Krotoa started work in Jan van Riebeeck’s household in 1653 when she was only 11 years old. She was the niece of Autshumato, known as “Harry the Strandloper”, who was the leader of the Khoi clan, Gorinhaiqua, and Van Riebeeck’s chief translator. Like her uncle, Krotao acted as an interpreter between the Dutch and Khoi during treaty negotiations.
She was also known as Eva van Meerhof after her marriage to Dutch surgeon Pieter van Meerhof. After his death she was imprisoned at the Castle and then banished to Robben Island where she died in 1674. She was initially buried at the Castle, but her remains were moved to Groote Kerk a century later.
Speaking before the event, the Groote Kerk’s Reverend Riaan de Villiers said Krotoa was “someone who was conflicted and troubled, yet was also a figure of reconciliation and a peace maker”.
The repatriating of her spirit began with traditional Khoi prayers and a ceremony at the church, and then concluded at the Castle, led by Chief Zenzile Khoisan, head of the Gorinhaiqua council.
“Krotoa was a part of the Gorinhaiqua clan, but we don’t see lineage, we see her as being the mother of the nation,” he said. “We are grateful that her spirit has been restored,” adding that Krotoa’s life was filled with abuse and pain, especially in her last days on Robben Island.
“The Nau ceremony of restoration is her passage to the evermore. It is the celebration of her life and spirit, restoring her dignity and legacy and honouring her sacrifices, but it is also a reminder to those of us who remain that we claim her as a spiritual ancestor.”
He adds that the Khoi community appreciates that the Castle is rewriting its narrative by including Khoi history but feels more has to be done. “During the ceremony we chanted the incantation ‘This is not over’. It won’t be over until the Khoi people and its heroes are recognised in the country’s history books and receive restitution for their pain and suffering.”