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South African - Thai Slave Heritage Reflection Centre

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  Khunang Ok-Khun Chamnan Chaichong 1686                       Our Niece, Nan Deeying in the Heritage Centre                     Mandela & HRH Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX

                                                                              Nan is a University Graduate in Communications and Arts & Culture

                   Cape Town shares a long history with Thailand and in recent times locals and international visitors have been rediscovering the old Thai cultural offerings in Cape Town in the form of Thai cuisine with its delicate mix of herbs and spices; The Buddhist faith and culture; Thai furnishings and apparel; Thai Massage, Healing Arts and Thai Health Products.

Thai, Myanmar, Vietnamese, Malaysian, the many islands of the Indonesian Archipelago and Chinese people were first brought to the Cape as slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries along with other Southeast Asians, Malagasy and Africans. Our slave ancestors (Bunpaburut) were never to return home, but their offspring became Camissa Africans  commonly refered to as 'Coloured'. Over 4  centuries Southeast Asian cuisine, traditions, faith and culture had a deep influence on local culture. Some make an argument for an even older connection too. Evidence on the walls of the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia suggests the possibility of a voyage around the Cape in the 8th century. It all started with the Dutch opening a VOC Factory in Ayutthaya, Siam, in 1605.

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The Story of the Khunang of King Narai at the Cape

A Shared History of Slavery

The Dutch Commander from the Vietnam VOC Factory

Nelson Mandela meets HRH King Bhumibol - 1997

What does the Slave Heritage Reflection Centre Do?

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Patric Tariq Mellet giving a talk to the Cape Cultural Collective on the Slavery and Indigene heritage of the Camissa (Cape) people

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Individuals and small groups are welcome to visit and engage on Cape and Thai heritage matters by appointment.

Just drop an email to melletpt@mweb.co.za   -    This is a FREE offering.

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* The above picture of Nelson Mandela and HRH Thai King Rama IX used by permission of the Royal Household, provided by HE Rubina Marks, Ambassador to Thailand until 2017

The SA-Thai Heritage Reflection Centre is a place where people are able to come to learn more about Cape Camissa Heritage, Cape Slavery and the forced removals of Indigenes, and about the links between the Cape and Southeast Asia - particularly Thailand.

The Centre has exhibits and video presentationa and books where people may relax and watch and read. Those involved in writing, film-making and researching are able to engage with historian and heritage activist Patric Tariq Mellet on these subjects. We also have visiting museum staff, cultural and youth groups who participate in talks and activities. The Heritage offerings are FREE and is dedicated to assisting youth to use an understanding, and the inspiration arising out of their ancestral heritage, to rise up above contemporary adversity and innovatively engage in solution-finding to challenges.

The project also seeks to network South African youth and their institutions with youth and institutions all along the old Indian ocean slave routes to Southeast Asia - especially with Thailand.

(Photos of Baan Hollanda VOC ruins in Ayutthaya in Thailand. Ayutthaya like Robben Island is a World Heritage Site)


On meeting HRH the King in 1997, Nelson Mandela paid this tribute - "The name of your country, Prathet Thai, embodies the very essence of what has become our dearest possession; namely our freedom. You are the only country in the region which has never come under the yoke of colonialism That is a history to be justifiably proud of."

 (The pictures of the dioramas on slavery in Thailand is from the wax Museum of Human Imagery near Bangkok where slavery and King Chulalongkorn Rama V's efforts to abolish it are remembered.)

The final connection between the Cape and Siam is the shared resistance to slavery and the story of emancipation from slavery. Right up to the late 19th century even although Siam was never colonized, over one third of the Thai population were slaves and up to the mid 19th century a similar large proportion of the population of the Cape Colony were slaves.

Records show that among the many slaves from Southeast Asia which were brought to the Cape there were also slaves who came from Siam and we count these as part of our ancestral Heritage.

The 19th century saw many acts of resistance to slavery in both countries and in Thailand King Rama V took up the cause of emancipation leading to the formal abolition of slavery in 1905. He took on the powerful slave owning upper classes and the slave traders and it took him over 30 years to get rid of formal slavery. While slavery was abolished in South Africa formally in 1834 and had ended by 1870, colonialism and apartheid continued until 1994 when the lifelong fight of such leaders as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo came to fruition with the advent of a non-racial democracy.

Another historical connection  goes back to 1686 where the King of Siam's emissary found himself stranded at the Cape. In 1686 a Royal Ambassador of Ayatthuya, Siam, was shipwrecked off Cape Agulhas on his way via the Cape of Good Hope to Portugal. The Siamese Khunang was Ok-Khun Chamnan Chaichong who went through a harrowing experience trying to make his way to the  Cape settlement overland and would have died had it not been for the assistance of the indigene Khoena who rescued him and led him to the settlement.

Ok-Khun Chamnan Chaichong was hosted for six months by the first VOC Governor of the Cape, the first non-European Mauritius born VOC official to hold this position, Simon van der Stel, whose mother was a woman of colour, born of an Indian mother in Goa and whose father was the Dutch VOC Commander at Mauritius.

Ok-Khun returned to the Cape two years later on his way to and from meetings in Europe with French King Louis XIV and with Pope Innocent XI. This is one of those hidden gems of Cape history and heritage

The first colonial commander and representative of the United Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the Cape – Jan van Riebeeck had previously held positions of oversight for the company in Southeast Asia, based in Tonkin (Hanoi), Vietnam and Deshima in Japan. He was noted for speaking fluent Vietnamese.

The Dutch Company had established interests in the silk and spice trade in Ayutthaya-Siam (Thailand), Tonkin-Vietnam and Deshima-Japan. At the Cape of Good Hope Jan van Riebeeck staged a take-over of the indigene port operation that for fifty years had ably traded with foreign ships from five European countries. He then fashioned a logistical half-way station to supply provisions for the Dutch Company fleet and other European vessels involved in the silk and spice trade.

The VOC factory and settlement ruins can be visited in Ayatthuya in Thailand today where a small museum has been established in the Baan Hollanda section of the preserved ruined city. The historical connection between Siam and the Cape goes back to the time of the first entry of the VOC into the Southeast Asian market in 1602. In fact under the Thai King, the Dutch, French, Portuguese and English were all allowed a limite presense in Siam and the Kingdom maintained it independence by playing off the various competative Europeans against each other. After his stint at the Cape Jan van Riebeeck was sent to Jakarta where he died and is buried.The earliest roots of Cape Town precede Jan van Riebeeck when first the British, abducted Chief Xhore of the Goringhaiqua to London in 1614 and returned him to the Cape when they attempted establishing a penal colony with conditionally  released Newgate convicts. In 1630 they later established  Goringhaicona Chief Authshumato and his followers on Robben Island as a logistical support coordinator for passing shipping. Autshumato was first taken to Java for training. After a while on Robben Island Autshumao requested the British to return to the mainland and established a permanent camp alongside the Camissa River flowing through Cape Town into the sea. This Camissa settlement was the real foundation of the City of Cape Town.

Van Riebeeck seized the opportunity to displace Autshumato's operation, after assessing this scenario on his voyage of disgrace from Vietnam back to the Dutch States General, after he was caught cheating the company through insider trading. Robben Island and Ayutthaya today share a valued special status as world heritage sites.

(The picture is of the real Jan van Riebeeck. A false glamorized picture was used on banknotes, coins and stamps etc, in South Africa for a long time. That gentleman on the banknotes and coins was Mr Vermuyden and the picture of him and his mistress Ms Kettering who was passed off as van Riebeeck's wife can been seen in an art museum in the Netherlands.)