Early Cape Diaries Reveal Portuguese-Dutch Tensions

History is the thing, and amateur historian Lafras Huguenet translates the rare slave diary of Duferius of Angola from Portuguese. 

Monday, 6 August 1792

Our keeper, Sluithol, cruised in at day-break to unlock us for what promises to be a helluva working week filled with tremendous excitement and thrilling activities. Nekka of Bengal and his team were out to prune the last of the Muscat vines, as Baas Hendrik said the Bible told him it was going to be an early spring. Rosario of Malacca had some labelling of the previous vintage to do. And Perfort of Ghana had to move his ass as our entries for this year’s Pompengracht Wine Competition have to be in by Wednesday.

I am going to have a complete and utter cheese-wheel of a week. Baas Hendrik is hosting Luis Monteiro of Porto in Portugal and I has to be translator, me being fluent an’ all in Portuguese and Dutch, as well as in the language of utter love and wine of the supreme kind.

I asked Sluithol to remove our chains like pronto, as there were things to do and places to go. But true to form, our keeper was still distraught with immense hangover, smelling like a tavern pissoir and sweating like a calving cow as he struggled to unlock our leashes.

At the breakfast table I told Nekka and his team to prune Muscat Block 7 to two bud-eyes instead of four – that French dude Napoleon was complaining our wine was too diluted. We need to lower the yield to up the intensity. Just do it, I told the pruners, comforting them that I’ll take the rap and the 15 lashes from Sluithol’s bull-whip if Baas Hendrik is not understanding the way I’m going with this.

Napoleon is an up-and-coming legend in France, the wire tells us, and if he becomes like an Emperor kind of thing and rules the world, just think of the mega marketing and PR opportunities it’ll give Constantia wine! We are talking legend, with a capital “L”.

The rest of the day was spent on a wagon to Cape Town, which I drove while Baas Hendrik sat in the back-seat sketching scenes of the mountain. Traffic from Constantia into town was, as usual, a bitch. I am a responsible slave behind the horse-whip, but some of those other cats….man, oh man – changing lanes without signalling, pulling-up their horses right onto our wagon’s back-rail and jumping stop signals.

Luis the Portuguese Guy was waiting at the slave-market checking out some muscular fresh goods from Zanzibar. Fortunately he was not wanting a take-away, so he got up onto the wagon beside me after greeting Baas Hendrik with a hug. It was good to speak Portuguese again and we had a real vibe going, we two, by the time we got back to the farm just as night was falling. He even helped Sluithol lock me up in the stalls for the night after our hearty supper of wheat porridge and guinea-fowl.

Wednesday, 8 August 1792

I might only be slave, but I know when shit’s going down. And this Luis of Portugal is speaking some narly bad vibes about the place that could have vast implications for Constantia street-cred.

Thing is, dude’s trying to convince Baas Hendrik that we should change our wine style. From the natural sweet we are a making from the Muscat, Luis reckons we should be fortifying the stuff with brandy. Just the way he does it back home in his Portugal place.

I know that Port wine stuff, and it’s bad. Actually, it was Port wine I was drinking back home in Angola the night before them slave-traders caught us outside of Rio Kwanza. Made me weak and soft, that stuff. Now Luis is telling Baas Hendrik that Port is the next big thing. And we should make it, here.

Of course, I was having to translate all this crazy talk from Portuguese into Dutch for Baas Hendrik, and vice a versa so knew exactamundo what was going down.

Baas Hendrik was digging this talk of fortifying our wine. Especially the bit about that it will export better during the three months at sea – one of them Russian tsars, apparently, was truly pissed earlier this year when his allocation of a barrel of Constantia 1787 reached Moscow in bad state.
Luis reckons if you add spirit to the wine, stuff lasts longer than the love-call of one of Henry the Navigator’s mistresses in Matisinhos.

Just before lock-up, thus, I asked Sluithol if I can have some personal talk with Baas Hendrik. Baas agreed to meet me in the kitchen of his house where that utter babe Serruria of Actually-I-Don’t-Give-a-Fuck was washing the dishes. Kitchen smelt good – roast Organic Liesbeeck Hippo with a jus of Shiraz and Mountain Honey had been on the menu, again.

Baas Hendrik came in the kitchen wearing nothing but his night-shirt and asked Serruria to please go and change his pillow-slips and wait until he gets back. Duferius the Dude needs talking to.

