Croatians in South Africa
In Search of a Better Life
Are Croats (amongst) the first settlers in South Africa ?
To claim that Croats participated in the discovery of new continents and that they sailed with Columbus,
Magellan, Da Gama and other great explorers, would not be easily believed and probably questioned by many. To say that they established the first supply station and probably had a colony on the South African coast sounds like fiction. However, the 1400-1650's were in fact the golden age for Croatia, quite
disproportionate to her size in territory and population.
These Croat explorers: sailors, mariners, captains, pilots, merchants, bankers and diplomats; were mostly
from the Dalmatian Coast and the Republic of Raguza (Dubrovnik).
The Croatian Republic of Dubrovnik was known in the Middle Ages as the Republic of Raguza and it was well
respected for its merchants, shipbuilders and sailors. Together with Venice they commanded the largest
merchant fleets in the Mediterranean. Using the able diplomats and unsurpassed skills of its mariners and
merchants Raguza managed to spread trade interests far away from the Mediterranean. In order to improve
the spice trade a Raguzan colony of Sao Braz was established on the Malabar Coast in north Goa, India. The
Church of Sao Braz was built in 1653. This coIony had at one time 12 000 residents. Saint Vlaho was (is)
the Patron Saint of Raguza (Dubrovnik). It is of interest to note that Saint Vlaho is mentioned as Blaise
or Blaze in English and Braz or Bras in Portuguese.
"During the absence of Venice the largest part of the oriental trade was taken over by Raguza, which in
about 1530-1540 had a virtual monopoly of that trade. For a decade or two there existed a sharp
competition between Raguza and Portugal, which was also carried on in Portugal's own East Indian empire.
The Raguzan colony Sao Braz near Goa is one of the strangest and most interesting examples of the economic
expansion of that little republic in the period of the commercial revolution." (*)
This book has. South Africa's map,. dated 1508, with two place names:' '.Cape of Good Hope and Cape of Sao
Bras (Saint Vlaho)!, see below.
"Sao Bras or Mossel Bay is located 60 leagues beyond the Cape of Good Hope. Bartholomew Dias stopped there
and named it Bahia dos Vaqueiros. Vasco da Gama had remained there for thirteen days on his voyage to
India, securing beef and water from the natives. It was here that he broke up his store-ship. Cabrat would
probably have stopped at Mossel Bay (Sao Bras) for supplies and water had it not been for the storm which
he encountered in the South Atlantic"
On the early 19th century maps (1805) there is still distinctively marked, Cape of St. Blaise, situated
between Mossel Bay and adjacent Fish Bay.
This indicates that able Ragusans had established, under the name of Sao Bras, and used Mossel Bay as a
supply station on their voyages to India. May we proudly conclude, on the basis of the above evidence,
that Croats discovered and lived in this beautiful land before Dias, Da Gama and other famous explorers,
certainly long before van Riebeeck! "C.DE S. BRAS", Cape and Bay of Saint Blaise (Vlaho)
For us, Croats and descendants of early Croat settlers in South Africa, the "Book about the voyage of
Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India in 1500-1501", London 1937, is of special interest.
A.S. Eterovich, "Croatia in the New World"(*) Ragusan Press, CA, 1992.
Article taken from CASA Croatian Association of South Africa newsletter