chapter  4
18 Pages

Dutch Debates on Overseas Man and his World, 1770-1820

In the 1780s the Swedish doctor and scientist Andreas Sparman travelled through South Africa, at that time a Dutch colony, observing and studying the various ethnic groups living in that part of the world, especially the Khoisan-the so-called ‘Hottentots’ and ‘Caffers’. His ‘travelogue’ was published in a Dutch translation in 1787 and, as both the author and George Forster, who wrote the introduction, noted, it marked a shift in travel literature. Sparman’s description of this overseas world was based on empirical research; it was an eyewitness account without the fabulous and fantastic creatures that ‘inhabited’ most of the earlier travel accounts, such as ‘one footed people, Cyclops, sirens, night creatures, and other such chimeras’.1 Although Sparman never saw one himself, he believed in the existence of the unicorn, a creature the Khoikhoi not only mentioned, but also frequently caught. The main reason why Sparman thought the Khoikhoi had to be right was that he could not believe that such simple people had the intellectual capacity to make such things up. Nor could he believe that their memory was sufficiently developed to be able to remember ancient stories or legends about the unicorn.2