Sunday, 26 April 2020

Place-names in South Africa

CAPE TIMES – 1924, May 30
C. Graham Botha mentioned that the study of South African place-names should commend itself to all. It serves a twofold purpose: it is an aid to the study of the geography of the country and stimulates an interest in its early history. Before the arrival of the Europeans in 1652 many of the bays and capes along the coast had received names. There were mostly of Portuguese origin. Others had been named later by some of the early Dutch navigators.
Inland the case was different. No white man had penetrated more than a few miles in order to barter cattle with the natives. Such names as appear on maps before this relate only to large areas occupied by the natives.
If we take places within a radius of say a hundred miles of Cape Town, we will find many that will disclose early history in their origin. Those names that have a Portuguese origin are found in several of the names of bays and capes. SALDANHA BAY was the first name given in 1503 to TABLE BAY, and commemorated a Portuguese navigator, Antonio da Saldanha. In 1601 the Dutch, however, gave its present name, which is derived from TABLE MOUNTAIN. The name SALDANHA was transferred to an inlet higher up the western coast. In 1497 Vasco da Gama anchored in ST. HELENA BAY, which he names because it was first seen on that Saint’s Day. CAPE AGULHAS (Needles) does not refer to the pointed rocks in its locality, but to the fact that the needle pointed due north. It was at first called Ponto de S. Brandao, that being the Saint in whose honour it was named. It is probable Dias dedicated the southern-most cape of all Africa to this Saint, an apocryphal Irishman, whose day is the 16th May. On an early map of 1489 the present FALSE BAY is marked as Golfo dentro das serras (gulf within the mountain ranges). This would seem to be an appropriate name. The present name, given by the Portuguese at an early date, would appear to have derived its origin from the Cape which bore that name or vice verso.
When we come to the native period, and look at some of the inland names that have survived, we find these refer mostly to the physical feature of the country. SOUQUA’S DRIFT in the Malmesbury district comes from the native tribe, the Souquas, meaning murderers and robbers. The termination qua means the people of --- sons or men of. There were several qua tribes in the early days, but many of their names have not been perpetuated – e.g., the Inqua and the Chanouqua. Each native tribe usually took its distinctive tribal name from that of the chief under whom it had become independent. For instance, the Cochoqua were ruled by the Chief Cocho, and the Gonaqua by Gona. In the VAN RHYNSDORP district we find KONAQUAS BERG, probably referring to the latter. There are several Hottentot names with the termination DOUW, and sometimes TOUW. This refers to the Hottentot “daob” (feminine, “daos”) a poort, a mountain pass or path. The name with which it is compounded will invariably be found to refer to a path over or between a range of mountains. In the north-west we find such names as WIDOUW, BIDOUW, KRAKADOUW, NARDOUW, CARDOUW. Then, in the south-east, there is TRADOUW PASS, which comes from “taras” (a woman) and “daob” (a path). It may be of interest to note that SIR LOWRY’S PASS was called GANTOUW by the Hottentots, which comes from “kani” (an Eland) and “daos” – i.e., the Eland’s Paths. This would be very appropriate, for it showed that the natives followed the tracks of the eland to get over the other side of the mountain.

The nomenclature of South Africa includes a number of names commemorating governors and government officials. The first Commander of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck, is remembered in RIEBEECK KASTEEL, named in 1661. STELLENBOSCH was named in 1679 by Governor Simon van der Stel, to perpetuate his own name and commemorate the “bosch” or forest which he admired in the vicinity of the present town. SIMON’S BAY and SIMON’S TOWN were named after him also. SWELLENDAM, the third oldest town in the Province, was named in 1747 after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife, whose maiden name was Ten Damme. The name of a Governor-General of Batavia, who was passing through on his way to the East, is recalled by a well-known farm in the Peninsula, INHOFF’S GIFT, recalling Baron van Imhoff’s visit in 1743. One Governor has made certain that members of his family should be lost to posterity. This was Lord Charles Somerset. There are about half-a-dozen names which he gave.  Of these there are SOMERSET WEST, PORT BEAUFORT, and WORCESTER, in addition to several towns which have streets called after him. The names of fathers-in-law of some of the Governors have also been given to places, such as CLANWILLIAM, called after the first Earl of Clanwilliam, whose daughter married Sir John Cradock. MALMESBURY was named after the first Earl of Malmesbury, the father-in-law of Sir Lowry Cole. The latter also gave his name to SIR LOWRY’S PASS, which was opened in 1830. MAITLAND, NAPIER, DURBANVILLE and DARLING all commemorate former Governors.
The names of many Government officials and statemen are included in our list of place-names. If we take our road-engineers, or those responsible for the administration there-of, we have MICHELL’S PASS, BAIN’S KLOOF, ROBINSON’S PASS, GARCIA and SOUTHEY PASSES. MONTAGU bridge, near SALT RIVER, recalls the name of John Montagu, the Secretary to Government. RIVERSDALE, named in 1838, records the name of Harry Rivers, a former Magistrate of Swellendam; PORTERVILLE, a former Attorney-General (Wm. Porter); and RAWSONVILLE, a secretary to Government. BREDASDORP, named about 1838, is one of the first towns to perpetuate the name of a South African. It was called after the Hon. Michiel van Breda, a member of the Legislative Council.
In many districts of the Western Province will be found mountain peaks or eminences with the name of KANONKOP or KANONBERG (Cannon Hill). These are reminders of the days when the burgher militia were called to arms by means of signal guns placed on some prominent position along the mountain ranges. The first signal was given from The Castle, and the signalmen at the various stations inland took up the report and fired their cannon. On several of these points will still be found the old guns used in the 18th century. When the alarm was sounded every farmer had to saddle up and come fully armed and with a few days’ rations. In connection with the burgher militia of those days we still have the name of PAPEGAAISBERG (Parrot Hill) at Stellenbosch. This owes its name to the fact that the militia practiced target shooting here at their annual training. The target took the form of a parrot, and points were awarded according to which part of the bird the marksman hit.
These few examples of place-names will give the motorist some food for thought. He will often find it a fascinating pastime, as he travels through various districts, to inquire the origin and history of some of the place-names.

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