From missionary to merino: Identity, economy and material culture in the Karoo, Northern Cape, South Africa, 1800 - ca. 1870

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis addresses the 19th century sequence of Kerkplaats, a farm in the central Karoo, Northern Cape, South Africa. Over this period different colonialisms of varying power and effect were introduced. The first was to local Khoe, San and Griqua communities in the form of one of the first London Missionary Society stations in the early 19th century. A second phase between 1830 and 1860 was to sheep farmers of German, Dutch and mixed descent, who absorbed and moulded the increasing impacts of British influence and materiality into older worlds of cultural resilience and practice. From 1860, a third phase saw a flood of mass produced British goods enter the region, similar to other colonial contexts around the world. Amount, availability and choice changed significantly and provided the material substrate in which rural stock farmers re-expressed themselves within the growing stature of Empire. It is suggested that for some rural farmers, expressive cultural practice worked to underpin increased affluence brought by merino sheep farming for global markets. Through this sequence different expressions of identity, domesticity, and economic scale are assessed through a close reading of documentary and archaeological evidence. While the material opportunities through the 19th century are the result of global processes, how this material is understood has to consider local context. It is suggested that material expression and identity change is most dramatic from the middle of the 19th century, when patterns of consumption reflect the globalisation of British production.