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20 1 Colonial childhood, European learning Philosophy is just not my cup of tea. Of all the words of Goethe’s that mean the most to me, are the ones he put into Mephisto’s mouth: Grey, dearest friend, is all theory, And green is life’s golden tree.1 Dorothea Bleek was born on 26 March 1873, the fourth in a line of five daughters.Soon after she was born,her family moved from their home, The Hill, to their new residence a short distance away in the same village of Mowbray, just outside colonial Cape Town. The rambling new property, called Charlton House, was located across from the existing student apartment complex, now known as Forest Hill, in the Main Road. Demolished in the 1960s to make way for a teachers’ training college, Charlton House was just a few blocks from the Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch, on the edge of the middle and upper campuses of UCT, where Dorothea would one day hold an honorary readership.2 Dorothea was born into an unusual domestic situation. Her father, Wilhelm , was widely known within European intellectual circles despite his distant location at the Cape Colony. By the early 1870s his networks and correspondents included the leading thinkers and social scientists of the era, including his cousin the evolutionist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel, the philologist Max Müller, Charles Darwin and the English biologist Thomas Huxley. At the time of Dorothea’s birth, Wilhelm’s study of the ‘click languages ’ of southern Africa had progressed, as had the process of collecting folklore from bushman prisoners who had been sentenced, mostly for stock theft and poaching, but in one case for murder, to hard labour at the Breakwater Prison. Some of the prison buildings, albeit repurposed, can still be seen along Portswood Road, close to Cape Town’s glitzy V&A Waterfront entertainment and shopping complex. Wilhelm had obtained permission Book 1.indb 20 10/12/15 10:57 AM C O L O N I A L C H I L D H O O D , E U R O P E A N L E A R N I N G 21 from the colonial government to have selected prisoners live at his home so that he could work intensively with them to study their language, folklore and cosmology. As is well known, Lucy Lloyd, the sister of Wilhelm’s wife Jemima, became involved in the project. From early on, Lucy assisted Wilhelm with interviews and transcriptions and in time became schooled in the /Xam language and its nuanced phonetics. Lucy continued the project after Wilhelm Bleek’s early death in 1875. She extended Wilhelm’s narrow interests in grammar and folklore (and, ultimately, human origins), and recorded in her notebooks information about the bushmen’s daily life, including hunting practices, the use of the environment, the harvesting of plants, the curing of skins, the production of household objects and materials, poison making, and details of cosmologies and belief systems.3 Lucy would become Dorothea’s mentor and teacher, and the two collaborated on the publishing of Specimens of Bushman Folklore in 1911, the first public offering of tales from the Bleek and Lloyd notebooks.4 Dorothea’s mother, Jemima, contributed two notebooks to the collection, but her larger role was supportive. She continued to run the household and to support Lucy in the research project for nearly a decade following the death of Wilhelm. Also helping out, and a permanent fixture in this female-dominated household following Wilhelm’s death, was the older Lloyd sister Frances (Fanny), who was Lucy Lloyd’s constant companion.5 Fanny took care of the youngest Bleek daughter, Helma (Hermione), who was born in December 1875, a few months after Wilhelm had died, leaving Jemima grief-stricken. As an infant and toddler, Dorothea’s awareness of her father must have been vague and later influenced by the memories of her mother and older siblings. Her babyhood would have been shadowed by her father’s illness and her mother’s worry. Wilhelm’s health, never excellent, had deteriorated in the years preceding his death at the age of 49. He died in the early hours of 17 August 1875 when Dorothea was just three years old. The records confirm that Jemima was shattered by her husband’s death, and that she was incapacitated by grief for months afterwards.6 One can only imagine the atmosphere in the home during Dorothea’s early years. Dia!kwain, the /Xam...


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