New Krotoa film reveals life of that' Khoi woman

11 August 2017


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A new local biopic on Khoi historical figure Krotoa opens on circuit this week after raking in eight international festival awards so far. Grethe Kemp speaks with director Roberta Durrant about who Krotoa, the woman some consider the mother of coloured people in South Africa, really was. by Grethe Kemp

I am Krotoa! she tells herself, screaming, crying, in the fort of Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch settlers of the 1600s. She's taken off her long, bodiced European dress and is back in the skins and beads of her people. The Dutch call her Eva, but although she has adopted their religion, their culture and their language, she is not Eva. She is Krotoa.

She'd come there to work as a servant, nanny and playmate to Van Riebeeck, his wife Maria and their children. Maybe she wanted to go - enchanted by these new settlers in their feathered hats, enchanted by the wares they unloaded from their ships. Or maybe she didn't, and was bartered by her uncle Autshumao (named Harry/Herry die Strandloper, first by the English and then by the Dutch).

Women didn't count much in the 1600s, and even less so if you weren't white. So, for Krotoa to have been mentioned in historical documents such as Van Riebeeck's diary shows that she must have been remarkable.

At the fort she quickly picked up Dutch and some Portuguese, and soon became Van Riebeeck's primary translator.

Beyond simply translating, she possessed the skill of negotiation and diplomacy. History notes that she played a pivotal part in not only forging cooperation between the settlers and her relative Oedasoa, but was instrumental in working out terms for ending the First Dutch-Khoi War.

Land was the primary dispute, as it remains to this day. Livestock was also an issue, and where cattle could graze.

Penguin Films' Roberta Durrant, known for her many TV productions including 'Sgudi 'Snaysi, Stokvel and Izikizi and her feature-length films including Felix, has now put Krotoa's life on screen.

#Trending asked her about the research that went into depicting a character who lived such a long time ago.

Kaye Ann Williams, now the head of content at M-Net, created a documentary series for the SABC called Hidden Histories. We [Penguin Films] produced two episodes and one of them was on Krotoa. If you go back and look at what you actually have to work with - you've got oral traditions and Khoi knowledge about the tribes, the chiefs and their ancestry. And then you also have various historians who have written essays and subject matter on Krotoa and on that period. But a lot of it is supposition and a lot of it is deduction. There's actually very little written down factually or in history books.

What we have from that period is Van Riebeeck's diary, and that diary was actually not even written by his scribes. We say quite clearly that the story is a narrative fictional story inspired by what we believe were the historical facts. You're going back to 1652, and history was very much a man's domain. Women didn't have a voice, not in a European context, or any context, really. What Kaye wanted to do was give Krotoa a voice, in terms of the deductions and the facts at our disposal.

Read the full article on Filmcontact here