Peter Kolb was a German astronomer and mathematician who lived at the Cape from 1705 to 1713. He was initially sponsored by a German baron to make astronomical observations in pursuit of a way to calculate longitude accurately. When this project ended, Kolb stayed at the Cape and observed everything else. About three years after his return to Germany, he began to compile a book about his experiences, based on letters and notes he had written. This book (more than 850 large pages) was divided into three sections: the first discussed the flora, fauna, minerals, water, and topography of the Cape. The second addressed the social life and customs of the Khoikhoi (then known as Hottentots). The third discussed the political intrigues of the Dutch colony during the years Kolb was part of it. His ethnographic conclusions are now contested, but there is no doubt that his book is an important source for understanding interaction among the various ethnic groups at the Cape in this early period. Although Kolb was not married and had no children, he made numerous comments about many different aspects of women’s lives. In the excerpt below, he discusses the rearing of children, but also offers a glimpse into how closely Europeans, Khoikhoi, and slaves lived and worked together.

Source: Kolb, Peter. “On the Manners and Customs which are observed among the European Inhabitants . . .” Letter Eight, Part Three in Caput Bonae Spei Hodiernum. Translated by Anne Good Nuremberg: Peter Conrad Monath, 1719.


Not all parents need to be accused of nurturing their children badly, since there are still some to be found who lead honest lives—but there are still far too few who may be accused of spending too much time with their children when they are still young and tender, or who watch and care for them, and try to instill honesty in them together with their mother’s milk. Instead, from the very beginning the whole care is given over to slave women or even female Hottentots [Khoikhoi], and the parents are content as long as the children suffer no pain, or other unpleasantness that could hurt them, or learn obviously bad manners.

Just think to yourself what good such an Aja, as these caregivers are called, could do for a young child, leading a heathen life, given over to lust and other sinful desires, carrying on indecent and wanton conversations with others like herself in the presence of the child, and not caring for anything except that the child have enough to eat and drink, clothes, and lack no other incidentals, so that the child will not cry and fuss a lot, and she will not receive a harsh reprimand. Thus the child will be brought up in pleasure and happiness, even though the foundation for a real fear of God will be completely neglected. This is a circumstance that cannot be lamented too highly, and should find disapprobation among all righteous Christians. . . .

It cannot be denied that such an Aja does indeed know how to get on with the child skillfully enough, and is a faithful caregiver when it comes to anything necessary for bodily health. No one would disagree either, that they are good language teachers, and that their mother tongue, or at least the Portuguese, which is commonly used throughout the East Indies, and may be considered a main language in these lands, flows into the children at the same time as mother’s milk [presumably they were wet nurses as well]. Still, with all these skills, in my opinion they still lack that which is most essential and important to bringing up children.

For, not considering the fact that they speak very bad and broken German, or rather, Dutch, and therefore are not able to teach the child this language, so that in the beginning all the children here speak German very badly, almost like the French people [Huguenots who had fled religious persecution in France] who are just beginning to learn the language—there is an even greater impediment that prevents these caregivers from steering the children towards true godliness, which should be learned above all else: the Ajas themselves still lead heathen lives, and therefore hardly know even by name what godliness is or means.