Media Resources - Book launch "Children of the Mist" - October 2007

Synopsis of the book
Author Biography
Slide show of historical images

Readers can get a list of book shops, museums etc carrying the book at: http://www.griquas.com

Media enquiries

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Caption - description (in red) with related links and information

Front cover of "Children of the Mist"

Book details:

  • Paperback
  • 352 pages
  • Size: 208mm by 145mm

PDF of back cover at this link (shows feedback from key organisations like the Griqua National Council)

Schedule of book launches at this link

The monument marking the site of the old laager on the slopes of Mount Currie above Kokstad

Scott Balson will present the Griqua Church on behalf of the Griqua community with 50 copies of "Children of the Mist" on this spot on the 17th October 2007 during the celebration of Adam Kok IIIs birthday

More on Scott's visit to Kokstad in September 2006 at this link

Quote from Children of the Mist:

For the Griquas these were oppressive and disheartening times, and the slopes of Mount Currie were soon covered in small, basic mud huts that had no plan or design. The huts were little better than the traditional matted Hottentot huts that had once dotted the landscape at Griquatown, and a major step backwards from the few dilapidated sod and thatch houses they had left behind at Philippolis. Little clusters of these appalling huts appeared along family lines with solitary huts like that of Lucas's grandfather signalling their lack of direct family connections. Winter was now upon them and when the nights came and the freezing cold winds blew down the snow laden slopes of Mount Currie it became excruciatingly cold as the slopes above were blanketed with snow. In their exposed position it was much colder than Philippolis had ever been. To make matters worse the green grass turned brown and the rivers icy throughout the winter and well into spring.

Now the Griquas spoke of their promised land with contempt saying, "The grass is too long, the winters too cold, the rains are too heavy, the markets too far, the money too scarce, the merchandise too dear and the Kaffirs too cheeky."

The twist at the end of the book is centered around a historic and rare Strachan and Company two shilling token coin dating back to the 1870s (as worn by the Griqua on the front cover of the book - see above)

These coins were South Africa's first indigenous coinage.

More on the S&Co trade tokens at this link

Quote from Children of the Mist:

The most impacting development for trade in 1874 was the introduction of currency token coins by the firm of Strachan and Co. while Brisley was still Secretary to the Griqua Raad. These tokens of money, although issued by Strachan and Brisley and not the Griqua Government, were recognized by the Raad as East Griqualand's official circulating coinage, and were accepted everywhere in this region for nearly sixty years! As you would appreciate, the Griquas were delighted to be able to put the trials associated with barter behind them. Now they could fix a price on anything from brandy to tea, powder to matches, using these new brass coins bearing the initials 'S & Co'.

"Do you know, Janet, that it is a fact that these simple trade tokens are South Africa's first indigenous coinage! If you look in my purse you will find a couple of these Strachan coins. I got the coins from a store in Matatiele in 1930. They were still using them as money then," Marie said.

Janet reached into her bag sitting on the couch and pulled out her purse. There, inside, lay two brass coins with the letters S & Co. and the values of 1/- and 6d. She took them out and looked at them carefully.

"Granny, they're holed!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, I know, Janet. Strachan and Co. did that deliberately because many of the Griquas and natives did not have pockets in those days. They used to hang the coins around their necks with their beads. Here, string them on this chain like they did. Lucas had a 2/- piece as well. He always wore it around his neck. When I was with him in the cave he showed it to me with pride several times. He had roughly engraved the initials of his girlfriend, Martha Dirks, on the back. It was probably the only thing of value he possessed.

The astonishing Griqua seal found on official documents of that time including the few remaining Griqua land titles issued in Nieuw Griqualand in the 1860s and 70s by Adam Kok III

The Griqua seal is one of the most striking contemporary symbols of the dissolving nation's independence.

Quote from Children of the Mist:

Now, Janet, while the Griquas in Nieuw Griqualand had settled back into a life not unlike that of their Hottentot forefathers, there were some remarkable events taking place in the lands they used to roam as Bergenaars. A farm on the very remote western borders of the Orange Free State, now occupied by a Boer widow known as Tant van Niekerk who had arrived with the Trekboers in the 1820s, was to be at the centre of a massive migration of prospectors and result in disputed land claims. Her farm, Duvenaarsfontein, lay midway between Griquatown and Philippolis in the Karoo.

