Robben Island is a vital part of the Khoi-Khoi people’s lives and heritage. They were the first South Africans recorded to have set foot on the Island – through banishment and imprisonment for resisting colonisation.
1400 - 1700
In the 1400s the Khoikhoi inhabited the mainland. Those who herded cattle were known as the Peninsular Khoi and those who did not own livestock but lived of whatever the gathered in the area of the beaches were known as the ‘Strandlopers’ (Beachcombers). Even though the Khoikhoi traded with the occupants of passing foreign ships which rounded the Cape of Good Hope, they were not always willing to barter their precious supplies, especially their herds. They also retaliated against any form of ill-treatment they experienced from European explorers. Reportedly, in 1510, the Khoikhoi killed Francisco D’Almeida and more than 50 of his men after they tried to carry off some cattle belonging to the Khoikhoi as well as kidnapping some of their children.
1613 - 1626
The first Khoikhoi person to be groomed as an intermediary was called Coree. He was kidnapped by the crew of a ship named Hector in May 1613 and taken to England where he was taught English. In June 1614, Coree was returned to the Cape, and contrary to the British expectations, his return made trading with the Khoikhoi more difficult. This is attributed to Coree’s dislike of England and his resentment of the treatment he received whilst in England. Nevertheless, Coree reportedly saw advantages to the establishment of a permanent European settlement and decided to use the Europeans to advance his own regional interests. He did this by encouraging them to attack his Khoikhoi rivals, and by building up his own flocks and herds under European protection. Coree was reportedly killed by the Dutch in 1626, for refusing to give them food.
1632 - 1660
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.
1665 - 1674
Kroata, the niece of Autshumato, replaced him as a principal translator. She was married to Pieter Van Meerhoff who served as the third Postholder of the Island. She spoke Dutch more fluently than her uncle, having grown up in Jan van Riebeeck’s household, and was called Eva by the Dutch. As part of her European acculturation, she was baptised. She unfortunately was not equipped to control her intake of alcohol and by 1665 she was showing signs of chronic alcoholism, which got worse after her husband’s death. Kroata returned to the mainland in September 1668 but was banished back to the Island in March 1669. Her banishment was a result of her conduct reportedly becoming unacceptable to the morals and standards of the settlement. She died on the Island, on the 29 July 1674.
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