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|Died||29 July 1674(aged 31–32)|
|Other names||Eva van Meerhof|
|Spouse(s)||Pieter van Meerhof|
Krotoa, or Eva (c. 1643 – 29 July 1674), was a Khoi translator, working for the Dutch during the founding of the Cape Colony. She is noted as one of the most well written about women in South African history, with her name appearing in the journals of the Dutch East India company from as early as 1652. She is the first Khoi woman to appear by name in early European records of the settlement at Cape Town.
Krotoa was born in 1643 as a member of the Goringhaicona (Strandlopers) people, and the niece of Autshumao, a Khoi leader and trader. At the age of twelve, she was taken to work in the household of Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape colony. As a teenager, she learned Dutch and Portuguese and like her uncle, worked as an interpreter for the Dutch who wanted to trade goods for cattle. Krotoa received goods such as tobacco, brandy, bread, beads, copper and iron for her services. In exchange, when she visited her family her Dutch masters expected her to return with not only cattle, horses, seed pearls, amber, tusks, and hides. Unlike her uncle however, Krotoa was able to obtain a higher position within Dutch hierarchy as she additionally served as a trading agent, ambassador for a high ranking chief and peace negotiator in time of war. Her story exemplifies the initial dependency of the Dutch newcomers on the natives who were able to provide reasonably reliable information about the local inhabitants.
The Dutch’s initial arrival in April 1652 was not viewed as negative. Many Khoe people saw the Dutch’s arrival as an opportunity for personal gain as middle men in the livestock trade; others saw them as potential allies against preexisting enemies. At the peak of Krotoa’s career as an interpreter, she held the belief that the Dutch presence could bring benefits for both sides.
There are multiple accounts of how Krotoa came to work under the household of Jan Van Riebeeck. One account paints the story of how the Dutch forcefully kidnapped the child Krotoa, however no hard evidence confirms this account. Krotoa was taken in as a companion and as a servant to Riebeeck's wife and children. However, many authors and historians speculate that she most likely lived in an incestuous space, based on the fondness Van Riebeek presented towards her in his journals. Circumstantial evidences supports the theory that at the time of the Dutch arrival, Krotoa lived with her uncle Autshumato (also known as Harry by the Dutch). The circumstantial evidence being that Krotoa showed consistent hostility to the Goringhaiqua clan and, by association, to her own mother, who lived with them. In contrast Krotoa’s fate and fortunes were closely aligned to those of her uncle Autshumato and to his clan known as the Goringhaicona. The Goringhaicona people who were sedentary, non-pastoral hunter-gatherers are believed to be one of the first clans to make acquaintances with the Dutch people. Prior to the Dutch’s arrival Autshumato served as a postal agent for passing ships of a number of countries. If the theory of Krotoa having lived with her uncle is true, then Krotoa’s early service to the Dutch may not have been as violent a transition as it was made out to be.
It is believed that the birth of the first baby of chaplain/sick-healer Willem Barentssen Wijlant, and his wife coupled with the rapid spreading of a virulent disease in the settlement sparked the initial negotiations to obtain services from a local girl. As Autshumato had a long history of working for Europeans, it is believed that the Dutch first turned to Autshumato for negotiations. It is quite possible that Autshumato offered up his niece for servitude in order to better his standings with the Dutch.
On 3 May 1662 she was baptized by a visiting person, minister Petrus Sibelius, in the church inside the Fort de Goede Hoop. The witnesses were Roelof de Man and Pieter van der Stael. On 26 April 1664 she married a Danish surgeon by the name of Peter Havgard, whom the Dutch called Pieter van Meerhof. She was thereafter known as Eva van Meerhof. (See Geni/MyHeritage) She was the first Khoikoi to marry according to Christian customs. There was a little party in the house of Zacharias Wagenaer. In May 1665, they left to Cape and went to Robben Island, where van Meerhof was appointed superintendent. The family briefly returned to the mainland in 1666 after the birth of Krotoa’s third child, in order to baptize the baby. Van Meerhof was murdered in Madagascar  on 27 February 1668 on an expedition. After the death of her husband Pieter Van Meerhof, came the appointment of a new governor Zacharias Wagenaer. Unlike the governor before him he held extremely negative views toward the Khoe people and because at this point the Dutch settlement was secure, he didn’t find a need for Krotoa as a translator anymore.
