Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, October 2009, 35(2), 89-102
Calvinism and South African women: Christina Landman
a short historical overview Research Institute for Theology and Religion
University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Calvinism and South African women: a short historical overview – page3
This article argues that “lay” Calvinism – as it was received and eventually practised locally – rested on three apparently conflicting pillars.One is the notion that sin is something that the believer must take personal responsibility for. Two is that the soul is the site of personal connection with God. And three – in apparent contradiction – is that salvation is predestined.
While the laity left the issue of predestination undisputed, they adhere specifically to the practical demands of keeping the soul unblemished which,as we all know, incorporated strict rules for women as far as status, behaviour and dress code were concerned.
Krotoa was 10 years old when the Van Riebeecks came to the Cape. Within two years she became an interpreter and cultural broker to Jan van Riebeeck, and wore Dutch clothes. Furthermore, she was prepared for baptism, which only happened a week before the Van Riebeecks left the Cape in 1662.
How did Krotoa receive the lay form of sin-soul-salvation Calvinism?
As she herself had not written down anything, we are left to speculation based on our deductions from Jan Van Riebeeck’s Journal that she led a double life which, eventually, led to her mental deterioration.
Krotoa probably would have had no problem in identifying with a fatherly, creator God, a Satan and a resurrected One, since these were present in the Khoekhoe pantheon in the forms of the great Tsui//Goab, the evil//Gaunab and Heitsi Eibib who was resurrected daily (Shapera 1930; 1960). However, for Krotoa sin was not personal guilt and responsibility, but a betrayal of the clan’s cultural wholeness. Soul was a concept foreign to the local Khoekhoe, who made no distinction between body and soul.
To be a body, for Krotoa, meant engaging in communal dancing and celebration. And salvation was not the soul predestined for eternal life, but the body as a site of initiation. When she was 14, Krotoa requested leave of absence to visit her sister’s kraal, where she underwent initiation (Landman 1998:8–14). She returned to her Dutch dress code, however, and was baptised six years later.
Jan van Riebeeck’s successor, Zacharias Wagenaer, despised Krotoa. Krotoa had now lost the confidence of the Khoekhoe because of her Christian baptism and was therefore no longer functional to the Dutch. She married a white man, the Danish surgeon Pieter van Meerhoff, in 1665. This did not please Wagenaer, who was embarrassed that a marriage between people of different classes and races took on a Christian form. He sent Van Meerhoff off to supervise Robben Island which was then already a prison. The couple stayed on Robben Island for three years with their three children, Pieternella,
Salomon and Jacobus. Physically removed from her Khoekhoe family and without Dutch employment, Krotoa started drinking heavily. When her husband died on a trip to Mauritius, she lost control of herself and was brought to the mainland where she was given a cottage. Here she started partying recklessly with some dubious characters and neglected her children.
This behaviour was an embarrassment to both her Khoekhoe heritage and her Christian faith. Her children were taken away from her and she was sent back to Robben Island as a prisoner where she died on 29 July 1674 at the age of 32. In his diary Wagenaer expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that she was given a Christian burial.
With such an ambivalent introduction of Calvinism into female piety, one should be surprised that there was even a second generation of women converts locally. For this, however, the first missionaries should receive the credit.George Schmidt, Vehettge Tikkuie and the sin-soul-salvation model The men who came to South Africa as missionaries suffered for their faith in their home countries. George Schmidt (1709–1785) was no exception.
He was incarcerated for his faith in Moravia, found a spiritual home with the Moravian Brothers at Herrnhut in Germany, and came to South Africa as a missionary in 1737. His first convert was the Khoekhoe woman Vehettge Tikkuie.
The Moravians were not Calvinists and showed greater affinity to Lutheranism. From a missionary perspective, their teachings were similar to the sin-soul-salvation model to which the first generation converts were exposed. For George Schmidt – as can be deduced from his Tagebuch (Bredekamp & Hattingh 1981) – sin is described in terms of a strong detachment from the values expressed in the Bible. Soul is defined according to a strong fear of hell and damnation. Schmidt himself recorded his words to Vehettge Tikkuie: “I have come to save your soul from your body and from hell.” Salvation is presented in terms of a strong dependency on Christ’s salvation through prayer and a body-restrictive lifestyle. Again Schmidt recorded these words to Vehettge: “I have come to show you the way to heaven.”
How did Vehettge Tikkuie receive this sin-soul-salvation version of Christianity?
Again, deductions need to be made from Khoekhoe life at the time. Vehettge suffered in understanding dancing and drinking to be sin, since the women were responsible for brewing beer in the kraals. Also, the soul was a foreign concept to somebody who could hardly understand how covering your body in full was a prerequisite for salvation. And as far as salvation was concerned, heaven and hell were places unknown to Vehettge in whose culture men died and became ancestor spirits: pleasing them was salvation.
Like Krotoa, Vehettge experienced tension because of the clashing of cultures and religions. She often brought back her Bible to Schmidt and was accused of deserting her Christian calling every weekend for drinking and dancing in the kraal.