Anna Maria Rugarli
 
The role of women in the process of slave creolization
at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa*
 


 (*) This essay is based on the thesis by Anna Maria Rugarli, "Slavery at the Cape Colony from Acquisition to the Process of Creolization, c. 1790-1830", presented at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the Università degli Studi, Milan, Italy on November 18th, 1998. The supervisor was Prof. Itala Vivan, and the discussant Prof. Maurizio Antonioli.
1 It is worthwhile underlining that children born to slave women inherited their mothers' status, thus enabling slave owners to enlarge their slaveholding.
2 According to Orlando Patterson, slavery distinguished itself from other relations of domination, and implied the concept of power which, in its turn, had three aspects: "Social, [that] involves the use or threat of violence in the control of one person by another; the psychological facet of influence, the capacity to persuade another person to change the way he perceives his interests and circumstances; and the cultural facet of authority, 'the means of transforming force into right, and obedience into duty' which, according to Jean Jacques Rousseau, the powerful find necessary 'to ensure them continual mastership'".
The three distinctive characteristics of the institution of slavery, as indicated by Patterson, are:
a. Its "extremity of power" and the "quality of coercion". Slavery was seen as violent domination of one person over another who was powerless and who was coerced to follow orders.
b. The slave was "natally alienated". S/he did not belong any longer to his/her social order, and had lost all his/her " 'rights' or claims of birth". Instead, the slave was a "socially dead person in the new context s/he was in. The condition of 'natal alienation' was perpetual and inheritable.
c. Slavery led to dishonour, for the slave, both male and female, did not have power at all (Patterson 1982: 1-13).
For other definitions of slavery see Davies 1966:31, Lovejoy 1983:1-5.
3 In 1494 Portugal and Spain signed the Treaty of Tordesillas. The world was then divided into two parts along a line drawn 370 leagues East of the Cape Verde Islands. Spain had the land to the West of that line, Portugal that to the East.
4 The triangular trade started in Europe, where England and France supplied ships, firearms and other exportable goods, in order to exchange them for slaves once they had reached the West African coast. Slaves were brought to the American plantations, where they produced the raw materials that were to be transformed and manufactured in Europe, ready to be sold. Each step of the triangular trade meant profit, a fact that made it flourishing throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 5 It can be argued that the importance given to the Atlantic slave trade is due to the role of the Americas in the history of slavery and its trade. The American continent was bigger and more central to the world economy and needed a larger number of slaves than the Cape Colony. Nevertheless, the relevance of the Cape is to be considered in the context of the Indian Ocean that has often been neglected.
6 The acronym VOC stands for Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, a trading company that established the colony in 1652 under the leadership of Jan van Riebeeck and governed it until 1795.
7 The slave trade was abolished within the British Empire in 1808, whereas the institution of slavery was abolished in the Cape Colony in 1834 after which followed four years of apprenticeship until 1838. The aim of apprenticeship was to make slaves responsible for their own lives and prepare them for freedom. However the status of apprenticed slaves did not differ much from that of slaves.
8 When the Dutch East India Company established the colony it did not allow free burghers to buy slaves without its authorisation, in order to have control of the commerce. It is worth noting here that the Dutch did not find an empty land when they landed at the Cape. That part of the African continent was already occupied by African hunter and gatherer populations, the San people. Shortly after the Dutch settled the San migrated to deserted areas where they could maintain their customs and habits. The Khoikhoi, the other population encountered by the Dutch, did not change their way of living though. Dutch and natives cohabited, bartering and exchanging goods. But when the colony expanded in the 1670s, conflicts occurred between the Khoikhoi and the Dutch settlers competing for land. What previously were minor and sporadic episodes became more frequent. They eventually exploded in wars in the 1770s after which the Khoikhoi were enserfed and compelled to carry passes in what originally was their territory.
9 On the first period of the Dutch conquest see Worden 1985:42 and Bozarth 1987: 91 ff.
10 As already mentioned above (see n. 7), the Khoikhoi were original inhabitants of the land where the Dutch settled and had their own traditional religion, customs, and authorities. Slaves were considered as being different from either because they were not free but chattels, a condition that distinguished them from the others (Elphick and Giliomee 1994:184).
11 The Burgher Senate was an administrative body of VOC colonial time (Reidy 1998).
12 As moment of creolization is here intended when the creolization of the slave population reached more than 50%, supposing that the slave population was now encouraged to grow and follow its natural trend.
13 Madagascar, India, Ceylon and the Indonesian archipelago were places where the VOC had already a secure control.
14 According to Ross, reasons for the prohibition were the murder of a company official by two slaves (a Buginese and a Sumatran) and the desire of the VOC to have a stricter control over the "unauthorized use of shipping space on the Company's ships" (Ross 1988:212).
15 The issue of creolization at the Cape of Good Hope Colony has been ignored by a large number of historians who have just mentioned it referring to quantitative data they had collected for other purposes. It seems that Shell' s attempt is the most complete.
16 Iannini based his analysis on Bank's data. Prize Negroes were usually manumitted slaves from Mozambique. Captured by the British in vessels rounding the Cape after the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, they were subsequently freed.
17 Iannini underlined that the characteristics of being locally born gave creole slaves a higher status than other subordinate labourers, in particular Prize Negroes and Khoikhoi. Slaves had been granted some rights through the Somerset Proclamation of 1823 and the subsequent Ordinance Nineteen of 1826. All these innovations were meaningful, first of all because slaves were included in the legal system and secondly because they excluded Khoikhoi or Prize Negroes from such 'privileges'.
18 Shell distinguished between creole slave born from a European-slave union (mulatto slaves) and those from a union between slaves. The former were more esteemed (Shell 1994:55-56).
19 CA, SO 6/58, Register for Graaff Reinet District, A., 1816-34
SO 6/60, Graaff Reinet, B., 1816-34
SO 6/61, Graaff Reinet, B., 1820-35
SO 6/63, Graaff Reinet, D-E, 1816-34
SO 6/68, Graaff Reinet, M., 1816-34
SO 6/69, Graaff Reinet, M., 1816-35
SO 6/72, Graaff Reinet, P., 1816-34
SO 6/73, Graaff Reinet, R., 1816-34
SO 6/8, Cape Town and Simonstown, B., 1816-1834
SO 6/13, Cape Town and Simonstown, B., 1820-35
SO 6/14, Cape Town and Simonstown, B., 1820-1835
SO 6/21, Cape Town and Simonstown District, H., 1818-38
SO 6/22, Cape Town and Simonstown, H., 1816-34
SO 6/10/1, Cape Town and Simonstown, M., 1816-34
SO 6/10, Cape Town and Simonstown, M., 1827-38
SO 6/27, Cape Town and Simonstown, P.,1816-37
SO 6/28, Cape Town and Simonstown, R., 1816-33
SO 6/30, Cape Town and Simonstown, S., 1816-1834
SO 6/31, Cape Town and Simonstown, S., 1816-1834
20 The whole sample includes adults and children.
21 It is worth underlining that there was only one slave imported from Senegal out of 423 slaves imported from the African coast or the Indian Ocean area.
 
 
 
 

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