The Classics at World’s End.
A VOC Secretary Reframes the Cape Khoi
The Dutchman Johannes Willem van Grevenbroek (1644-circa 1726) was secretary of the Dutch East India Company’s Council of Policy at the Cape from 1684 to 1694. In the years that had passed since Jan van Riebeeck’s landing at the Cape in 1652, marking the first permanent European settlement in modern-day South Africa, regular expeditions had been launched into its hinterland. A year after his retirement from VOC service, Grevenbroek wrote a letter in Latin about the Cape’s native inhabitants: Elegans et accurata gentis Africanae circa Promontorium Capitis Bonae Spei vulgo Hottentotten Nuncupatae Descriptio Epistolaris (An Elegant and Accurate Account of the African Race Living Round the Cape of Good Hope, Commonly Called Hottentots). In this paper, I consider Grevenbroek’s engagement with ancient (Greek and Roman) antiquity in his framing of the Khoi. Ancient times had left early modern Europe with an authoritative literature on the world’s geography and history, descriptions about its then-known people, and suppositions about the ways of life of its many un-known people in yet to be discovered realms. In his letter, Grevenbroek returns to the Classical sources to meaningfully recapture the Cape native people and thus renegotiate the popular contemporary European image about them.
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