Krotoa, called Eva by the Dutch, is the first Khoikhoi woman to appear in the European records of the early settlement at the Cape as an individual personality and active participant in cultural and economic exchange. Eva joined Commander Jan van Riebeeck’s household at the Dutch fort at around age 12. She was closely related to Oedasoa, chief of the Cochoqua Khoikhoi, but it is unclear whether her family sent her to the Dutch to work and learn the language, or whether she made this decision on her own. She learned to speak fluent Dutch and Portuguese and acted as an interpreter for the Dutch for most of her life. She converted to Christianity and in 1664 married a Danish surgeon, Pieter van Meerhoff, who was rising in the service of the Dutch East India Company. Together they had three children. After his death on an expedition to Madagascar, Eva became an alcoholic and was eventually sent to the prison colony on Robben Island for disorderly conduct. She died in 1674 and was given a Christian burial.

The following selections are from the official diary kept by the Dutch Commander Jan van Riebeeck and his council at the Cape. Since these men were representatives of a major trading company, most entries have something to do with commercial interests. Eva emerges as a savvy business partner to the Dutch, but also as a person truly suspended between two cultures. Note her use of clothing, religion, and language as she negotiates between the Dutch and the Khoikhoi worlds.

Source: Riebeeck, Jan van. Journal of Jan van Riebeeck. Volume II, III, 1656-1662. Edited by H. B. Thom and translated by J. Smuts. Cape Town: A.A. Balkema, 1954.


31 October 1657:
“The Commander [Jan van Riebeeck] spent the day entertaining the Saldanhars [a Khoikhoi tribe from the interior] and questioning them about various things through the medium of a certain girl, aged 15 or 16, and by us called Eva, who has been in the service of the Commander’s wife from the beginning and is now living here permanently and is beginning to speak Dutch well.”

21 June 1658:
“Fine weather with N.W. breeze. The freeman Jan Reijnierssen came to complain early in the morning that during the night all his male and female slaves had run away, taking with them 3 or 4 blankets, clothing, rice, tobacco, etc. We thereupon called the new interpreter Doman, now called Anthony1, who had returned from Batavia with the Hon. Cuneus, and asked him why the Hottentots would not search for the runaway slaves, to which he coolly replied that he did not know. The Commander, not trusting him, then called the interpreter Eva alone into his office and privately asked her whether our blacks were not being harboured by the Hottentots. On this she asked whether such was the Commander’s opinion, and being answered in the affirmative, she (speaking good Dutch) said these words, namely: “I tell you straight out, Mijnheer Van Riebeeck, Doman is no good. He told the Hottentots everything that was said in Mijnheer’s room the day before yesterday. When I told him that it was wrong to do so, he replied: ‘I am a Hottentot and not a Dutchman, but you, Eva, try to curry favour with the Commander, etc.’” She added: “Mijnheer, I also believe that the Fat Captain of the Kaapmans harbours the slaves.” On being asked what the chief would do with the slaves, Eva replied: “He will present them to the Cochoquas to retain their friendship, and they in turn will deliver the slaves to the Hancumquas living far from here and cultivating the soil in which they grow daccha [also dagga, of the cannabis family], a dry herb which the Hottentots chew, which makes them drunk and which they highly esteem.”

23 September 1658:
“The interpreters Doman, or Anthonij, and Eva wished to visit their friends and asked for some copper, iron, beads, tobacco, bread, and brandy as a reward for their services as interpreters, and presents for her mother and their friends and all the natives whom they, especially Eva, would visit, to induce them to bring a larger number of cattle, as well as young horses, tusks, civet, amber, seed pearls (of which they were shown and given samples) and hides to the eland, hart, steenbuck, etc. They promised to do their best and hoped that we would soon see the fruits of their efforts; toward evening they thanked us politely and gratefully in good Dutch words for the presents they had received. They then left. When Eva reached the matted hut of Doman, also known as Anthonij, outside the fort, she at once dressed herself in the hides again and sent her clothes home. She intended to put them on again when she returned to the Commander’s wife, promising, however, that she would in the meantime not forget the Lord God, Whom she had learnt to know in the Commander’s house; she would always think of Him and endeavour to learn, etc.”

26 January 1661:
“The interpreter Eva has remained behind to live in the Commander’s house again, laying aside her skins and adopting once more the Indian way of dressing. She will resume her services as an interpreter. She seems to have grown tired of her own people again; in these vacillations we let her follow her own will so that we may get the better service from her. But she appears to have become already so accustomed to the Dutch diet and way of life that she will never be able to give it up completely.”

1 Little is known about Doman, though he was one of the important interpreters between the Dutch and the Khoikhoi in the early years. He was taken to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) to learn Dutch, and there he seems to have noticed the threat that the Dutch posed to indigenous ways of life. When he returned to the Cape, he consistently advocated Khoikhoi interests, especially of the Peninsular tribes, over those of the Dutch in trade negotiations.