Khoi khoi 1632 – 1660

Autshumato was the next intermediary between Jan van Riebeeck and the Khoikhoi.

After Coree’s death the explorers again struggled to obtain cattle and sheep. This difficulty prevailed until 1632 when the British groomed another of the Khoikhoi, to serve as an intermediary or agent. The person, known as Harry, Hadah, Herry or Autshumato was the leader of the ‘Strandlopers’ Khoikhoi group. Generally the ‘Strandlopers’ were more impoverished than the livestock owning Peninsular Khoikhoi. Autshumato learned English when he was taken on a Voyage to the East Indies in 1631 and was ready to act as an agent of the English by the time he returned from this voyage. This enabled the fortunes of the ‘Strandlopers” to rise.

In 1632, Autshumato and 20 of his followers were transported to the Island at his own request. The Island provided the ‘Strandlopers’ with safety from the Peninsular Khoikhoi as well as an abundance of seals and penguins, which they lived off. While on the Island, Autshumato monitored ships entering the Bay and lit signal fires to attract those wanting to forward or receive letters. Autshumato stayed on the Island for long periods, until about 1640. There were times during this period when Autshumato and his followers asked to be taken to the mainland and would then return to the Island.

On the 10 July 1658, he was again placed on the Island with two companions, Jan Cou and Boubo. This time, it appears not to have been at his own request. A journal entry for 24 November 1652 of Jan Van Riebeeck reportedly states “we are half afraid that the aforesaid Harry – being very much attached to the Saldanhars nowadays, whereas formerly they used to be his enemies – instead of acting in our favour, may be brewing mischief…if he is brewing mischief, it would not be inconceivable for him with his wife and children, together with all watermen, to be taken to the Robben Island with sweet words and then left there, so that we may trade more peaceably and satisfactorily with the natives of Saldanha, who appear to be a good type of people”.

Although not imprisoned as such, Autshumato and his companions had to search for their own food but were given tobacco if they volunteered to help with herding. Additionally, whenever Autshumato was taken to the mainland as a translator it was done secretly, and he was always returned to the Island. Jan and Boubo were released in September 1658 and another Khoikhoi captive was put in their place. At the end of November 1659, Autshumato and a fellow captive managed to steal the Island’s boat and escape from the Island.It was believed that he had drowned but a year later, he sent a message to the Commander asking to live near the settlement again and by 1660 he was again acting as an interpreter.
Depiction of Khoikhoi people.

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