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Following the genes of slave Koddo

(continued from "Following the genes of Saint Olaf")

- OK, so much for King Saint Olaf, but what about Koddo, the slave?

- We're coming to her. This story is not complete without her, she gives the picture that all-important depth and those wonderful new stark colors. But before we go there, we need to round off the Olaf-saga...

I once was on Iona, the Scottish island on its rugged western shores, sharing songs and stories from the liberation of South Africa. I could not refrain from telling about my old relationship with the island through my ancestor Magnus Barefoot. He was the King of Iona for a short while in the beginning of the 12th century. The good side of the story was that he did not raid the island and its monastery unlike many of his colleagues among the Viking kings. I think it had to do with his respect for all the old kings that are buried there; he had ambitions to be one of them and did not want to offend them. The deal that was struck was that he would be King of the Isles, over as big an area as he could travel around with his boat, rudder down. So of course Magnus had his men carry the boat, Viking style, with him sitting in it holding the rudder. They walked around a good bit of the Scottish mainland like that, so he could rule there as well!

After telling this story I had this tall, noble looking Englishman come up to me and without saying anything he bowed deeply and courteously in front of me a couple of times. And then he left smiling. I am sure he was joking but it was not until the morning after when I woke up that I got the joke, but also this feeling that behind many a good jest there lies a truth. It made me a bit cautious; If my old stories of the ancestors make people bow down I don’t want to share them, I want people to rise up from them! Because this is not about them and us any longer! We are all related to the old kings and their claims of coming from the gods. As well as we are related to all the people, and they are the multitudes, who have been carrying the kings and their boats on their shoulders, and never had their names remembered or thanked!

My first step in the exploration of my ancestors was to go to my uncle who I thought had a little insight into the matter. He handed me a paper with the names of his forefathers and mothers 2-3 generations back, smiling a bit apologetically; “It is only peasants”.

That gave me a drive to search my roots. Not to prove that we were something other than peasants, more like  - we are the Kings, because we are the Peasants!
We are Godlike only as much as we profess that we are like everybody else! This could be a lesson from Sunday school, but it is still a lesson that the world has to go a long way to learn, all days of the week.

So, after that long introduction, I am deeply honoured and proud, humbled and grateful to introduce to you another member of our family; Koddo van Guinea;
Koddo van Guinea born ca 1640 in Guinea
Dtr Lijsbeth Jansz van de Caap, born 1662 in bondage, Cape Town
Dtr Regina Christina Andriesen de Jonker, 1692 - 1713, Stellenbosch
Dtr Maria Elisabet van Eden, 1711 -    Stellenbosch
Dtr Regina Catharina van Zuil, 1746 - 1823, Swellendam
Dtr Regina Catharina Rogge 1766 - 1852, Swellendam
Son Carel Theodorus Muller 1797 - 1843, Swellendam
Dtr Regina Catharina Wilcocks (Muller) 1834 - 1920, Middelburg
Dtr Martina Magdel Naudé (Wilcocks), 1866 - 1965, Graaf Reinet
Dtr Salome Fleishauer (Naudé), 1907 - 1995, Johannesburg  
Dtr Giesela Ferguson, 1933 - 2004, Johannesburg
Dtr Jennifer Ferguson, 1961 -   

Koddo arrived from Popo, in what is today Benin, to Cape Town on the 6th of May 1658 onboard the slaveship “Hasselt” together with 220 slaves described by the Commander of the Cape Jan van Riebeck as “goodlooking, strong and energetic.”

In some of the sources I have accessed it seemed like van Riebeck’s statement applied to Koddo personally, which made me suspect him to be the father of Lijsbeth… The fact that Afrikaaners who proudly draw their heritage from the early Cape settlement also with few if any exceptions have roots among the slaves is a story that soon faded from the official tale. Now is the time to remember.

From a memorial to slaves in Zanzibar

I am so happy that You have a name, dearest Koddo, that makes a big difference. These two small syllables pluck You out of the darkness of the slaveships' dungeons, set You apart from the millions of nameless sisters and brothers who shared Your gruesome fate. It gives You an identity, if nothing else You have got the dignity of a name, and with it a culture and a story to relate to. It gives me a chance to vaguely imagine Your features, and gives me a chance to thank You personally.  

In one of the strongest episodes of Alex Haley's epic book "Roots", the slave-owner wants to stop Kunta Kinte from using his real name and adopt his slave-name. He slashes the whip across Kuntas naked back and asks him what his name is: "Kunta Kinte", comes the answer. He lets the whip fly even more furiously over his blood-red back and asks again what his name is. Kunta Kinte still answers with his name. His rage then totally overpowers him, he beats Kunta long and hard, turning his back to slices of red, raw meat, whips him even longer and harder, to the point that he gets afraid of losing his asset and then asks again for his name. With almost his last breath Kunta answers, defeated, broken in; "Toby". No more a man, an object, a slave.

The other slaves on Your ship, Koddo - Your people and friends damned to the decks of death - have all come down to us by their slave-names. We know them, not as You do, but as Anna van Guinea, Evert van Guinea, Maria van Guinea, Oude Hans van Guinea and so on. But You kept Yours, You whispered your name even after that last whine of the whip was silent. I cannot thank You enough for your confidence and courage to hold on to your dignity. I cannot express my gratitude long enough for Your perseverance and pride. I cannot praise the virtues of Your name highly enough for your sacrifices in holding on to it.

Your name Koddo, is that last gasp of breath from the African spirit that never died. It is the wind of freedom that could not be stopped. Now You are whispering it in my ear, connecting me with Your grand forefathers and mothers. You are blowing it into my lungs animating me with the spirit of Your long lines of ancient dynasties of noble kings and queens. You are singing it in my heart making me dance of joy of being of Africa, of being united with origin and purpose.

When was Your name forgotten in our family? For Lijsbeth it was synonymous with "Mama", her first and last word. Your grandchild Regina surely remembered, and how about Maria van Eden, is that the time when the name Koddo started to be repressed, expelled from the garden, not totally forgotten but not mentioned, only to haunt the family as a subconscious ghost that would hover over every conversation and thought? A succession of Reginas followed, by the time of Regina IV forgetfulness had turned to a sad repression while upholding the whitewashed facades of racial righteousness. Salomes brother, Oum Tom Naudé, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchild became the acting state president of an apartheid state that had forgotten everything about its roots as African slaves and European champions of tolerance and freedom of speech. 

Now our family welcomes You - belatedly - with open arms and hearts.
We ask You for forgiveness for having forgotten You for so long, we celebrate the revival of your memory and we hail Your return as the rightful Queen of our line. 

We are so honored by Your presence in our circle.  

May You always be remembered.
May You always be revered. 


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