Bastion of past conquests


Doman, the go-between and resister at the Cape during the incremental Dutch conquest, appears to have been misunderstood right from the start, says Michael Morris.

The life of Doman, the go-between and resister at the Cape during the incremental Dutch conquest of the region in the late 1600s, was precarious and uncertain, and invariably misjudged by everyone.

And, all these years later, it is worth bearing in mind that the narratives of Doman and others like him, such as Autshumato and the tragic Krotoa, who peopled that world-beyond-reach are not their own, spoken or written in their words, but delivered in the accounts of others.

Of the three, Doman was perhaps the most remarkable, chiefly for seeing the opportunity for resisting colonial depredation and, despite his modest rank among his own people, acting on it. For this, he was, ultimately, loved neither by the Dutch nor the people whose sovereignty he sought to defend.

His fuller acknowledgement comes more than three centuries later with the unveiling of a statue of his assumed likeness at the Castle next month as part of the 350th anniversary of the construction of the stone fort, a lasting symbol of the often bloody, yet also fertile and enduring bond between European and African worlds at the southern tip of the continent.

Doman’s statue will stand alongside those of other key figures in this story, Cetshwayo, Sekhukhune and Langalibalele.

Doman appears to have been misunderstood right from the start.

We first encounter him in Jan van Riebeeck’s journal in the entry of Sunday, December 12, 1655, a moment when it appeared that Autshumato’s term as interpreter was over.

The diarist writes: “We called aside a certain other Hottentot calling himself Doman or Domine – a name by which we also now call him because he is such an artless person – who seems well-disposed towards us and, with the Hottentot Claes Das, has been employed in Harry’s (Autshumato’s) place an interpreter.

“As such he is serving the Hon Company better than anybody else – up to the present at any rate.”

Historian Richard Elphick conjectures that Doman – the Dutch also called him Antony or appended this first name to him – “was probably called Doman’ because the Dutch had wrongly assessed his character: it is possible that Doman’ was a Hottentot nickname related to domi (voice), but that the Dutch interpreted it as dominee’ because when they first trained him as an interpreter, they incorrectly judged him to be gentle and naïve”.

In the same entry, it is recorded that Doman refers to Autshumato as “such a big talker (who) was continually carrying false reports from one side to the other”.

He must have seemed a pliable customer, though whether this was a ruse on his part or a misapprehension of his truer character by the Dutch is impossible to say.

It is likely, by all accounts, that Doman was not at first as ill-disposed to the Dutch presence as he later became – particularly after being taken from the Cape on the long voyage to Batavia (Jakarta in Indonesia) to improve his skills in Dutch.

The man who took the interpreter across the Indian Ocean – Doman was in Batavia in the course of 1657 and 1658 – was Rijckloff van Goens the elder, a military and naval office, later a governor of Ceylon, who had served the Dutch East India Company from the age of 12. (A quixotic aside is that, on his visit to the Cape in 1657, Van Goens, with Van Riebeeck, investigated the possibility of isolating the Cape peninsula from the continent by means of a canal from False Bay to Table Bay.)

Doman’s spell in Batavia had a telling impact on his outlook.

Elphick writes: “There he became aware of the potential threat of Dutch colonisation and also gathered information on Dutch military techniques.”

When the interpreter returned home, he was a different man.

“Once back at the Cape he used his position as translator to denounce Van Riebeeck’s policies and to forestall any economic or political contacts between the Dutch and inland Khoe which would be disadvantageous to his own people.”

From 1657, when the Dutch began to free some of the company’s officials to farm as “free burghers” – which led to encroachment on land the local clans had always used to graze their own cattle – Doman moved to unite the Goringhaiqua, Gorachouqua and others in opposition.

The Dutch were evidently alive to the rivalries and chafing dislikes between the various Khoi clans, and the scope for exploiting them.

Van Riebeeck’s diarist writes, for instance, that “(t)heir mutual jealousy is strong…(and) may enable us always to find out from the one what the other may be plotting against us, and in that way both may be kept in such a state of alliance as would prove to the best advantage” of the company.

Doman’s deteriorating relationship with Krotoa, whom he repeatedly accused of playing into Dutch hands and betraying the local people, appeared to give the Dutch every reason to believe they could exploit the inter-clan tension to good effect.

By mid-1658, the Dutch appeared to have become suspicious of Doman, who (not least in his continuing accusations against Krotoa, whom the Dutch called Eva) “has proved that he is not to be trusted”.

“We sincerely wish he had never been to Batavia, or that he may be induced to go back…“

Yet, as Elphick notes, Doman’s “brief success had been due, not to wealth or birth, but to a unique insight and an ability to capitalise on opportunity. His final failure can be attributed to his inability to attract powerful inland tribes to his anti-Dutch coalition.”

* This commemorative piece is the second in a series of articles the Cape Argus is running before the Castle of Good Hope’s 350th birthday year.

Cape Argus