This is the second volume of “Beschreibung des Vorgebirges der Guten Hoffnung” published by O.F. Mentzel in 1787.
“A complete and authentic geographical and topographical description of the famous and (all things considered) remarkable African Cape of Good Hope” by O.F Mentzel published 1787.
Otto Frederick Mentzel, the son of a medical doctor, was born in Berlin in 1710. He was well educated and as a young man served in the army of the King of Prussia. He came to the Cape as a soldier, even though his education was above that of the common soldier who enlisted in the Dutch East India Company. We do not know the reasons why, nor the circumstances under which Mentzel entered the Company’s service. Perhaps the glamour of the East fascinated him.
He arrived in the Cape in 1732 or 1733 and when he first met Captain Allemann, Commander of the Military Forces, he tells his readers, his finances were low. Allemann patronised him almost from the start, as soon as he had heard that this humble soldier was a fellow Prussian. Very soon Mentzel became the tutor of Allemann’s children. Mentzel had the proper disposition for making friends; he was courteous and obliging, and, judging from the many stories and anecdotes in his writings, he must have been an entertaining conversationalist. Mentzel left the Cape unintentionally at the beginning of January 1741. He boarded a ship that was anchored in Table Bay to deliver letters to be posted in Holland for his family and friends in Germany. Due to a misunderstanding he could not get back to shore before the ship lifted anchor and was on its way to Europe. Mentzel never came back to the Cape after this unplanned departure.
In this third volume of Mentzel’s account of life at the Cape, published by the Society, he travelled into the interior, to Stellenbosch and Swellendam. He comments on agriculture and viticulture, as well as hunting. The final chapters discuss the Khoi inhabitants.
About Cape Town and its inhabitants and about the civil and military establishments, he could write with the authority of a man who saw and understood the conditions at first hand. However, when it came to the rural areas, which are from the subject matter of this volume, his knowledge was less intimate, for his personal contact with the country districts was slight. It can be safely surmised that Mentzel did not travel beyond a radius of 150 kilometres from Table Bay. Hence in the descriptions of the country districts he had to rely to some extent on information received from others. The chapter on Swellendam is based wholly on Sparrman, whose inaccurate map involves Mentzel in geographical errors.
Mentzel’s work is therefore of two-fold value. It is a primary source on much that he had seen and understood; it is also a critical commentary on the writings of his contemporaries.
EXTRACT FROM THE TEXT
“In general there are more marriageable women at the Cape than bachelors. Hence if at some time one finds four, five or more daughters in a house, and only one or two sons, and one teases the daughters by saying that there are so many girls and so few men in the country, they immediately reply: “Oh! That is no trouble. The suitors come from the Fatherland (Europe) and therefore no spinsters will be left over”; and truly one hardly ever meets an old maid.
The country girls have few opportunities for a tête-a-tête with men, so that one seldom, very seldom hears of a girl having gone too far and fallen. But in Cape Town they are not so strict; they also have more opportunities of being seduced. Still, there was a case where a white girl in the country had given birth to a black child: and at the Salt River, at a wine shop adjoining the crossing on this river, a former proprietress had a quite well educated European husband, and yet gave birth to a black child; but she declared to her husband and everybody else, that she had been frightened by unexpectedly meeting a very black slave: Mater dicit, pater credit, etc.
All women at the Cape have bad teeth, both in the City and in the country. In this they resemble the women of Holland; it is believed to he caused by the large quantities of sugar-candy they take in their mouths when drinking tea or coffee. Not only the daughters of the poorer farmers, but also of those we are talking about, the well-to-do class, walk barefoot from childhood, without shoes and stockings. Except for the children of free-burghers in the City, the Cape shoemakers have no occasion to make children’s shoes.
When the country girls do get shoes and stockings on their feet either to attend a wedding or as brides to appear with their bridegroom before the Marriage Board, it is comic to see how high they lift their legs so as not to knock against something with their heels; for they have a feeling as though they were walking on stilts. As soon as the honeymoon is over, the shoes are laid aside and not produced again until such time as they go to town or attend a wedding or church service. The men, on the other band, even if they wear no shoes except on such festival days, do wear little “veldschoens” of raw hide and also wrap their feet in fine many-coloured handkerchiefs, and then think themselves very smart in their way.
The language of the country people is just as far from being pure Dutch, as that of the German farmers is from pure German. The men have a broad accent and the women folk use certain expressions that are sometimes really ridiculous. For instance, if one were to ask them whether they have no Bible, the reply is: “Ounz heeft geen Byhcl”: which means “Us has no Bible”. If one were then to ask them: “How many ‘Onze’ (ounces) in a pound:” they would blush. They are very fond of hearing High German spoken and still more of hearing it sung. They also understand a High German better than one from Lower Saxony, at whose Low German tongue they usually laugh and call it a crooked language which they cannot understand.
I have given a detailed account of the country women within the second class of farmers, since they represent that group of their sex that stands between the higher and lower class, and one can judge the others in relation to them. The daughters of the landowners of the first class rank with the City ladies, while those of the third class may be reckoned with the working class, but those of the fourth class with the simplest and uncivilised kind, for these latter are brought up more among the slaves or rather among the Hottentot men and women and show the least degree of good breeding.
The third type of African farmers may rightly he called the industrious class. Among them there are no slovenly owners, drunkards, or such as find the weather too cold and wet during the ploughing and sowing season and too warm and windy during harvest time and who neglect and diminish their sources of income by leaving all the work to a few slaves. Industrious farmers let no hour pass unused. Even in the season between Sowing and harvesting, when the countryman could sometimes have an easy time, they keep themselves and their servants busy:
and when the weather is so inclement that nothing can be done Outside, the slaves under cover of a roof, in the barn or in their dwellings, will at least make ropes and cords out of old anchor cables, for tying oxen and knee-haltering horses; for when horses are driven to the fields and meadows, a rope is bound to their…..”