Museum van de Caab
The social history of the 325-year-old estate is displayed in a museum in the original wine cellar, dating back to 1740. This is a few yards from a recently excavated Later Stone Age settlement site, and the exposed foundations of a 1680s hunting lodge, one of the oldest buildings in the Cape. Amazingly, the first colonists to settle on the farm (Hans Silverbach and his freed slave wife Ansela van der Caab) chose exactly the same spot to build their home as the Stone Age hunter-gatherers had selected thousands of years before.
From its name, which honours the farm’s slave heritage, to the fascinating display, the emphasis of the Museum van de Caab is on the individual people who lived and worked on the farm, from pre-colonial times to the present. One of the walls is covered by 200 stone plaques, each memorializing an individual life given to the farm through slavery.
The museum is open seven days a week, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free of charge.
To celebrate the history and achievements in recent years, the estate offers various special interest farm tours to explore the history, the music, the food and the people of a bygone era.
Call the Museum on + 27 (0)21- 874-3937 ext 134/135
– Wine Tasting & Sales ext: 114/115
– Cellar ext: 126
(Should the farm phone lines be out of order i.e. no answer – then try 079 373 7811)
Museum van de Caab – going deeper
The Museum van de Caab tells the story of Delta farm, a story that is typical of so many of the old farms in the Drakenstein Valley. At the Museum, we try to tell this story through the subjective viewpoints of individual people – which is the defining philosophy behind the Museum.
What makes this Franschhoek Valley museum unique is the real voices of individual people, through which the farm’s story is told. These individual voices facilitate a personal connection between the present and the past, which could not be established through abstract facts and figures. Both the historical and the archaeological traces of the people who lived on the farm are part of the displays and these elements embody the major themes of the Museum. However, the story of Delta farm cannot stand on its own. Its significance lies in its relationship to greater events and historical processes that shaped the human fabric of the Drakenstein Valley, and on a broader scale, South African society as a whole.
Our story is told in the Museum both chronologically and thematically, starting from the very beginnings of human settlement on the farm, through pre-colonial pastoral usage of the land, the establishment of private ownership through colonial viticulture, the scars left by slavery and apartheid, and beyond, to the establishment of a democratic South Africa and our hopes for the future – always contextualising the story of the farm in relation to the country as a whole.
The value of the personal voices and human dramas of the people who lived at Delta is that they can be used to create a realistic, complex and sometimes contradictory picture of the past. This allows visitors to the Museum van de Caab to form their own opinions about what happened, to decide how they feel about certain events or agents, and to relate aspects of these stories to their own lives.
The aims of the Museum van de Caab
The Museum hopes to provide an interpretation centre for visitors – a space that will ‘encourage empathy and challenge negative stereotypes (of both slaves and owners, for example); display conflicts; invite public response’. ¹ It is hoped that the Museum will not represent a ‘voice of God’, an authoritative account of how things were, as the director of the Museum sees them, but rather that it will reveal the complexities of the farm’s history and present situation. This will allow visitors to ‘ask questions, to discuss interpretations with interpreters on a more or less equal footing [which can be achieved through the inclusion of various opinions or contradictory points of view], to challenge the authorial voice inside the interpretation, and ultimately to take control over their own consumption of historical information’. ²
It has been argued that communities sometimes look to museums as places in which their identity is articulated. As a result, and perhaps particularly in a society such as ours, museums have the responsibility of ensuring that exhibitions depict history and culture in a dynamic way. Museums are increasingly asked to ensure that their displays ‘resonate with contemporary issues and present-day realities‘. ³ One way of achieving this is to represent communities from the past and present as changing, non-static entities.
For example, the Museum van de Caab does not represent San or Khoekhoen groups as having had the same traditions, culture and beliefs for thousands of years – we show their changing position in the history of our farm as they were affected by colonialism and other historical events. We also try to indicate their role in the creation of modern South African society and culture, and draw attention to contemporary groups that are trying to reclaim Khoe and San identities as something meaningful for themselves today.
Another example is that the personal memories and aspirations of the farm workers currently living on the property are included within the Museum; the history of the farm thus continues in the dynamic complexities of the present.
This Museum is aimed at everyone – those who visit for entertainment purposes as part of a tourist activity, those who utilise the space for research and educational purposes (both child and adult learning is targeted), as well as those who see it as a vehicle for studying their family and community history or identity. The Museum hopes to offer a meaningful forum for open, personal and community dialogue, interaction and interpretation as ‘people’s sense of their history enters into their engagement with others, with exhibitions, and with their own notions of identity’.³
¹Cornell, Carohn. ‘Whatever became of Cape Slavery in Western Cape Museums?’ from Kronos 25, 1998/99.
²Mullen Kreamer, C. ‘Defining Communities Through Exhibiting and Collecting’ in Karp and Kreamer (eds.). The Politics of Public Culture. Smithsonian Institute, 1992: p 374.