Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Kok I, Cornelius

Traditional Religionist
South Africa

Cornelius Kok I was born at Piquetberg in 1746. A literate man, he was held in high regard by his followers. After remaining for some time at Kamiesberg, he joined his father near the Orange River, and then spent most of the rest of his life in Little Namaqualand. With the help of the San and of the Kora (or Koranas), a Khoi group settled on the north bank of the Orange River, he and his people flourished. He also maintained good relations with European missionaries who came to the area.

In about 1804, two of these missionaries, from the London Missionary Society (LMS), persuaded Cornelius Kok I, as well as Barend Barends, to settle with their followers near a row of springs north of the Orange River. They made their headquarters at a strong spring there named Klaarwater. In 1813, however, a visiting LMS missionary, the Rev. John Campbell, persuaded the two leaders to change the name of their group from Basters (or Bastards) to Griqua. They agreed, and at the same time changed the name “Klaarwater” to Griquatown.

Confusion prevailed, however, when other groups of Basters, Koranas, Damaras, and San came into the area and refused to recognize the two leaders as chiefs. Disorder ensued, and the missionaries were themselves obliged to maintain what order they could. While Barends, for his part, became a cattle raider, Cornelius Kok I, instead, handed his authority over to his son, Adam Kok II, and returned to Kamiesberg. In 1816 he came back to Griquatown again to try to reassert his authority, but was unsuccessful. He and another son, Cornelius Kok II, then moved to the nearby town of Campbell, where he established himself as an independent chief until 1820, the year of his death, when he handed over the chieftainship to Cornelius Kok II.

Keith Irvine


Dictionary of South African Biography. Vol. IV. Ed. C.J. Beyers, Durban and Pretoria: Butterworth & Co. 1981. pp. 285-89; William Dower, The Early Annals of Kokstad and Griqualand East, Port Elizabeth, South Africa: James Kelmsley & Co., 1902; J.S. Marais, The Cape Coloured People, 1652-1937, Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1939; Robert Ross, Adam Kok’s Griquas: A Study in the Development of Stratification in South Africa, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-eswatini. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.