Hottentoo Harry, Jan Van Riebeeck and Granny Thompson Part One

For my 35th birthday my charming husband gave me a history in South Africa that stretches back 100 000 years and more. My mitochondrial DNA profile places me in haplogroup L0d1b. This means that a woman with my genetic profile has lived in South Africa since the beginning of human time. Group L0d1b is found in people with Khoesan ancestry. Nelson Mandela is one of them. My granny is another.

My 4000 X times great-grandmother was born here and a woman just like her (like me) has been here ever since. This is an extraordinary thought. It bears repeating: a woman like me has lived right here for 100 000 years.

Haplogroup L0d is the most divergent (“ancient”) haplogroup of global mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. It is found at highest frequencies in the Khoisan groups of Southern Africa.[5] [6] [7] [8] L0d is also commonly found in the Coloured population of South Africa and frequencies range from 60% [9] to 71%.[10] This illustrates the massive maternal contribution of Khoisan people to the Coloured population of South Africa.

~thank you wikipedia

The very short story about a very long time goes: Mitochondrial Eve – the most recent common female ancestor of all 7 billion people on the planet today – was born in East Africa about 150 000 years ago. For reasons unknown, a group of her family moved to sub-Saharan Africa about 100 000 years ago. These ‘first people’ are the Khoesan. They liked it down here and they stayed.

The Cape of Good Hope was settled by Europeans many thousands of years later in 1652. The Dutch landed at the Cape on 6 April. Jan Van Riebeeck, one-time surgeon but now full-time Company man, was tasked by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) with the setting up of a drive-thru for the passing Dutch fleet. By the time the VOC’s ships arrived in South Africa from Holland, many crew members had scurvy. They needed a fresh supply of vegetables and meat on the hoof. Jan Van Riebeeck was the VOC’s man for the job despite his having been relieved of his duties in Vietnam for making a little extra cash on the side.

I wonder if my mother’s *say that another 17 times* mother watched the Dutch Jan Van Riebeeck take his first steps on African soil. Was Granny Thompson’s ancestor one of the Khoe women called Hottentot by the Dutch settlers?

The settlers were instructed by the Company to set up good relationships with the local ‘Hottentoos’ in order to trade cattle, sheep, ivory, musk from civets, ostrich feathers and gold for brass, copper, tobacco and booze. Van Riebeeck describes a few distinct tribes/ clans¹ in the Cape: the Saldaniers, the Sequa (San), the Watermans (Choringayana), the Caepmans (Goringaycona), Chobona, and Oengayqua. The indigenous people were initially open to trading.

How strange it must have been for my Granny Thompson’s ancestor to watch these settlers build a fort in the middle of her homeland. And as she stood there in her animal-hide dress, did she know how dearly that pipe and that necklace was going to cost her people in the centuries to come?

The Winter Collection

The Khoe were not unused to passing ships. The Portuguese had first landed at the Cape (and named it) in the late 1400s. The English and the French popped in fairly often too. Van Riebeeck mentions a French ship that leaves the coast around Saldahna Bay in the 1650s with 37 000 fur seals! The initially friendly Khoe soon realised, however, that the Dutch were on their land stay. The Dutch annexed their summer grazing lands and after the first flush of joy at receiving tobacco, copper and the odd lavish dinner on-board ship, the Khoe began to realise that their lives were about to change. Led primarily by Hottentot Harry, leader of the 50-strong Strandloper tribe, a resistance of sorts began. Harry did waver between diplomacy and defiance. He drove Van Riebeeck clean round the bend. He was dead keen to ship Harry off to Batavia (Jakarta).

…the longer they are known the more clearly it appears that they are savage certainly, but not so wild and irrational as beasts; they are daily becoming more cunning and crafty.

~Memoir Respecting the Kaffers, Hottentots and Bosjemans of South Africa 1844, John Sutherland (1792-1848) quoting Van Riebeeck’s Journals

My charming husband has told me that internet attention span is short and has advised me to split this article into two parts. Please do stick around for Hottentoo Harry, Jan Van Riebeek and Granny Thompson Part Two in which we’ll meet my daughter’s namesake who perished in a gutter at the age of 32.

As a last word in part one and apropos of absolutely nothing other than I have too much information in my head, Van Riebeeck spotted a comet in the South African sky on my birthday in December 1652, 324 years before I was born.

¹ These are the phonetic representations of the Khoe and San clan names as recorded in Jan Van Riebeeck’s journals.

If you are interested in MtDNA testing and you are in South Africa, you can look up the National Health Laboratory online. 

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One thought on “Hottentoo Harry, Jan Van Riebeeck and Granny Thompson Part One

  1. Pingback: Human Trophies – Khoe Lips for Dutch Colonials « tracyloveshistory

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