The estate you that spreads out from here is old. Its first recorded resident was a Mr Arnoud Jansz, who arrived here almost 350 years ago, four years after Stellenbosch was established.
The land would have been wild then, with wallowing hippos and prowling Cape lions to keep the new occupants on their toes. It was worked over centuries into what you see today, as much by Mr Jansz and his descendants as by the people they brought with them by force – slaves from Holland’s trading empire, bought and sold in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Madagascar – as well as the local people, called the Khoe Khoe, who joined them unwillingly in that stripped away identity, until it was hard to work out who came from where.
This is the story of one of these slaves, researched and written by one of South Africa’s foremost playwrights, Brett Bailey. Your narrator, Sannie de Goede, is a fictional character – a slave woman on the Spier Farm in 1836, on the eve of her freedom. Like the rest of the slaves at the Cape, she would have been emancipated in 1834, but forced to serve a so-called apprenticeship for four years before walking free on the 1st of December 1838.
Sannie’s story unfolds while you explore the estate. But before we start, you’ll need to know a bit about how VoiceMap works. It’s software uses your location to play tracks automatically, and you shouldn’t need to play or skip them manually. Sannie’s voice will guide you most of the time, but there’ll be silence in places to, and you’ll need to look at the map on your screen occasionally.
We hope this walk connects you to Sannie, and thousands of others like her, who sweated and wept and bled to build the magnificent estates we enjoy today. It’s a sore past; one that it hurts to look at. But it’s time to remember, reflect, and heal.
Long, long before any Europeans came to this land, when time was still new, you know; long before even the [Kotsha Khoe?] came (my fathers people, whom the Dutch call the Hottentots) before the [Kotshokwa?] came with their cattle, and their songs, before these hills were here, when the riverbed was above our heads, and the mountains were still soft, people lived here.
I can feel them sometimes, true as god, on quiet nights, when the farm is asleep and the stars call me outside. I see their shadows near the trees. I'm telling you. A flicker of fire, children singing. The glitter of an eye, and the gleam of recognition. Those people were free.
Animals come to the river to drink. So many of them. Animals I have never seen. With long necks, and straight black horns on their heads. Small creatures, and huge ones with long noses and tusks coming out from their faces. Big spotted cats. They lived here and died here from the very beginning you know. Until the farmers came. This place is thick with their memory. Layers and layers of them. And they too were free.
But that was before.
Come man, walk with me through this farm yard. This estate of big houses and stables and cellars. Of slave quarters and trees and gardens. This place of food and wine and laughter. Of slaves and animals and masters and ghosts. Of those who write history, and of those who have none. This farm tells the story of me and my family, for 70 years. Our pain and our suffering. Our loves and our deaths and our dreams. All forgotten now.
Me and this farm, ooh, our bloods are mixed. Let me show you our story. Come. Down there to the big rocks.
You heard Sannie. Can you see the gap between the rocks up ahead, next to the pond? Go through it and keep on going, with the pond on your left, until you reach a big rock next to the Eerste River.
At The Rocks
The children like to play here on these rocks when the animals come swirling into the kraal in the evenings. But it's quiet now, neh? Old April and the boys have taken the cattle across the drift. You see there? And there the sheep are grazing in the shade. Right here, where we are standing, my grandfather made the bricks that built this farm. He dug the mud and mixed the straw, and the bricks lay baking dry in the midsummer heat, while the wheat turned gold on the hills.
He mixed the plaster to make the first gables, and the lime to wash the buildings - the way he'd learnt in Batavia, you know. Before the Dutch brought him here in chains on a ship, and took away his name and sold him in the market.
But now, we all count the months. The law is written in English. We will be free in 16 months. December the 1st, 1838. Then I will leave this place forever. I will not call anybody Baas or Nooi. Never again. I will not be owned, true as God. I will slave for my own children, in my own kitchen, I tell you. My man will bring fresh fish from the sea. I will plant my own gardens to feed my own family. Beans and lettuce. And in the evening, I will listen to the ocean, and watch the stars. Then, I will be free. This I know.