I tell the Baas Brother that no way should the Portuguese cat’s advice be heeded. Constantia has spent like, what was it, since 1685 building a brand around a naturally sweet nectar. I mean just read those tasting notes from Napoleon and Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger’s Wine Club back in England. Our wine it be based on the sweet purity that is natural and whole, not bastardised by adding rough raw brandy.

Baas Hendrik says he gets it, like, but what about the transportation gig? Too much spoilt wine is getting to Europe and the brandy-adding process is guaranteed to keep the sweet stuff sweet.

I told him that Nekka will take care of the vineyard, and in the cellar I’m going to ensure better pH-levels so we can guarantee daisy-like freshness to our customers, no matter where.

He said he’ll think about it, called Sluithol to lock me up then went to his room to check up on Serruria and them pillow-cases.

Friday, 10 August 1792

So much going on with Woman’s Day yesterday and all that I clean forgot to do me some writing. But what a day it was!

Governor of the Cape Minjheer Rhenius swung by yesterday for a surprise visit to discuss some tax issues with Baas Hendrik and stayed for lunch. Luis was still around and gave the table a tasting of Port, while Baas asked me to pour a couple of Constantia drops next to the glasses of Portuguese stuff.

Turns out, Governor Rhenius tells Luis this be the first time he’s had Port and don’t like it one little bit. Says the tannins are burning him up more than that rash he caught recently after stopping off on the flats between Stellenbosch and the Cape Castle to check up on some tavern action. And on account of the Governor being diabetic, says he ain’t going to get out alive from all that sugar in the Port, especially the 1769 Tawny, much vaunted.

I was just pouring glasses, saying nothing, but saw the Luis cat was not impressed. Portuguese guy gets me to tell the Governor, in Dutch, that if he one day got his fat Hollandaise ass out of the Castle and attended more wine-training gigs, he’d have a better idea of what a great wine Port truly is.

Baas Hendrik and the Governor could see the Portuguese guy was getting a bit hot, almost offending like, so I took the gap. Speaking Dutch now which Luis could not understand, I told Baas Hendrik and Governor Rhenius that the Portuguese guy reckons both Baas Hendrik and the Governor were total scrotum-wads who knew about as much about wine as what a Dutchman knew about fishing for sardines, and that was sweet blow-all.

Things got troubled, then and there, with Governor Rhenius challenging Luis to duel. A duel! We ain’t seen that for some time. And with swords, too. None of that boring one-shot man-down kind of pistol stuff.

I headed back to the compound as the other slaves were on their tea-break and told them there’s duel coming-up Saturday and we’re invited. They jangled their chains with joy.

Saturday, 11 August 1792

Duel Day broke clear-skied, and cold with that bitch of a wind pummelling from False Bay where some Italian ships were lying on anchor. The Governor Rhenius had had to spend the night on the farm, reason being this small thing about the duel. But he did send one of Baas Hendrik’s drivers, Occultus from Batavia, back to town to fetch the Governor’s favourite sword.

Sluithol unlocked us early for a Saturday so we can view the action and mop-up the blood, of course, and we were so keen to get things going we skipped breakfast, hoping to get some brunch after show-time.

Luis was waiting for the Governor outside the cellar, pretty convenient as this meant I could give both guys a glass of Constantia to warm them up and calm any nerves they might be having.

They had the wine, but no nerves. Baas Hendrik dropped the handkerchief and the dueller’s blades sang out through the crisp morning air as they began the sword-fight.

Being shorter than the Governor, Luis the Portuguese kept out of reach, but this made it tricky for him to get in a thrust. If he was going to inflict any damage, it was going to be with a slash, but this won’t be happening as the Governor’s defence is about as safe as the place Missus Cloete was keeping her milk-tart.

The fight went on for about twelve minutes, us slaves taking side-bets with the Governor coming out tops, 3-2. The Portuguese was tiring, probably as last night Surruria had been tidying his pillow-cases, too, and just as sun was rising Luis dropped his guard allowing the Governor to get in a great upper thrust, sending that special sword straight through the Portuguese dude’s throat.

Luis dropped his weapon, grabbed his throat as we clapped and cheered and rattled chains and went ballistic. Blood was running through his fingers and as he fell to his knees he looked at me and said: “Okay, don’t fortify the wine then, you Dutch dicks.” I did not translate. Then he fell over dead.

Lights out now, but what a day.

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