|The flag of the Rehoboth Basters|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Coloureds, Khoikhoi, Namaqua, Griqua, Oorlam, Afrikaners|
The Basters (also known as Baasters, Rehobothers or Rehoboth Basters) are the descendants of Cape Colony Dutch and indigenous African women. They live largely in Namibia, in and around the town of Rehoboth, and are similar to Coloured or Griqua people in South Africa.
The name Baster is derived from the Dutch word for "bastard" (or "crossbreed"). While some people consider this term demeaning, the Basters proudly use the term as an indication of their history in the same way as the Métis ("Mixed") people of Canada.
While the current numbers of Basters remain unclear (figures between 20,000 and 40,000 are given), the Basters are concerned that their unique heritage will be lost in a modern Namibia.
South African period
The Basters were mainly persons of mixed descent who at one time would have been absorbed in the white community. However, it was as much an economic and cultural category as a racial one, and included the most economically advanced non-white population at the Cape. Among these were persons who acted as supervisors of other servants and were the confidential employees of their masters. Sometimes, these were treated almost as members of the white family. The group also included Khoi, free blacks and persons of mixed descent who had succeeded in acquiring property and establishing themselves as farmers in their own right. The term Orlam was sometimes applied to persons who could also be known as Baster but was a more general name for Khoi and Coloured persons generally who spoke Dutch and practised a largely European way of life.
In the early 18th century, it was not uncommon for Basters to own farms in the colony, but with growing competition for land and colour prejudice, they came under increasing pressure from their white neighbours and were either absorbed into the Coloured servant class or moved to the fringes of settlement where they could still maintain independence. From about 1750, the Khamiesberg in the extreme north-west of the colony became the main area of settlement of independent Baster farmers, some of whom had substantial followings of servants and clients. After about 1780, increasing competition from whites in this area led to the migration of a number of Baster families to the middle valley of the Orange. The Basters of the middle Orange were subsequently persuaded by London Missionary Society missionaries to adopt the name Griqua.
Mostly Calvinist, Basters from Mainline churches sing hymns almost identical to those heard in the 17th-century Netherlands. The religious fervour of the Basters is clear from their motto: "Groei in Geloof" (Growth in faith).
Move to central Namibia
The Basters left their original home in the Cape Colony in 1868 to trek northwards in search of land and settled in Rehoboth in what is now central Namibia. In 1872, the Basters founded the Free Republic of Rehoboth, designed a German-influenced national flag. They also laid down a constitution (Afrikaans: Vaderlike Wette, literally English: Paternal Laws) that continues to govern the actions of the Baster to the current day. While they remained predominantly based around Rehoboth, some Basters continued to trek northward, settling in the southern Angolan city of Lubango, where they are known as the Ouivamo (many of these were forced to return to Namibia between 1928 and 1930 by white South Africans, who couldn't understand why their literate and deeply religious cousins wanted to live amongst the `savages’).[verification needed]
In the process of the German annexation of South-West Africa, Baster Kaptein Hermanus van Wyk signed a 'Treaty of Protection and Friendship' with the German Empire on 11 October 1884, the first of its kind with between native peoples in the territory and the Germans. Other sources date this treaty 15 September 1885, at which time it would have had no special status as one of the first treaties with Imperial Germany. The treaty permitted the Basters to retain a degree of autonomy in exchange for recognising colonial rule. A second Treaty concerning National Service of the Rehoboth Basters of 1895 established a small armed contingent among the Basters that fought alongside Germany in a number of battles and skirmishes. Basters participated in the quelling of uprisings of the OvaHerero (1896), the Swartbooi Nama (1897), the Bondelswarts (1903) and finally also participated in the war and genocide against the OvaHerero and Nama in the Herero Wars of 1904–1907.
Relations between Rehoboth and Germany remained close for more than 20 years until 1914, following the outbreak of World War I. Aware of the slim chances of the German Schutztruppe against the superior South African forces, the Basters tried to keep neutral towards both. Cornelius van Wyk, second Kaptein of the Rehoboth Basters, secretly met general Louis Botha in Walvis Bay to assure the South Africans of the Basters' neutrality. The Baster Council disapproved the recruitment of a mounted unit by the Germans, and when Basters were soon requested to guard prisoners of war they defected in numbers. One Baster was shot by the Germans. In retaliation, Basters killed several farmers and Policemen.