The story goes that van Niekerk had a small silver anchor around her neck. One day her servants asked her what it meant and she explained that it was a symbol of hope. The servants then made a large anchor out of wood and tin. Tant van Niekerk was so impressed that she had it mounted above the entrance to her farm.

When Tant van Niekerk died her house was demolished. The anchor was carefully removed and attached to the house of a woman who lived in the small nearby settlement that served a wider farming district consisting largely of Boers. It was after this anchor that a small evolving village was named "Hopetown".

The Early Annals of Kokstad by Rev William Dower in 1902 caused tremendous controversy and was burnt by the Griquas on the steps of their church (see image below).

Tragically the extremely rare one pound Griqua bank note was bound in the burnt books.

More on the controversy at this link

More at this link on the author's extensive and unique collection of about 200 Griqua related books and documents collected over 30 years and dating back to the 1600s.

Quote from Children of the Mist:

"There is actually a rather sad twist in that story," Marie replied. "You see the notes were stored in Donald Strachan's safe for quite a time. In fact when the Griqua's minister, the Rev William Dower, was writing a book about life at Kokstad he approached Strachan about putting a single note in each one of his books. Strachan agreed and several hundred copies of the book 'The early annals of Kokstad and East Griqualand' published in 1902 carried copies of the original unissued bank note.

"Well the Griquas at Kokstad were most unhappy with some of the controversial comments Dower made about them in the book. This resulted in several letters to the editor appearing in the local newspaper challenging some of his observations. Things got quite heated for a while but then not long after its release the Griquas discovered that Dower had stored his unsold books in a cupboard at the Griqua Church so in an act of defiance they broke open the lock and burnt all the books on the steps of the front entrance to the Church."

Gert Samson the proud Griqua World War II veteran who now looks after the Griqua's most treasured symbol in Kokstad - the beautiful Griqua Church.

The carpentry in the Griqua Church was done by the Rev William Dower and the Griqua Kaptyn Nicholas Waterboer who fled Griquatown after the territory was annexed by the British following the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley.

Quote from Children of the Mist:

Cornelius De Bruin's aging grandson, John, holds a respected position in the Griqua Church in Kokstad today. Like Waterboer, he remains an accomplished carpenter despite his 75 years! In 2006 he was still working on an African school at Shayamoya near Kokstad which had been funded by Oprah Winfrey! John stays out of politics but plays a quiet leadership role among the Griquas. The political future of this town is in the hands of the African National Congress who dominate the local government. The tragedy is there for all to see. During the Apartheid era the Griquas were forcibly moved to two streets on the outskirts of Kokstad. These two streets are the only untarred roads in the town. Once tarred they were allowed to deteriorate under white rule while more recently a well-meaning black government stripped the tar off the roads in preparation for retarring the badly potholed streets but then ran out of money. Today these roads are little more than dangerous tracks and many of the original Griqua houses lining them are but a shadow of their past glory, one could say a sad repetition of times past.

Author Scott Balson with the de Bruin brothers at Kokstad (John left and Cyril right). John de Bruin is the  widely recognised leader of the Griqua people at Kokstad and is a direct descendant of a prominent Griqua family dating back to the early 1800s.

The Griqua National Council at Kranshoek (Plettenburg Bay) headed by Alan le Fleur (tallest in centre). Alan is a direct descendant of  Andrew le Fleur who established the famous Roepers - singing Griqua choirs.

The Roepers still sing at Ratelgat - a small resort north of Cape Town - link below.

More on Scott's visit to Kranshoek in September 2006 at this link

The Ratelgat Resort Farm

Quote from Children of the Mist:

"Without Le Fleur or de Bruin the Griqua nation, like the Hottentots would most certainly have been completely lost to us. Thankfully they haven't although what remains today is a tiny fragment of what once existed."

"Granny was that the end of the Kok's influence after such a history?" Janet asked.

"Most definitely not," Marie replied. "The daughter of Margaret Kok, Rachel Susanah Kok, married Le Fleur. That marriage into royalty is a significant symbol and affirmation of the Le Fleur's claim to lead the Griqua people today at Kranshoek.

"Oh and Adam and Margaret's burial spot is marked by a rather ugly stone and concrete memorial fronting a car park and guarded by two of Kok's famous cannons. When you next go to Kokstad go and visit the police station - their memorial and cannons are right next door."

The Griquas Paramount Chief Alan le Fleur at the grave of his grandmother, Rachel Susanah le Fleur.

