Thisgingnio: South Africa’s only Chinese woman prisoner

by Karen Williams  Although Chinese men made up the main contingent of prisoners that the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) held in South Africa, one Chinese woman prisoner has been documented. Thisgingnio1 was from Cirebon in Indonesia and she arrived in Cape Town on 9 April 1747. There is no information on her crime… Read More

Chained and enslaved: Early Chinese prisoners in South Africa

by Karen Williams   In 1705 a gang of Chinese slaves were caught robbing the burghers at night. When interrogated, it was discovered that they escaped from the (Slave) Lodge by forming a human pyramid in the courtyard to escape over the roof. – The Dutch East Indian Company’s Slave Lodge at the Cape, by Helene… Read More

The Eunuch Admiral: was Zheng He the greatest sea explorer in history?

by Karen Williams Diplomat, soldier, admiral and eunuch. Possibly, also, the model for Sinbad the Sailor[1]. Chinese admiral Zheng He mapped the Indian Ocean from Japan to Kenya and conducted seven epic voyages across the “Western Seas” to cement centuries of Chinese dominance in trade and seafaring across the Indian Ocean. Surprisingly, it is only… Read More

Where were South Africa’s enslaved people from?

by Karen Williams  Slavery in South Africa began at the same time as colonisation in 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck, the representative of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC), arrived in Cape Town to set up a refreshment station. Van Riebeeck arrived with two slave girls from “Abyssinia” (Ethiopia). But Van Riebeeck’s arrival did… Read More

Zwarte Piet is a product of the Netherlands’ long involvement in the slave trade

by Karen Williams  The first time that I saw a photograph of the Zwarte Piet celebrations in the Netherlands, the door to questions of slavery in my own life swung wide open. There – right there – looking back at me was the representation of my personal history, and the long history of Dutch slavery… Read More

An introduction to the Indian Ocean slave trade

by Karen Williams  When many people think of slavery, they think of the translatlantic trade that took place between Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. The legacy of enslavement in the Americas (particularly in the United States) is known globally through the cultural and political impact of African-American iconography, films, history and references in popular… Read More