where he learnt to speak English before returning to the Cape. Autshumato served as a trade intermediary for the British and later for the Dutch as he negotiated with various Khoikhoi groups.

In 1653 Autshumato was accused of stealing Company cattle and killing the Dutch herdsman David Janz. Van Riebeeck arrested him, and after the intervention of Autshumato’s niece Krotoa, who was a domestic servant in van Riebeeck’s household, he was banished to Robben Island for two years.  Autshumato was released and reinstated as the interpreter at the fort.

Autshumato used his position and accumulated wealth by acquiring cattle. In 1658 a number of slaves escaped from the fort. Van Riebeeck took Autshumato hostage hoping to force his followers to pursue the slaves and capture them, thus secure the release of their leader. Autshumato was first imprisoned at the fort before being transferred to Robben Island. In 1659 Autshumato successfully escaped from Robben Island on a rowing boat and returned to fort. He was reappointed to his former position but did not regain his wealth. Autshumato died in 1663.

In 1655 two more Khoikhoi men served as interpreters at the castle. One was Khaik Ana Makouka who was named Clas Des by the Dutch. Little is recorded in the historical sources about Khaik and his activities. The second person who served as interpreter at the castle and rose to become both an intermediary and foe of the Dutch was Doman. When Autshumato left the fort to source cattle through his trading activities on the company’s behalf, Doman was appointed together with Khaik as interpreters.

Earlier sailors attempted to use force to subdue the Khoikhoi to obtain favorable terms of trade. Extracts from diaries of sailors such as Bartholomew Dias, Antonio de Saldhanha and Dom Francisco de Almeida show numerous entries of clashes with the Khoikhoi. These accounts  demonstrate that increased contact between European sailors and the local Khoikhoi even before the establishment of the Cape Colony resulted in conflict over resources. While the use of force was never abandoned as a strategy, the cooption of local Khoikhoi as trade intermediaries was adopted. In the latter case, the Khoikhoi at times played the Europeans against one another, or used them to subdue their opponents while accumulating wealth.

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