Let’s honour Krotoa

Johan van Zyl, Gordon’s Bay

I understand that it is necessary to regularly read the papers or listen to the news to stay abreast of the times, as unsettled as they are here in our part of the globe.

However, it does make one despondent to constantly be reminded of the damaging restlessness, the misdeeds and the murders that make the headlines.

That is why, for me at least, it is always a welcome change to take up a magazine or book that delves into the wonders of nature or the interesting things that happen in the lives of people.

To have a conver-sation with friends about these pleasantries is part and parcel of the benefit one gets.

While enjoying coffee with a good friend last week, we exchanged views on world history.

I happened to mention the current, heightened interest being shown on the subject of Krotoa, who as a Khoi teen had been employed by Van Riebeeck as a child-minder, and who later married a European husband, producing progeny who stand at the top of the ancestry of untold numbers of South Africans today.

What happened next during our discussion surely must be a most surprising example of coincidence. My companion took from his pocket an American brass coin of one dollar denomination and presented it to me.

It was dated 2 000, and had on its obverse the image of a young girl carrying a baby on her back.

My friend then said we must not think South Africa is unique in having an iconic “mother-of-the-nation” type woman from the distant
past.

The Americans have long recognised this girl on the dollar coin as their own figure of mythology, but subsequently, as in the case of Krotoa, the circumstances and the figure has been confirmed as fact.

She was a Shoshone girl who in her late teens had been employed by the famous American explorers Lewis and Clark, to serve as a trail guide on their historical overland expedition from St Louis to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s.

Her name was Sacagawea.

She was already married at the time to a French-Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau.

The child she carried with her, called Jean Baptiste, was his. As in the case of Krotoa, being familiar with the countryside and its people, Sacagawea provided valuable skills to her employer, not the least being that of interpreter.

My friend and I agreed on the following: that what could be summarised about this icon of American history could likewise be stated about Krotoa.

In both instances there are no contemporary graven or photographic images to show what these women might have looked like.

The Americans have done well in choosing an acceptable likeness of Sacagawea.

Perhaps it is time to put a properly chosen representative portrait of Krotoa on our own one rand coin.

With the aid of bits and pieces of information taken from archival sources, we can now know more about these two remarkable figures from history than about any other native women of their time.