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Regina December and her daughter and grandson

My naam is Februarie: Iziko opens window on calendar slaves

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Cape Town has many people with calendar-based surnames, with September, October and November being the most common. A poignant exhibition has opened at Iziko in Cape Town, memorialising the forgotten history of the South African slave trade and shedding some light on this mystery.

My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery is part of the Slave Calendar, produced for Iziko Museums of South Africa by Geometry Global.

‘‘The purpose of the exhibition is not to showcase ‘The History of Slavery’ in South Africa, but to continue to drive awareness about a tragic part of our history that is all but forgotten, said Iziko chief executive, Rooksana Omar. “When these slaved people arrived in the Cape of Good Hope, they were treated as property. Every single thing was taken from them, including the one thing they were born with – their identity. This exhibition aims to bring these shared histories back into our collective consciousness,’’ she said.

Between 1653 and 1808 more than 63 000 enslaved people were brought to the Cape, primarily from the Indian Ocean territories. Many were renamed after the calendar month in which they arrived here.

Alfred May
Alfred May

The outsized, limited edition calendar, with images by award-winning Cape Town photographer David Prior, brings the tragic history to life by recording each month through a black-and-white portrait of a slave descendant carrying that month’s name – from John January to Regina December.

left-to-right
Left to right. Leonard Maart, Shafik April, Alfred May, Gavin Wood, Margaret Julie, David Prior , Regina December, Ruben November, John January, Paul October, Felix February

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu endorsed the calendar as an important part of “a story that needs to be told”.

Gavin Wood, creative director of Geometry Global Cape Town, said one of the greatest takeaways when creating the calendar was hearing the stories from the descendants.

“What we hope to achieve with the exhibition is to deliver these unique stories and the associated, powerfully sobering, yet uplifting message through creative and arresting portraiture.”

The exhibition will run at the historic Iziko Slave Lodge, where slaves were once housed and auctioned off, until March 31.

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