Krotoa returned to the mainland on 30 September 1668 with her three children. Suffering from alcoholism, she left the Castle in the settlement to be with her family in the kraals. In February 1669 she was imprisoned unjustly for immoral behavior at the Castle and then banished to Robben Island. This likely the result of the strict anti-alcohol laws the Dutch had passed to govern the local population after they introduced higher proof European liquors. One of Van Riebeeck’s nieces, Elizabeth Van Opdorp, adopted Krotoa's children after she was banished. She returned to the mainland on many occasions only to find herself once more banished to Robben Island. In May 1673 she was allowed to baptize a child on the mainland. Three of her children survived. She died on 29 July 1674 in the Cape and was buried on 30 September 1674 in the Castle in the Fort. However, roughly a hundred years later her bones were removed to an unmarked grave.
Pieternella and Salamon, Krotoa’s two youngest children from her marriage to van Meerhof, were taken to Mauritius in 1677. Pieternella, who was known as Pieternella Meerhof or Pieternella van die Kaap, later married Daniel Zaaijman, a VOC vegetable farmer from Vlissingen. They had four sons and four daughters, one of whom was named Eva, and the family moved back to the Cape in 1706. Their granddaughter, Engela Catharina Zaaijman married Abraham Peltzer, son of Abraham Peltzer, a VOC soldier from Hamburg, Germany and Elizabeth van den Berg.
Legacy and cultural references
After her death, Krotoa’s story would not be deeply explored for nearly two and a half centuries. Instead attention was mostly put on white European women who came to South Africa on missionary expeditions. It was not until after the 1920s that her story become a part of South African history.
The novel Eilande by Dan Sleigh (1938), translated from Afrikaans by André Brink (in Dutch: 'Stemmen uit zee'/in English: 'Islands'), describes the lives of Krotoa and her daughter Pieternella from the viewpoints of seven men who knew them.
As late as 1983, under the name of Eva, she was still known in South Africa, as a caution against miscegenation.
In 1990, South African poet and author Karen Press wrote a poem entitled "Krotoa’s Story" that attempted to reimagine Krotoa’s life, emotions, and conflicting desires partly from her perspective. The poem was based on an earlier children’s story by Press entitled Krotoa, which was created as part of an educational initiative by the South African Council for Higher Education designed to inform schoolchildren about colonization from the perspective of indigenous South Africans.
In 1995, South African performer Antoinette Pienaar created a one-woman play entitled Krotoa. The work was first performed at the Little Karoo National Arts Festival, where it was awarded the “Herrie” prize. The play is unique in its depiction and memorialization of Krotoa as a mother to the nation, a symbolization which had been previously rejected by white South Africans.
In her essay "Malintzin, Pocahontas, and Krotoa: Indigenous Women and Myth Models of the Atlantic World", University of Michigan professor Pamela Scully compared Krotoa to Malintzin and Pocahontas, two other women of the same time period that were born in different areas of the world (Malintzin in Mesoamerica, Pocahontas in colonial Virginia). Scully argues that all three of these women had very similar experiences in the colonialist system despite being born in different regions. She reflects on the stories of Malintzin, Pocahontas, and Krotoa and states that they are almost too familiar and resonate so comfortably with a kind of inevitability and truth that seems, on reflection, perhaps too neat. Therefore, she claims, Krotoa is one of the women that can be used to show the universality of the way that people were treated in the colonial system worldwide.
In 2016, on the anniversary of the 350th commemoration of the Castle, descendants of Krotoa conducted a ceremony to return her spirit to the Castle in the Fort.
In 2017 a dramatic feature film directed by Roberta Durrant about Krotoa's life, titled "Krotoa", was released in South Africa.
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