Women at the Crossroads: Khoi and Europeans at the Cape of Good Hope

Time Estimate

Two and a half 50-minute class periods, and one additional period for writing the DBQ.


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. identify point of view in a variety of sources.
  2. analyze and understand the difference between different types of written documents, such as journals and diaries, letters, or legal documents.
  3. group sources as part of the analysis of those sources.
  4. identify the roles of women in the development of the Cape Colony.
  5. identify other useful points of view or types of sources not represented in the sampling.

    DAY ONE:

  1. Allow a half day or assign as homework: Pass out to students Making Sense of Letters and Diaries and Unpacking Travel Narratives and ask them to read these before class the next day. If you have computer access, have students read them online.

    Pass out copies of Cultural Contact in Southern Africa Introduction and Source 1: Diary, Jan van Riebeeck. Students should have completed reading these before the next day.

  2. DAY TWO

  3. Hook: Ask students to imagine that they have moved to a country on a different continent, either to go to college or for a new job.

    • What might they expect to be different in their new location?
    • What might be the same?
    • How would they keep in touch with family or friends?
    • How would they organize their impressions of this new place and its inhabitants?
    • How would they react to a different language, dress, customs, and religion?
    • Would they begin to adopt some of the new foods, dress, etc. they encounter?
  4. Teacher-led Discussion: The goal is to model how the students should examine sources to try to determine point of view, one of the critical concepts for students to understand when using primary sources—and one of the most challenging for most students. Use Source 1: Journal, Jan van Riebeeck, as the focus. Sample questions to ask the class might include:

    • What is the type of document? What is the difference between a journal and a diary? Which source is more private? Who else might read a journal kept by the commander of the fort?
    • What is van Riebeeck’s relation to Krotoa?
    • What is her chief role or function in the fort?
    • In the 21 June 1658 entry, what is Doman’s reaction to the request to help locate the runaway slaves? What is van Riebeeck’s reaction to Doman? What specific words highlight their specific viewpoints?
    • Does van Riebeeck appear to trust Krotoa? How can you tell from this entry?
    • Where do Krotoa’s loyalties lie? Does she trust Doman? What might influence her opinion of him? What might cause disagreement between them, even though both are Khoikhoi?
    • Examine the entry of 23 September 1658. Also look at Source 5: Object, Digging Stick and Source 6: Drawings, Khoikhoi. Why do you think Krotoa takes the copper, iron, and beads back with her to her tribe? What about the bread, brandy, and tobacco?
    • Van Riebeeck at first calls the items Krotoa takes with her a “reward” for her services. Later he calls the items “presents.” Are these free gifts, payment for services, or an attempt to open trade channels with the Khoikhoi? What specific words support each possibility?
    • In the last entry, what reasons does van Riebeeck give for Krotoa’s return?
    • Do you think van Riebeeck trusts Doman? Does he trust Krotoa? Do Doman and Krotoa trust or respect each other? What evidence can you give from the passages to justify your interpretation? What might account for the different perspectives among these three people?
    • How might van Riebeeck’s position as commander, his religion, his Dutch identity, his gender, or his connection to the Dutch East India Company influence or affect his attitudes or his interpretation of the incidents listed in this source? Would Krotoa or Doman have viewed these events the way van Riebeeck does?
    • Can we really be certain that we know Krotoa’s thoughts when what we have is an account from the Dutch commander?
    • What might Krotoa have written about herself?


  5. Small Group Discussion: Divide the class into groups of four. Pass out copies of the remaining sources. Each group should complete the appropriate worksheet (Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Images, Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Texts, and Primary Source Analysis Worksheet: Objects) for each of the sources.

    Students should complete the following four tasks by the middle of the second day. While the group works together to analyze each task, each of the four students will assume primary responsibility for recording the group’s findings for one of the tasks.

    Task 1: Groups are to generate a list of as many things as they can that relate to the identity of the author of the source: gender, age, occupation, social class, ethnicity, religion, purpose for writing, etc. The group is to discuss how the identity of the author influences his/her point of view or affects how one might interpret the validity of the source.

    Task 2: Students should group the sources into categories based on the source’s perception of the social or economic role of women. Next, students should suggest how the identity of the source’s author affects his/her point of view concerning the role of women in the Cape Colony. Different groups may well create different categories.

    Task 3: Students should examine the sources for bias—either overt through use of pejorative terms, or more subtle assumptions of cultural or gender superiority.

    Task 4: Students should group the sources by looking for similarities or differences in perception. For example, Johanna Maria van Riebeeck and the German astronomer, Peter Kolb share similar views on dirt, slovenly behavior, bad Dutch, etc. What assumptions lie behind their views?

    Rearrange the class into groups based on each of the four tasks. In other words, all the students who recorded the information for Task 1 are now to meet to compare their findings, all Task 2s will discuss their findings, etc. Each of the four task groups should list their combined findings on poster paper, a flip chart, transparencies, or the chalkboard.

    A representative from each of the four task groups will present to the class a summary of their task group’s findings and post their results.


  7. Teacher-led Discussion: Debrief and conclude:

    • What conclusions can be made about the social and economic roles of women in colonial life?
    • How do the roles of indigenous women complement the roles of colonial women?
    • In what ways do these roles compare to those of women colonists or indigenous women in North America?
    • What biases or points of view emerge from the documents concerning women? Concerning indigenous women in particular? How do these differ?
    • In what ways are these biases similar to those of European colonists in North America?

Kinesthetic Learners: These students may want to create a skit covering the return of Eva/Krotoa to her village for a visit—but wearing her European clothes. (See Jan van Riebeeck’s entries of 23 September 1658 and 26 January 1661). What problems might she have in the journey back to her village? Would her European clothes be suitable or comfortable in a Khoikhoi village? What might her family and friends say? Would they be envious of Eva’s clothes or ridicule them?

These students may also wish to create a dialogue between Krotoa and Dolman, explaining how each interprets their relation with the Dutch and the Khoikhoi.

Advanced Students: These students might want to do further research and compare Eva’s role as a translator and woman between two peoples to either Doña Marina (with Cortés in Mexico) or Sacagawea (with Lewis and Clark). Another topic for further research is to examine the role of wet nurses or servant girls in Europe in the 17th century. How similar or different is the practice in Europe to that in the colony? A source that may help students is Olwen Hufton’s The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe 1500-1800. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Advanced students might also analyze how the limited availability of contemporary sources for the Khoisan might affect historical interpretation.