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Cultural Contact in Southern Africa

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The Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz first saw the Cape of Good Hope—the southernmost point in Africa—in 1488. No attempt was made by a European nation to establish a permanent settlement there, however, until 1652, when the Dutch East India Company (VOC) set up a refreshment station. The Cape was approximately midway between Europe and India, which made it an ideal stopping point where... Read More »

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Cultural Contact in Southern Africa: Law, Alcohol Sale

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The following law suggests that slaves and Khoikhoi were considered particularly prone to alcohol addiction. There is some anecdotal evidence that this was a common stereotype held by Europeans at the Cape. Some scholars argue that alcoholism may indeed have been more prevalent among the Khoikhoi and African slaves because indigenous fermented drinks were not as strong as those brewed by... Read More »

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Cultural Contact in Southern Africa: Law, Slave Women and Children

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Although marriage was not forbidden between Europeans and slaves or other non-Europeans, it was quite rare and entailed a drop in social status for the European. Nevertheless, sexual relationships occurred—sometimes coerced, sometimes by mutual agreement. The children born to slave women by these relationships were seldom openly acknowledged by their fathers, and thus usually followed the fate... Read More »

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Cultural Contact in Southern Africa: Letters, Johanna Maria van Riebeeck

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Johanna Maria van Riebeeck (1679-1759) was from an elite family in the Dutch colonial network. She was the granddaughter of Jan van Riebeeck, first Dutch Commander at the Cape, who went on to hold important posts in the Dutch government in Batavia (Indonesia), and the daughter of Abraham van Riebeeck, Governor-General of Batavia. She made three advantageous marriages, and died a very wealthy... Read More »

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Cultural Contact in Southern Africa: Will, Laurens Verbrugge and Beletje Frederikszoon

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Laurens Verbrugge and Beletje Frederikszoon were ordinary people from Holland who settled in Stellenbosch (near Cape Town) and took up farming there. Though not wealthy, they did own slaves and had sufficient property that they felt the need to draw up a will when Beletje became ill. Note the Christian beliefs expressed in the wording of the will.

Laurens was Beletje’s second husband,... Read More »

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Dan Passport Masks

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This small, mask ( 9.5 cm high and 5 cm wide) carved from wood is called a "passport" mask because it was worn on the body, kept in a leather pouch, or sewn onto a piece of cloth to represent group or family affiliation. Passport masks are used by the Dan people, a group of several hundred thousand people in the western part of the Côte d’Ivoire and into Liberia. They live in a forested region... Read More »

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Devshirme System

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The devshirme system began in the late 14th century. Christian boys were recruited by force to serve the Ottoman government. The boys were generally taken from the Balkan provinces, converted to Islam, and then passed through a series of examinations to determine their intelligence and capabilities. In special palace schools, they learned Arabic, Persian, Turkish, math, calligraphy,... Read More »

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District Commissioner, Narok to Officer in Charge, Masai Reserve

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British colonialism in what became Kenya began officially in 1895 and lasted until 1963, but the Maasai themselves were not effectively under British rule until just before the First World War. This letter is one of a series concerning a riot at Rotian on the Masai Reserve in 1935. The letters were exchanged between Buxton, the District Commissioner at Narok (one of the two districts into... Read More »

Drawing of Digging Stick and Stone Weights

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The Khoikhoi were semi-nomadic pastoralists (herders of sheep and cattle), who hunted game and gathered edible plants, nuts, roots, berries, and honey to supplement their diets. There was a division of labor between men and women: men hunted and tended the cattle while women looked after small stock and gathered food in the surrounding countryside. One of the implements used by women was the... Read More »

Drawing of Khoi Dancers

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In the late 17th century, an anonymous artist did a series of impromptu sketches and set pieces showing Khoikhoi at the Cape of Good Hope. The artist seems to have been interested in capturing natural movement and depicting actual articles of Khoikhoi clothing or activities in which they engaged, rather than falling back on the stereotypes that tended to be perpetuated in European books about... Read More »

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