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R5200,00

QUEEN BESSIE (also known as GQUMA)

4 in stock

QUEEN BESSIE (also known as GQUMA)

R5200,00

4 in stock

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SKU: INV-COEC-0024 Category: Tag:

Circa 1730 – 1810. East Coast of South Africa. Served as Queen for approximately 60 years.

In 1736 a ship was wrecked in a storm near Lambasi Bay, just north of today’s Port St. Johns. Only three survivors were found, two adults and a little girl of 7 years, all of whom were given refuge by the amaMpondo people. It is unclear whether the adults remained with them for long, but it is well documented that the English girl, who called herself Bessie, became a much-loved member of the clan. She was given the name Gquma, meaning ‘The Roar of the Sea’, in memory of how she arrived.

During her childhood, the chief decreed that whenever a pure white calf was born, it would be offered to Bessie to build her dowry. It soon became a token of good luck for a clansman to be able to offer such a gift and, decades later, one hunter from the Cape reported seeing a spectacular herd of pure white cattle, a few hundred heads strong, in the land of the Tshomane people.

Upon coming of age, Bessie married Tshomane, paramount chief of the people whose name he shared. He died soon after their marriage and, contrary to custom, the successor to the throne, Sango, also married Bessie. It is testimony to her good standing in the community that the union was uncontested. Gquma, the Great Wife of Paramount Chief Sango, was described as beautiful, with long black hair and striking blue eyes and a sweet nature. Interestingly, their children also all had blue eyes, and still today there are many blue-eyed descendants of this union, among the AbeLungu, living at Xora River Mouth in the Eastern Cape. The literal meaning of AbeLungu is “the White People who were tossed up with the surf onto the seashore”.

Bessie became famous for her love of ornament and covered herself with bead and shell necklaces and bangles. She won the love and respect of her people for her compassion and generosity, but most notably for her wisdom. When her daughter, named Bessy, was an old white-haired woman, she recounted to the Reverend Palmer that her mother had never told her about God. She said that her mother “had so much to do with the Law (meaning politics) that she forgot about God”. That Bessie was so involved in the politics of her adopted people and wielded strong influence, was unprecedented for a woman of her time and place.

In her book “The Sunburnt Queen”, Hazel Crompton records that Bessie was esteemed by the whole clan as the “great woman” or “queen”. Her “ancestral praise-name (was) used as a prayer, a call for help or even a kind of ‘Bless me’ when sneezing, and a century after her death, ‘Gquma ‘ndincede!’ was still used by the Tshomane.” Her presence was synonymous with good fortune and, indeed, times were stable and the society generally peaceful and well-ordered. When Queen Bessie died, it seemed that the tide of good fortune also left the land. Her people were soon fleeing from Shaka’s vicious incursions and forced to relocate further south to escape annihilation.

An ivory hunter, named Fynn, recorded meeting Bessie’s son about 12 years after her death. He remarked that Mdepa was “the son of an English lady”, who was “said to have been remarkably handsome… she used to dress in native costume, twisting or plaiting her hair into cords which extended to her waist, and covered, or rubbed over with red clay. It was on account of her extreme beauty that, even to this day, the people when reciting her eulogies use the expression, Izinkabi zikaDawa, ie. The oxen of the white lady.”

Dimensions 60,0 × 60,0 cm
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