How did the slaves and slavery influence South African history and culture? Take a look at the following examples:
The slaves came from Asia and Africa. They came from diverse cultural backgrounds with different languages and religions. Many of the slaves had relationships with the indigenous Khoekhoe and some with the burghers.
Part of South Africa’s cultural diversity can be regarded as a consequence of its history of slavery. Many South Africans are descendants of slaves. Although it is not always possible to prove that you are a descendent of slaves, people with slave names such as Cupido, September and Titus can assume that they have slave ancestors. Other people’s slave ancestry cannot be seen in their names. For example, the Bassons are descendants of Angela of Bengale, the Snymans are descendants of Antony of Bengale and the Claasens are descendants of Claas of Malabar. Many people, including a number of researchers, believe that the development of the Afrikaans language can also be attributed to slavery. Slaves came from many different places and spoke different languages.
Some historians argue that Afrikaans developed as the result of slaves trying to communicate with their mainly Dutch-speaking owners. There is evidence that Afrikaans was spoken in mosques. The first Afrikaans was written in Arabic script. These manuscripts were mainly Muslim religious texts but also included letters. Afrikaans also contains many words that came from the eastern languages spoken by the slaves. Examples of these words are:
The home languages of slaves transported to South Africa were diverse and included Buginese, Javanese, Malagasy, Tamil and importantly, two Indian Ocean lingua franca's, Creole Portuguese and Malay. Accounts of Cape court cases in which slaves participated, indicate that slaves gave evidence in Malay and Creole Portuguese and that colonists also had some knowledge of these languages. By the late 18th century, a local Dutch-based creole language had developed at the Cape, as a result of interaction of people who spoke a variety of languages but who had to communicate in Dutch. This became known as Afrikaans and it was eventually to become dominant in the homes and streets of the Cape and adopted widely in South Africa. Slave interpreters from the Slave Lodge spoke several languages and were taken by the VOC on its slaving voyages to Madagascar. They played an important role in helping to procure slaves.
The slaves had a big influence on the kind of food South Africans eat. People refer to the Indian and Indonesian influences on South African cuisine. The origin of some South African recipes can be seen in the names of food, for example sosaties, bredie, curry, bobotie, koeksisters and tameletjie.
C. Louis Leipoldt, an Afrikaans writer and cook who lived in the first half of the 20th century, considered Indonesian cooking methods and food customs as the strongest influence on South African cuisine. However, these traditions were not only brought to the Cape and practised by the slave cooks, but also by their owners. The VOC officials at the Cape usually lived and worked for many years in Batavia before coming to the Cape. They were therefore already used to that kind of cooking before coming to the Cape.
The slaves built many of the old buildings that date back to the Dutch colonial period, for example the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town and the houses on Cape wine estates such as Groot Constantia, Vergelegen and Simonsig, as well as ordinary dwellings in Cape Town and surrounding areas. Slavery is often associated with the introduction of Islam to the Cape. The Western Cape still has a very large Muslim community. However, not all Cape Muslims are descendants of slaves. Islam was brought to the Cape by Muslim political exiles and slaves from the East Indies.
In Cape Town, Islam was also regarded as the religion of resistance. Slaves and Free Blacks met in the houses of Muslim exiles and on the hills around the town. By 1832, a third of the population in Cape Town was regarded as Muslim. Some religious practices of Cape Muslims are of slave origin. For example, on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday women cut up orange leaves in the mosques. This slave tradition, known as rampie-sny is unique to Cape Muslims and their descendants in other parts of South Africa. The late Achmat Davids argued that the word rampie originates from the Hindi word Rampa and that the 'rampie' may have been adopted as a way of attracting slaves who were Hindu to Islam.
The exhibition Cultural Echoes at the Iziko Slave Lodge sheds light on the different backgrounds, religions and cultures that slaves brought to the Cape.
Historians argue that Afrikaans developed as the result of slaves trying to communicate with their mainly Dutch-speaking owners. Above and below are exhibition panels from the Afrikaans aan die Praat exhibition held at the Iziko Slave Lodge in 2013.
An exhibition panel describing the influence of slavery on the Afrikaans language from the Afrikaans aan die Praat exhibition held at the Iziko Slave Lodge in 2013.
Slavery is often associated with the introduction of Islam to the Cape, however not all Cape Muslims are descendents of slaves. Islam was reportedly brought to the Cape by Muslim political exiles and slaves from the East Indies. Above and below depicts objects from the Iziko Social History Collection.