Sailors as Scribes

Travel discourse and the (Con)textualization of the Khoikhoi
at the Cape of Good Hope, 1649-90

The Journal of African Travel-WritingTravel narratives have been one of the primary means by which Europeans learned about the rest of the world. This paper examines how travel narratives concerning the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) from 1649 to 1690 utilized specific images of the Khoikhoi to serve either Dutch imperial intentions or a larger European cultural project. In both cases, writing was utilized as a technology of representation: texts served as tools in the construction of a Euro-managed Khoikhoi identity.

The paper is based on sailors' accounts. Between 1649 and 1690 at least eighty-eight reports of the Cape of Good Hope were written by sailors, many of them quoted by later academics and imperial strategists. This paper focuses on the most popular and representative of these writings. It first looks at how Khoikhoi were represented as "strategic shepherds", as herders who were seen as important assets in the Dutch colonial establishment at the Cape. It then investigates how travellers tapped into and enhanced the trope of the godless savage, extending this rather popular stereotype to Khoikhoi as part of European understanding of the "other". Finally it examines how local Cape peoples were valued as ethnographic specimens.

Trotter, Henry, "Sailors as Scribes: Travel Discourse and the (Con)textualization of the Khoikhoi at the Cape of Good Hope, 1649-1690" Journal of African Travel-Writing Vols. 8 & 9 (2001), pp. 30-44.