The Invocation of Krotoa
The production of Krotoa Eva van de Kaap at Artscape is much more than a play. It is a conduit, an invocation of the spirit of !Goa/gõas so that she speaks to 21st Century audiences. Some audiences might be uncomfortable as they experience the pain of Krotoa, the Khoi translator, who worked for the Dutch during the founding of the Cape Colony. But the discomfort is essential to the disruption intended with the work.
More than any other group, indigenous women have born the brunt of the brutality of colonialism and its 20th Century handmaiden, apartheid. The story of !Goa/gõas of the Goringhaicona known as Krotoa or Eva van Meerhoff is echoed repeatedly throughout the ages… A woman enslaved, abused, drained of her usefulness and discarded.
When a story happens that often for so many centuries, we become desensitised. A white woman takes her power back by confronting her abusers. People sit up and listen. A Khoi woman dealing with rape or addiction is simply too every day to sustain an awareness campaign.
Decolonising the violence against indigenous women is even more difficult because in the South African hierarchy of agency we are nowhere near the top and do not dominate the mainstream news agenda.
But when artists and stories like !Goa/gõas of the Goringhaicona enter the fray, it disrupts the unacceptable order of things. People around the world are using The Arts as a way of fast-tracking the changes needed to redress gross historic injustice… harnessing our collective power for social change.
Bianca Flanders as Krotoa and Kees Scholten (Volksoperahuis) as her husband Pieter van Meerhof. He also plays Jan van Riebeeck. Photo Jochem Jurgens.
Krotoa !Goa/gõas Speaking to 21st Century Audiences
True artists do not merely concoct the stories they wish to tell. In terms of indigenous culture and belief systems, knowledge or stories speak to us via Ancestral pathways. Pathways that are conduits for teaching especially in times of trouble and that maintain seamless links between past and present.
The production of Krotoa Eva van de Kaap at Artscape (a collaboration with the Volksoperahuis of the Netherlands) is much more than a play. It is a conduit, an invocation of the spirit of !Goa/gõas so that she speaks to 21st Century audiences. The story of !Goa/gõas and other plays I have written (The Keeper of the Kumm and works looking at the lives of writer Richard Rive and assassinated human rights activist Dulcie September) is helping us define the terms of Restorative Justice… a movement that advocates healthy responses to harm and not inflicting more harm.
As a direct descendant, historian Patric Tariq Mellett has done extensive research into the story of !Goa/gõas. Her name means The Ward because as a child she was placed in the care of her Uncle, the Chief Autshumao.
“She became an advocate of the Cochoqua strategy to isolate the Dutch settlement and develop an equitable trading relationship. Had the Khoena succeeded under the Cochoqua, Cape Town and indeed South Africa may have had a different history. For her experimental approaches she was scorned by the Dutch, rejected and treated as one who had betrayed them.”
As her independent thinking blossomed with adulthood she became less pliant and useful to the Dutch. On the other hand, her own people often distrusted her as she had grown up at the Fort of Jan van Riebeeck and adopted some of the colonial ways.
Krotoa (Bianca Flanders) contemplating the legend of Heitsi Eibab, a Khoi hero that is acknowledged with stone cairns… born and reborn in times of trouble. Photo Jochem Jurgens.
No Ordinary Young Woman
“Krotoa who was a carefree child in the exciting world of the Camissa settlement, experienced the whirlwind of changes brought about by the Dutch settlement on the doorstep of her village. Like the destruction of the Camissa port community. She got swept up by the forces and experiences of the time. But she developed her own form of resistance to colonialism after having found herself in the extraordinary circumstances of her teenage years. She sought out and followed the potential opportunities that beckoned. She was no ordinary young woman,” Patric Mellet writes.
When I spend many hours researching her story it is sometimes extremely painful to read the colonial journals and especially the letters of Van Riebeeck.
There is a story recorded about a group of 17th Century indigenous women burying a baby alive in the grave of its mother who had passed away. The story is written in judgemental terms, without any consideration for what had caused the community to resort to this act of desperation. I am doing the Krotoa research at the time when the story of little Courtney Peters raped, murdered and buried in a backyard in Mitchells Plain dominates the headlines. Trauma that started then, revisiting us again and again.
In another account, !Goa/gõas is described as drunken and upsetting the guests at the dinner table inside the Fort. The Dutch church elders take away her children, lock her out of her home and strip her of all her possessions. Throughout all this she clings desperately to a little girl’s dress that she carries with her everywhere. The intensity of her trauma is tangible despite the dry style of the archive writing. For me it is as if that tatty dress she clung to is speaking to me loudly and clearly.
These are accounts we use to great effect in the play. Van Riebeeck writes very proudly of how enslaving the locals to alcohol and tobacco is part of his strategy and that it greatly reduces the price of commodities. This admission becomes key to the production’s storyline, mainly because like the almond hedge he built that became the first act of apartheid, his policies are still destroying First Nations communities.
Krotoa (Bianca Flanders) and Dutch writer Willem ten Rhijne (Jef Hofmeister who also composed some of the original the music score). Photo Jochem Jurgens.
A Restorative Justice Sub Text
Restorative Justice poses certain key questions that inform a strong subtext in the musical theatre play Krotoa Eva van de Kaap:
● What happened here on this land?
● Who as a People was hurt and continues to be hurt?
● Who as a People caused the hurt and continues to benefit from it?
● What People-to-People amends could and should be made now?
● And what might it take for the Khoi and San people to be made whole?
In her seminal article on “Decolonizing Restorative Justice” Denise C Breton writes:
“In restorative justice, being held accountable is not about punishment or revenge. It is about connecting and becoming more real—connecting with more of reality than the narrow sphere in which inflicting harm made sense. To start, it means becoming acquainted with the effects of their harms, which usually involves listening to victims. Offenders meet the human faces of their harms. They hear the pain in the voices of their victims as they tell their stories. Harm is not abstract or “over there”; the person who has suffered is sitting in the same room and telling the offender face to face how life has changed as a result of the crime.”
Some audiences might be uncomfortable as they sit in the same room with !Goa/gõas of the Goringhaicona and experience the pain of her story. As they listen to how people’s lives are still being destroyed because of the crimes of Jan van Riebeeck and other colonials and settlers.
The discomfort is essential to the disruption we intend with the work. But we would have failed if people merely go home and get on with business as usual.
There are things we can do long after the lights have gone down on this production. We have to accept and recognise that:
● Non-indigenous people are occupying stolen land in an ongoing genocide that has lasted for centuries. If you display solidarity it is not out of guilt, but out of a desire to confront oppressive post-colonial systems of power together
● First Nations Communities have been on the frontlines of genocide for centuries and need allies to engage in political action
● Some South Africans are still very privileged as members of a settler culture
● The First Nations and our allies are in the minority but it is a cause that is worth fighting for
Krotoa Eva van de Kaap opened to acclaim in Amsterdam in October 2018 before enjoying a lengthy tour of the Netherlands. The play was given a standing ovation on opening night and at most of the subsequent performances.
The play is directed by Basil Appollis and stars Bianca Flanders as Krotoa and Kees Scholten of the Volksoperahuis as Jan van Riebeeck. He also plays Krotoa’s husband Pieter van Meerhoff. The original music score is written and performed by Frazer Barry and Jef Hofmeister who both play cameo roles.
The play will run at the Arena at Artscape Theatre Centre from February 7th to 16th. Booking at Computicket.
A discussion forum hosted by the Aboriginal /Xarre Restorative Justice Forum in collaboration with Artscape will be held on Saturday 2 February. The forum will focus on the opportunities for Restorative Justice afforded by the story of !Goa/gõas. By invitation only.