He came here to Spier in 1766, my grandfather you know. And here by the river he made the bricks that built this farm. He brought with him the skills of centuries, and the strength of Islam. But his heart he left over the ocean. And in the walls of the buildings washed with white lime, his spirit still breathes.
Come, let me show you what he made at the stables.
Turn around now, and get onto the gravel path that veers to the left of the tasting room.
To the Cow House
Can you see a white building to your left behind the trees?
Go over to the right hand side of it now, where you'll find the entrance.
We do what's called barrel thieving here. It's basically a tasting of wines from the bottle and the barrel. You need to book, with a group of at least 8 people.
The Cow House
Look here. This gable is my grandfather's work. He was an artist of love. Is it not beautiful, hey? The pride of Spier. It was here at the stables, so the story goes, while he was putting the finishing touch on the gable, that he first saw my grandmother. That was 1773, and these were still the slave quarters. And she came from the castle, where she'd worked in the kitchen since she was a girl.
I imagine it is January. The grapes are small as beads on the vines, and she is young and frightened after the long hot trip. A full day's journey from Cape Town across the white dunes of the flats. It is evening. The cattle crowd into the Kraal. The women returning from the vegetable garden glance at the new girl, mutter and laugh. And the men, heading dirty to the cellar for their tot of wine, whistle at her. So many sounds. So many tongues. She steps barefoot off the wagon, covered in dust, and she looks quickly up, straight into his eyes. And he smiles. Ag, these are only the things I imagine.
Today the wagons are out, heaped with the grain for the market in town. Saluman is beating hoops for the barrels across the werf, and inside the stable, Sarel is fixing the harnesses. He is contented. You can tell by the smell of the dagga he smokes. Ya, just another peaceful day at Spier.
Turn Left to The Slave Bell
Look to your left and you'll see a slave bell, hung between tall white pillars. Go over to it now.
The Slave Bell
This is the bell that rings our sorrow. It stands here like a tombstone. Before sunrise, at midday, at sundown: the big bell rings our sorrow and we run. Run. From all over the farm we run. We stand in our lines to be counted, commanded, day after day, year after year.
He hung this slave bell here 11 years ago you know. The Grootbaas. When he dreamed that the good times would never end. That was the last of the boom years, when England couldn't get enough of our wine. And the road to Cape Town ached with the wagons rolling to the ships, loaded with barrels I tell you. So much building and planting and harvesting, and wine, wine, wine! Slaves and servants like ants on the hills, streaming from the vineyards when the big bell cried. To sleep dreamless sleeps under the whispering trees.
But those years ended suddenly, neh Grootbaas? The ships came no more. The English didn't want your wine any longer. The road was silent, and you and your fellows smoked your long pipes with fear in your eyes. I remember, meneer, how the Eerste River ran red with the wine you threw away. You tore vines from the earth with your hands, and the whip cracked louder, and the brandy flowed like blood. And you sold people who had worked here forever. Jacobus, and Oktober. Toontjie and Skipjan. Tireless men. Loyal men. Gone like smoke. Ring your bell meneer. Ring it loud. For soon, it will be quiet. There'll be nobody left to come running.
Come, please, let's go from this place.
Follow the path along the right bank of the river from here. Stop at the lookout with the chickenwire fencewhile you listen to the next part of Sannie's story.
He called me his pretty one, the Kleinbaas, you know. True as God. Pretty as a lily. He would wait for me here in the dusk, as I returned to the kitchen with buckets from the river. He would smile, and I'd tremble.
"More pretty than Mademoiselle Le Roux, from the farm Bourgogne in Franschhoek," he said. "With her big dresses and her tiny shoes. Pretty as a lily. One so sweet, so clever, so lovely, cannot possibly be the slave-girl," lisped the Kleinbass. "It's a sin," he said, waving his eyeglasses around his head, "I will speak with my father, and it will all be arranged, my pretty one."
That's what he said, and he led me behind the trees there, and he held my hand, and pressed his body against me. And I looked into freedom with his breath in my ear, while a string of white birds crossed the sky.
