oa Kronos : Journal of Cape History - Nogmaals Rangton van Bali
Robert Shell's article on 'the short life and personal belongings of one slave: Rangton of Bali, 1673 - 1720' in Kronos 18 (October 1991) is a welcome and stimulating contribution to the study of the lives of slaves and free blacks at the Cape in the era of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It is exemplary in using archival material such as inventories as sources for the reconstruction of their material culture and lifestyle. At the same time, Shell's article demonstrates the problems and difficulties of such an approach. Poor command of the Dutch language and insufficient knowledge of the character of the VOC empire, including its emerging colonial culture, have led him astray. Neither mystery nor dubious legality surrounded the visit of the Zwaag to the Cape in 1698. For some years before, the flute Zwaag sailed the VOC's inter-Asian trade routes after arriving from the Netherlands at Batavia on the 31st of August 1695. Early November 1697 it was sent to the Cape where its skipper, Jacob Joppe de Jonge, had lived for some years from 1690 onwards and probably still had property and relatives then. De Jonge was accompanied by a number of slaves - not only Rangton, but some four more - whom he wanted to sell at the Cape, as skippers of the VOC were accustomed and allowed to do. De Jonge had imported slaves at the Cape before and would do so increasingly in later years. Rangton of Bali, therefore, was neither smuggled out of Batavia nor illegally imported at the Cape. He was sold by De Jonge to Secunde Elsevier and emancipated in 1712. The possessions of former slaves who died intestate where inherited partly by their former owner and partly by Weesmeesteren, who therefore had to make certain arrangements as they did after Rangton's death at Stellenbosch in 1720. Being a skilled carpenter, Rangton had managed to acquire some possessions. He even did take part in the Stellenbosch burghers' military exercises - but the post mortem inventories of his personal belongings do not testify that he was self-sufficient in the manufacture of ammunition: '2 veilen 't schiet loot' has to be read as '2 vijlen (chisels) and 1 schietloot (plumb). Neither do the inventories testify that Rangton invested an unusual lot of money in his sleeping arrangements, or had a lover or mistress. The 'vogelkooij' he owned, simply was no 'feather mattress' but a bird-cage, and a bed with two cushions was quite normal. Indeed, as normal as his 'Moorish dress', his 'Kust kleetje' (clothing originating from and styled at the Coast of India) and his 'cabaai met sarvet' as such Asian style clothing can be expected from an early 18th century Balinese, even when living at Stellenbosch. For Stellenbosch was part of the VOC empire. And that empire was much more colonial and Asian than historiography so far has acknowledged - especially when one considers the lifestyle of its slaves and free black population.
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