Wordiness: caffree

Leafing through George Windsor Earl's The Eastern Seas (published in 1837), I came across a description of Singapore as home to people of many different races, including "Caffrees". The word made me think of "coffee", which made me think of someone from South America --- very logical, I know. At any rate, it was clearly some anachronistic term for a group stomped upon in the course of colonialism.

Which turned out to be not too far from the truth. The glossary of military terms at a Macquarie University Library website informs me that "caffree" (also "kaffir") refers to an African native brought to Ceylon as a slave or mercenary soldier by the Portuguese, Dutch or British. Not that you ever see any pictorial depictions of Africans in nineteenth-century Singapore (or, indeed, of Singapore today, barring a few players in the local soccer league), but it makes sense that where the empire went, there some slaves also followed.

Now I wonder if any caffrees ever settled in Asia ...


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At 7/18/2007 12:22 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, when just reading the subject, I thought this was a new shorthand slang for caffeine free.

Back on topic, I can't say in my travels through Asia that I've seen many established groups of African descent. When you consider that the East India Company didn't colonize Singapore until 1819, but the British had begun outlawed slavery in the British Empire in 1807, I wouldn't expect to see a sizable population.


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