It was 1825, and his father the Grootbaas erected the bell here. Decorated like a tombstone by the pleisterman, Kasper. And later that year, just weeks after my Willem was born, the Kleinbaas married Mademoiselle Le Roux, from the farm Bourgogne in Franschhoek. I made up their wedding bed in the Jonkershuis. Laid out their nightgowns. And in a vase by the window, I placed lilies. And I sat here by the bell, and I rocked my baby. My pretty one. The coffee-coloured son of the white Kleinbaas.
Soon – I knew – soon he too would run when the bell's metal voice called.
Let's go to the big house.
We're going to turn around now, but this time walk past the other side of the slave bell and keep going.
To Manor House Side Gable
Turn left here and look up. You'll see one gable, and further on, another, with 1822 on it. Stop when you're underneath the second gable.
Manor House Side Gable
Tante Klasie says that in her life of horrors and suffering on the farms of Stellenbosch, the week that started here, on the coach parked outside this door, was the worst. The Barley fields were burning, ignited by the Mozambican slave Gideon de la Gouwa, and the meneer was standing against that lime-washed wall there, smoking his pipe, exhaling black clouds from both corners of his mouth. And the screams of the slave Gideon de la Gouwa, bound with rope to the coach wall, drove the peacocks that flourished here away, never to return, as the knieg tore the skin from his back with the sjambok. And the black fields hissed in the rain.
And in the silence of the week that followed, Tante Klasie says, the naked body of the slave Gideon de la Gouwa swung from a branch of the old stinkwood tree by the side of the road, in a swarm of black crows. So that all slaves that pass by might now – all slaves whose children too were taken from their arms, and sold for 150 ricks dollars apiece, and sent away with a strange baas on a spring morning, when the Nasturtiums glowed like coals – so that all such slaves who felt enough anger as to strike their master, or set his fields ablaze in revenge, might know the righteousness of the land.
Get back onto the main path now. When you get there, turn left.
Manor House Front Gable
Like the moon, human beings have many faces. And the colour of someone’s skin, or the price of their coat, tells nothing of the shade of their heart. My Ounooi slept here in this room for 42 years, from when the house was first built in 1778. Built by my Grandfather in the year that my mother was born.
It was a smaller house then. The windows with the little Dutch casements that jammed in the rain. And the holbol gable that used to be here was his masterpiece I tell you. A dazzling dangle of plasterwork arabesques that chartered the passion of his love for Grandma. It made a woman sigh just to look at it. My Ounooi was the 7th of 13 daughters of the Dutch Ambassador, in the court of the Malagasy King, Andrea Maharitzia Lenolotony. And her skin forever radiated the gentle fragrance of the vanilla baths of her childhood.
How do I know the things I tell, you ask? How can I, a barefoot house slave, a woman with a loose tongue and an eye for spoke, recite dates and talk of far-off countries that I will never see? I learned on the knee of my Ounooi. Bless her soul. She was as gentle as the breeze in the rushes by the river. As lonely as the owl that moans in the oaks. And she ate for the daughters she’d lost.
She taught me to read here on this stoep, amongst her Hyacinths and Tulips and Irises. She bred Chameleons from the jungles of Malagasy: over 70 species. Some tiny, others larger than cats. And as I learned about astronomy and history – and sorrow, mind you – in the shade of the oaks, the reptiles clicked their beaks and swivelled their eyes, and slunk across the pergola, in a thousand shifting shades.
But all that changed after my Ounooi died. In the year of the big drought – 1822 – when the farm was still abundant with wealth and wine, the fat new nooi of the house bustled about. “Those old windows must go! Take that Dutch front door away! We’ll put the new English ones in!”
And on a grey windy morning I watched by the lemon tree, as Grandfather’s gable came down with a rush. The chameleons fattened the geese for a season; the rooms and the big kitchen were added behind. My Ounooi’s portrait was tucked away on a peg in the attic. But from that dark painting, her blue eyes still wink at me, beneath the white bonnet I starched each night.
Come, I’ll show you the Jonkershuis.
There are two buildings up ahead. Go over to the second one, where you'll hear the next part of our story.
I call these two houses "the houses of love" for it is important to have such monuments around when times are dark, to remind us. Once, not long ago, the gables were identical, you know. Shaped in 1778 by the loving hands of my grandfather. When he built the houses for the twin sons of the Baas of that time, moulded – says my mother – in memory of the hills of his village in Java, from where he was brought here for some small offence.
