Term Paper: Afrikaners Are the Descendants of the European

Pages: 12 (4136 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - African  ·  Buy This Paper

Afrikaners are the descendants of the European, mainly Dutch, settlers who first established permanent settlement at the Southern tip of the African continent in the mid-seventeenth century and later spread inland. The Afrikaners developed their separate identity as, after settling down in Africa, they identified themselves as Africans rather than Europeans, adopted a separate language called Afrikaans -- a dialect of the Dutch -- and gave rise to a distinct culture based on Calvinist beliefs honed by the harsh environs of the South African landscape. This paper traces the history of the Afrikaners from the time of earliest settlement in South Africa to the present day. It shall focus on their early history, language, culture, society, and politics besides discussing how the Afrikaners established themselves in a strange land and how they interacted with the indigenous people of Africa and the British colonialists.

Background

South Africa had been inhabited by hunter-gatherers, pastoral people who raised cattle, and some agriculturists for thousands of years before the Europeans first 'discovered' the Southern-most part of the African continent towards the end of the 15th century. The Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to sail round the Cape (renamed as Capo de Boa Esperanza by the Portuguese monarch John II) in 1488 while attempting to find a sea-route to India and other Asian trading ports. He landed briefly in Mossel Bay (halfway between the present day Cape Town and Port Elizebeth) and had a brief encounter with the local pastoral people -- the Khoikais, named the Hottentots by the Europeans. He was followed a few years later by another Portuguese -- Vasco de Gama who went all the way to India and laid the foundation of Portuguese domination of sea trade between Europe and Asia for the next 150 years. The Portuguese, however, were not interested in making permanent settlements in South Africa as they did not consider the area of much worth. Gradually the Dutch fleets forced the Portuguese off the Indian Spice Route and laid the foundation of the first white settlement in South Africa. (Keppel-Jones, 12-13)

The First Dutch Outpost

When the Dutch East India Company (VOA) started to make regular voyages on the spice route to India, it took several months for the ships to reach their destination. The ships used to face water and food shortages on the way. The Southern tip of the African continent (the Cape of Good Hope) lay almost midway between Europe and India and because of its location became a useful stop-over for the ships to replenish their water supplies and to occasionally barter cattle and sheep with the Khoikois. Gradually the idea of an outpost at the Cape took hold among the Dutch and the first small expedition consisting exclusively of VOA employees arrived in Table Bay on April 6, 1652. (Ibid. 16) They proceeded to build a fort as defense against the Khoikois, planted a vast vegetable garden, built a water reservoir, obtained cattle and sheep from the Khoikois through barter and provided care for the sick sailors who were off-loaded from ships to recuperate in the temperate climate of the Cape, which was free from tropical diseases. The initial settlers at the Cape considered it a temporary abode meant to provide services for the Dutch East India Company's ships only but gradually as the Dutch maritime power started to decline, ships of other countries on the spice trail to India also availed of the services.

The Freeburghers and the Beginnings of a Race-based Society

In order to make the settlement at the Cape, a self-sustaining venture the VOA started a policy of releasing some of their employees from their contract and giving them farms in the Cape area as 'freeburghers.' In exchange, the freeburghers were required to provide the company with its food and water needs and to serve in a burgher militia. The freeburgher population at the Cape started to grow gradually as several company employees took their retirement to settle there and were joined by a number of French Calvinist refugees in 1668 who were fleeing prosecution in their home country. (Beck, 24) These French Calvinists soon merged with the Dutch and German settlers and did not have much difficulty in becoming part of the White society at the Cape.

The first Commander of the freeburgher settlement, Jan van Riebeeck, was under strict orders by the company not to enslave the indigenous Khoikoi population in order to preserve peace. Riebeeck, therefore, tried to persuade the Khoikoi to work as manual laborers on the farms. On their refusal to do so, he decided to import slaves from West Africa and Angola, laying the foundations of the stratified society that later developed into the apartheid society of South Africa. The first ships carrying four hundred slaves arrived at the Cape in 1658, adding significantly to the population and providing the much needed labor to work on the farms.

When the company directors asked the opinion of local administration in the Cape about the desirability of continuing with the institution of slavery, the administration was almost unanimous in supporting it. This set the seal on the development of a caste-based society in South Africa and most 'lowly' jobs such as hard, manual construction and farm labor, domestic service, wet-nursing, artisanship, and gardening became reserved for the slaves. With greater importation of slaves, their population in the Cape soon outnumbered the whites and by 1793 there were 15,000 slaves and less than 14,000 freeburghers in the Cape. (Ibid., 28)

Interaction with the Natives

Ever since a group of Khoikhois had their first encounter with the white men who had briefly disembarked in the Mossel Bay area (circa 1488) to look for fresh water, the relationship between the Europeans and the local inhabitants had been hostile. In the beginning violent encounters between the two were occasional as the first Europeans (the Portuguese) who came to South Africa chose not to stay behind. In fact, the Khokhoi actually prospered during the period of their initial encounter with the Europeans as they traded meat for copper, tobacco, cloth, liquor, and ornamental items from the European ships that passed by the Cape. After the setting up of a permanent Dutch outpost in 1652, the relationship between the two worsened. The reason for the conflict was natural as both groups were competing for the same land. Before the Europeans arrived the Khoikhoi claimed all of the land on the Cape peninsula as their own and used to graze their livestock on the available pasture. Soon after setting up their outpost at Cape Town, the Dutch settlers seized the most fertile land on the Cape leaving only infertile land for the Khokhoi. The Khokhoi also lost their monopoly on trade with the European ships as the freeburghers now catered for most of their requirements. Having control of the more fertile land and fresh water sources, the freeburghers could provide more meat and other foodstuff at cheaper rates. To make matters worse for the indigenous population of the Cape, they gradually lost their previous role of 'middlemen' between the Europeans and the native tribes that lived inland as the freeburghers started to trade directly with the inland tribes.

As a result of their worsening economic situation, tensions increased between the Peninsular Khoikhoi and the freeburghers and frequent wars broke out between the two sides in 1659-1660 and 1673-1677. (Ibid, 30). The primitive Khoikhoi were no match for the better equipped Europeans and lost badly. To make matters worse, as the inland Khoikoi began to encroach upon the coastal areas to trade directly with the Europeans, they also came into conflict with the peninsular Khoikhoi who were caught in a classic nut-cracker situation.

Constant wars with the Dutch settlers and with the Bantu speaking indigenous people who lived further inland took their toll on the Khoikhoi people and by the early 1700s, their social and political system had virtually collapsed. Most Khoikhoi were forced to work as cattle herders, shepherds, and farm laborers for the white settlers. The Dutch now assumed the role of unchallenged masters and punished the locals cruelly for the slightest errors by beatings, branding, and exile. The final misfortune for the indigenous inhabitants of the Cape was their lack of resistance to the diseases introduced by the Europeans. A small pox epidemic in 1717 wiped out large numbers of the Khoikhoi and their population dwindled to near-extinction; the few individuals survived had no choice but to work as servants for the whites.

The Afrikaner Identity

The term "Afrikaner" was rarely used in the early period of the European settlements and the white settlers in South Africa were usually referred to as Boers since most of them were farmers. The first recorded use of the term 'Afrikaner' was made by a Huguenot settler named Bibault in 1705 who declared "I am an Afrikaner." (Quoted by Patterson, 272) it is perhaps significant that a Haguenot first made this assertion as the French immigrants in South Africa were… [END OF PREVIEW]

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