This branch of the Griqua fled Kokstad after the 1898 Griqua rebellion.

History of the Griquas at this link

Author Scott Balson with Crown Prince Andries Waterboer of Griquatown under the historic galgboom where so many people were hung in the early 1800s.

The galgboom or hanging tree is an amazing living relic of South Africa's past in the oldest settlement north of the Orange River. Andries is a direct descendant of the remarkable Griqua Kaptyn Nicholas Waterboer who had Bushman roots.

More at this link

Quote from Children of the Mist:

The rich Griquas were able to buy themselves pardon while the poor, often Korana, were unfairly convicted of crimes and whipped mercilessly with sticks. For more serious crimes the hanging tree at Griquatown, like Barend's fabled snake pit, was the last judge of a man or woman's innocence. The galgboom, or execution tree, is a syringa tree that was planted in Griquatown in 1803; it can still be seen today in the back garden of Crown Prince Andries Waterboer's house, or Palace, as it is known by the Griqua. The old galgboom has several long thick branches including one which was ideal for hanging the hangman's noose from, as it extended horizontally about eight feet above the ground. Much of the large tree is still covered in vibrant green foliage except for the branch where men and women were hanged; this part remains hauntingly bare, exposing its dark past. Even today the scars of the hangman's rope can be seen in the tree's branch and a rope still hangs there reminding visitors of the many people who died there over a century ago.

Lucas told me that in those days when a man or woman was convicted to face the hangman's noose, a rope was thrown over the branch of the galgboom and the convicted person positioned on a wooden box while Anderson prayed for their soul. There was no formality, just a group of morbid witnesses to the hanging. Once the missionary had stopped praying the rope was strung around the person's neck and then the box kicked away. If they survived they were innocent and let go - no one ever survived, so they were always guilty. Dam Kok always joined the watchers, enjoying the morbid entertainment of the hangings, the cries of the condemned man moments before he died, and the hopeless gasps as he breathed his last while hanging from the rope. Once the body of the dead person was released from the rope, Dam would take delight in kicking them to see if there was any life left. As he kicked he always used to mutter to those watching, "You see, kerels (people), he was guilty. Look, he is quite dead now."

It wasn't just the predictable result of hanging from the galgboom that resulted in death. Theft often resulted in a very severe public beating of up to 150 lashes and the criminals often died as a direct result of the beating.

Such was Griqua justice in the early 1800s.

The extraordinary snake pit at Danielskuil where Barend Barends threw his victims in the early 1800s - few survived falling victim to the dreaded snakes.

Quote from Children of the Mist:

Daniels pit, or kuil, is a fearsome quirk of nature and many people faced its unique form of justice. Ironically Daniel means 'God is my judge'. The pit is oblong shaped and about ten metres in diameter with a spring that bubbles up, keeping much of its floor muddy and even marshy in parts. The moist limestone floor of the pit has sunk over many hundreds of years to a depth of about five metres below the ground and is even today covered in long grassy reeds. At the bottom of one end of the pit is a small natural cave marking the spot where the victims would cower, awaiting their uncertain fate. The soft muddy walls were once covered in deep gashes marking the desperate and futile attempt by victims to escape its horrific justice. You see the Griquas were petrified of snakes, and the pit was home to many deadly poisonous snakes. It was the most unpleasant place on earth to spend even more than a few minutes because of the cold dampness and the snakes. They could be seen crawling around, dozens of them, unable to escape because of the natural barriers, but somehow able to survive on animals and insects that fell into the pit. But worse still, the bodies of men and women lay in various stages of decay in the mud. These were the victims who had fallen prey to the venom of the snakes. A bite from one of the snakes meant that the accused was guilty and their fate was sealed. As soon as word came back from those watching above that the captive had been bitten eager onlookers came to witness the slow death and listen quietly to the pitiful cries of the 'guilty'. Few were ever pulled to safety when the sun rose the next day. The snake pit had become a unique arbitrator of Campbell's laws.

If you go to the small town of Danielskuil today you will not find the pit without help - it is hidden in the dusty backstreets. It is almost exactly the same as it was in Barends time but there is little sign of its horrific past. Today there is a small fence around the pit's borders to stop any unwary passer-by from falling into it and two large granite boulders, contorted as if in pain, rise metres above the ground alongside it - it is from this elevated platform that the Griquas used to sit and watch.

More on "Children of the Mist"