But these houses tell other stories of love, you know. Apart from those of brothers and fathers and faraway homes. Why are the gables now different, you ask? Why is that one in the style of this century? Auntie Corneila van Bengouw worked in its loft, you see, doing needlework of such delicacy that mothers from Kuils Rivier to Paarl stood in line for the infants’ gowns she stitched from white thread with slender brown fingers. But Auntie Cornelia sat in sorrow as she sewed in that attic. And although the garments she made were soft and exquisite, they always caused the little ones that wore them to weep. For even though she was lovely, and 36 years old, Auntie Cornelia had not borne a child. Then, in 1816, during the pruning of the vines, the daughter of the farm died in labour.
And when Auntie Cornelia van Bengouw was given the task of minding the orphaned baby, the flame of love that kindled between them two of them brought light to the dark of that hour.
How did the fire start, Auntie Cornelia? Was it a candle that fell? An evening without wind and a thick white fog as you sat stitching a little sleeve for the infant asleep at your feet? Shame. They found her next morning, under a tomb of fallen gable, curled like a cat around the baby. And many have seen her since that crackling night, floating through the Jonkershuis in a halo of flame, with a child at her bosom and the sweetest of smiles on her lips.
Come with me around the back of the big house.
Retrace your steps now and take the first path to your right.
Manor House Missing Wing
Visitors to the farm, who have come to expect the capital-H-shape that is the fashion of farm houses these days, you know, always exclaim when they stop where you're standing: "Hmm! What an unusual design! Why ever is there no backroom here?"
"Ag," says the fat nooi with a quiver of her chins, "A big tree fell in the storm of '29, and ... ahem ... crushed the agterkamer completely..." And she waddles quickly on. For the truth, never mentioned except by us gossips, is that the room that stood here, where this pagola hangs, was destroyed not by the branch of an oak in a storm, but by the axe of a man in a rage. A fine, cool room, this agterkamer. Sweetened by dove-song, and smelling of bread. Lekker. I would nap here some mornings, when the dough was rising, and the nooi was in bed with the gout. Against one wall stood a four-poster bed, brought from Swellendam, draped with a dowry of lace. And on its feather-mattras slept the guests from the town, or the neighbours who sipped too much brandy.
It came to pass in the dark winter of '29, that the French elephant hunter, Baron Chevalier, spent three nights, on his way to the Kalahari, here. And in the voorkamer, by the light of the fire, he amused his hosts with his tales. Now the Kleinnooi was a dull little frog. With eyes like boiled peas. But while I served the tea, I watched each evening, and slowly, as the big hunter whispered of ivory and savages and gold, slowly I saw the sun rise, hot in her face.
And so I was not surprised when, before dawn one morning, she rode away in the arms of the baron, leaving the Kleinbaas alone in his shame. Oh, how the Grootbaas roared for his brandy! And he tore off his shirt you know! And with a curse on all guests forever, he swung his axe at the walls of this room. And as a cold moon waned in a black July sky, the dust settled on a pile of rubble and splinters and thatch, and a froth of Swellendam lace.
Let's go to the kitchen.
You'll find the kitchen by following the narrow path between the flowerbeds and the pergola. Go over to the door, which you'll see on your left.
This is where I grew up, at this door, amongst a bustle of women, wise in the arts of the kitchen. Here I still prepared dishes that were brought from Java, by my grandmother's mother, and passed from daughter to daughter to daughter, embellished and embroidered, and spiced up and down. Recipes from Bengal, and Timor, and Malagasy and Ceylon.
So many women have poured their secrets into this kitchen, you know. We, who work here, carry a delicious treasure box inside us. My mother and I both were born in the loft above the kitchen, and that's where we sleep every night. Well, almost every night.
Ah, my flesh is marinated with the smells of this place. Of Borrie and Cinnamon and Cardamom and Cloves. Of sweet atchars and blatjangs and inglegte vis, of Koffie and Brandewyn, and mutton fat and smoke. Ooh, I stink like a thousand mouth-watering banquets.