Governor Theodor Seitz subsequently cancelled the protection treaty and attacked Rehoboth. Around 700 Basters retreated to Sam Khubis, 80 kilometres (50 mi) south-east of Rehoboth. On 8 May 1915, the Germans attacked this last entrenchment in the Battle of Sam Khubis. Despite repeated attacks and the use of superior weaponry, the Germans were unable to destroy the Basters' position. However, at the end of the day the Basters had all but run out of ammunition and expected certain defeat. It was in this night that they appealed to God, pledging to commemorate the day forever should they be spared. The plea is engraved on a plaque at Sam Khubis and reads:
God van ons vaderen / sterke en machtige God / heilig is Uw naam op die ganse aarde / Uw die de hemelen geschapen heft / neigt Uw oor tot ons / luister na die smekingen van Uwe kinderen / de dood staart ons in het gesicht / die kinderen der bose zoeken onze levens / Red ons uit die hand van onze vijanden / en beskermt onze vrouen en kinderen / En dit zult vier ons en onze nacheschlacht zijn een dag als een Zondag / waarop wij Uw naam prijzen en Uw goedertierenheid tot in euwigheid niet vergeten
God our father / strong and powerful / holy be Thy name all over the earth / Thou that made heaven / bow Thou down to us / listen to the cries of Thy children / death stares us in the face / the children of evil seek our lives / Save us from the hand of our enemies / and protect our wives and children / and this shall be for us and our kin a day like a Sunday / on which we shall praise Thy name / and Thy gratitude shall not be forgotten in eternity
The Germans retreated and Rehoboth's Baster community was reprieved. It is reported that advancing South African troops from Walvis Bay threatened to cut off a Schutztruppe contingent near Windhoek, so that the unit attacking Sam Khubis had to catch the train the following morning to join them.
South-West Africa was occupied by South Africa in 1915. Considering themselves South African, the Basters offered to serve with the South African forces during the war but were rebuffed by general Botha, who said that coloureds should not concern themselves with a war between South Africa and Germany. After the war, the Basters applied to become a British Protectorate like Basutoland, but were turned down by South Africa. All special rights as granted by the Germans were revoked under the South African mandate to govern South-West Africa.
When in the 1970s SWAPO tried to gather support against South African occupation, the Basters again remained neutral. Upon Namibian independence SWAPO government did not recognise any special legal status of the community, a decision upheld by Namibia's Supreme Court.
Some Basters continue to push the legitimacy of the Free Republic of Rehoboth. It is claimed the republic was recognised by the League of Nations and that according to international law, the Republic should retain the status of a sovereign nation. In 1952, the Basters presented a petition to the United Nations to this effect, with no visible result. In 1979, South Africa offered the Basters self determination if they fought against South-West Africa People's Organisation, the Namibian independence movement. The Basters refused, deciding to remain neutral and settling instead for a semi-autonomous Baster homeland (known as “Baster Gebiet”) based around Rehoboth, similar to the South African bantustans. The Baster Gebiet would exist until 29 July 1989 and the imminent independence of Namibia.
Many Basters continue to seek autonomy for their political affairs. The Basters have a long democratic tradition of electing their leadership. According to the Paternal Laws of 1872, a Kaptein is elected for life. This Kaptein was granted the powers to appoint a Council and together they formed the Executive government of Rehoboth. The Paternal Laws also provided for a Peoples Council (Volksraad) which was elected every five years and formed the Legislative of the Rehoboth government.
Originally meant as a constitution of the Baster people in the Free Republic of Rehoboth, the first Kaptein's Council laid down the Vaderlike Wette (Paternal Laws). These regulations influence the actions of the Baster community until today.
One of the regulations is that every male burger (citizen) of Rehoboth could apply for a free piece of land when he became 18 years old. Although the size of the erf was decreased from 1,300 square metres (14,000 sq ft) to about 300 square metres (3,200 sq ft) due to land shortage and servicing costs, this provision was in force until 21 March 1990. This provision is no longer being granted due to conflicting land legislation in independent Namibia.
The first Kaptein was Hermanus van Wyk, the 'Moses' of the Baster nation who led the community to Rehoboth from South Africa and remained Kaptein until his death in 1905. After his death, the Rehoboth Basters elected Cornelius van Wyk to be their Kaptein. He was however not officially recognised by the German colonial government nor by the South African authorities after their take-over in 1915.
In 1976, the South African government approved the ‘Rehoboth Self-government Act’ providing autonomy for the Basters. In 1979, Kaptein Johannes "Hans" Diergaardt was elected in accordance with the regulations of the 1976 Act. In 1999, John McNab was elected Kaptein. Since February 2007, the Rehoboth Basters are represented by the Kapteins Council at the UNPO.
Other Baster communities
The Basters of Rehoboth should not be confused with a community in the Richtersveld in South Africa known as the 'Boslys Basters'.
In Indonesia, the people of mixed Dutch descent are also called Blaster(an).
- Griqua people
- Oorlam people
- Hans Beukes
- Diergaardt v. Namibia
- Research Materials: Max Planck Society Archive
- Rhineland Bastard
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