And this is where he found me. Ichshaim. My Ichshaim. With the funny little cap, and the serious eyes.
Oh, bobotie and panangkerrie and sabanangvleis, and kweeperbredie. Taste the words on my lips. Waatlemoen konfyt and swartsuursop, and pampoenkoekies and suikerbrood.
He comes in his old mule cart from Macassar every two weeks, Ichshaim, bringing perlemoen and crayfish and mussels and snoek. And he smells of the sand. And while I polish the copper bowls bright in the sun, and Anna churns the butter like a racing heart, he talks of his little house there by the dunes, near Sheik Yusuf's Kramat. Where the Eerste River breaks into the sea. "I'm waiting for you, Sannie," and he bites his lip, "When you get out of this place, you pack your things and follow the river straight down to me. Hoor jy my?" Oh! And I look away and smile. Only 16 months...
Come, just across the yard there, to the wine cellar.
Wine Cellar Centre Gable
After the Kleinnooi eloped with the elephant hunter – you remember? – there was a change in the Kleinbaas. He became a creature possessed I tell you. Locked in the Jonkershuis all day, reading books and treatises from the wine kingdoms of France, and Spain, and Germany. Shuffling here, to the old wine cellar at dusk, to busy himself all night, and emerging at dawn with his beard stained wine-red, like some feral beast. True as God. And like a dominee he stood in his dirty nightgown – sies – beneath this ancient gable, and preached. "We are tired of hearing that our Cape wines taste like potato water! That the emphasis is all on quantity and never on quality," he cried, "I have a dream!"
And a ripple passed through the assembled slaves. Oh, and what a period of change that was. From that moment, every bunch of grapes had to be sorted individually, and the rotten or insect-bitten fruits discarded. Then each perfect globe had to be washed clear of any speck of dirt. And every last pip removed. No more pressing of stalks and leaves and unripe grapes together with the ripe ones to get more juice. Barrels and vats were rinsed and re-rinsed, and fumigated with burning nutmeg and choking clouds of sulphur. Spies were sent out to the grape vineyards of Constantia, and the workers moved slow as my Ounooi's chameleons. Their eyes swivelling with exhaustion.
And all night long the Kleinbaas performed strange rituals, with the must and the lees. Blending the juices of various grapes, and adding concoctions of dried fish bladders and vine ash, in his quest to attain the ambrosia he dreamed of: a Cape Madeira, with a sweet strong body, and the glow of a fire opal.
The tragedy in this little tale is that the Kleinbaas never knew that the wine he made in 1831 became the toast of the season, you know. Fated in the salons of the Canary Islands, and Mauritius. And that governors and viceroys from Batavia to Madras fought with pistols over casks of it. Whether from a broken heart, or from the fermentation of his mind in the fumes of the cellar, nobody can say; but the candles went out in the Kleinbaas's eyes. And he took to wandering between the vines of the farm, muttering words like "bouquet", and "terroir, terroir", and "cultivar". You can find him there at night still, in some lonely vineyard, under a sky full of stars that he cannot see.
Carry on from here, to the river, which is just ahead. You'll see a bench when you get there, and you can take a seat while you listen to the last part of our story.
From me, Sandile, thank you for listening. When you've finished the walk, please take a moment to give us your feedback by rating it or leaving a comment.
I've sat here, since I was a small girl, watching the river carry my thoughts away. Away from the kitchen and the bell, and the quiet sorrow of my people. We slaves have scratched in the dust of this farm for 144 years. This place is thick with our memory. Layers and layers of us. Me and this farm. Our bloods are mixed. It was only ever a dream that one day I would wish my buried grandparents and my babies a final goodbye and leave here. Climb on a wagon with my old mother and my boys, and follow the river down to the sea, where a man waits for me.
But we are counting the months now. The law is written in English. December the 1st, 1838. Then we will leave this place forever. I will not call anybody Baas or Nooi. Never again. I will not be owned. In a small house by the ocean, I will slave for my children. My man will bring fresh fish from the sea. I will plant my own garden, to feed my own family. Beans, and lettuce. And in the evening I will listen to the ocean, and watch the stars.
Then, I will be free. This I know.