Adam S. Eterovich


Are Croatians (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 Ragusa (Dubrovnik). The Croatian Republic of Dubrovnik was known in the Middle Ages as the Republic of Ragusa 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 Ragusa managed to spread trade interests far away from the Mediterranean.

The book by Eterovich has South Africa's map, dated 1508, with two place names: Cape of Good Hope and Cape of Sao Bras (Saint Vlaho)!  "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. Cabral 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.


Goa in India


In order to improve the spice trade a Ragusan colony of Sao Braz was established on the Malabar Coast in north Goa, India. The Church of Sao Braz was built in 1553. This coIony had at one time 12 000 residents. Saint Vlaho was (is) the Patron Saint of Ragusa (Dubrovnik). It is of interest to note that Saint Vlaho is mentioned as Blaise or Blaze in English and Braz or Bras in Portuguese. The church bell was brought from Dubrovnik.

A Ragusan, Melik Jesa Dubrovcanin, came to India in 1480 and became aViceroy in Gujarat. He built a palace at Diu. 

In the 1540's Jean Alfonce In his voyages states passing SE of Ceylon near two Islands called the Islands of Gold and coming to a bay called Baye de Sainct Blaise ( Saint Vlaho). He further states passing the Golfe de Sainct Blaise NE and SW of Ceylon near the Maldives. 



During the absence of Venice the largest part of the oriental trade was taken over by Ragusa, which in about 1530-1540 had a virtual monopoly of that trade. For a decade or two there existed a sharp competition between Ragusa and Portugal, which was also carried on in Portugal's own East Indian empire. The Ragusan 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 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 Croatians 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, Croatians 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. Compiled from: A.S. Eterovich, "Croatia in the New World", (Ragusan Press, California, 1992. (article taken from CASA (Croatian Association of South Africa) newsletter)


Croatians Return to Goa Nostalgically


Zoravka Matisic, a Croatian scholar studying Sanskrit in India, chanced upon historical records that Croatians once lived in Gandaulim, a village set amidst sylvan surroundings just about 3 kms from Old Goa. Matisic came down to widen her knowledge. At the Rua de Ourem archives, she came upon an artistic sketch of the entrance of the Gaudelupchar fort and from the Bishop’s Palace she came to know the location of the site of her search. Moments of ecstasy awaited her at Gandaulim when she saw that the church of Sao Braz , a small chapel built in June 1541 and elevated to a parish church in 1563 by Archbishop D Frei Alexio de Menezes (1595-1607). The petite church resembled so much the church of Svete Vlaho (Sao Braz) in Dubrovnik in her country. Her painstaking research motivated the visit of a 15-member Parliamentary delegation from the Republic of Croatia, accompanied by Ambassador Zoran Andric, to the quaint little Gandaulim village.

There was even a palace designed by the Croatians. The plague that destroyed Old Goa also had the people of Gandaulim fleeing for their life across the river to the islands of St Estevam and Cumbarjua.

Says Zoran Andric, the Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia, who accompanied the delegation, “We are proud of this visit keeping in mind that the church was built by our ancestors from Dubrovnik. Professor Matisic’s information prompted this visit led by the vice president of the Croatian parliament Vladimir Seks and the members of the television and press. The church is a replica of the thrice larger church in Dubrovnik and even the altar is similar.”


Silvija Luks-Kaloggera, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia, told GoaNOW, “More important is the palace down there, also said to be built by Croatians 400 years ago. I am very proud that a  delegation has visited the place.

“What is worth noting is that scientific work is not completed because there are two theories: one says that it was built by Dubrovnik, and the other that the people from Dubrovnik who arrived here in 1530, when Goa was occupied by the Portuguese, built or rebuilt the church. The design on the left side of the wall of the church proves that such architecture does not exist here. This is more or less a replica of the church of Svete Vlaho in Dubrovnik. The people of Gandaulim and Kumbarjua celebrate the feast of St Braz exactly on the 3rd of February like the people in Dubrovnik.”

Silvija added, “People here believe that there was a town, which disappeared after the plague except for a 400-year-old palace. We don’t know whether the people of Dubrovnik left at the time of the plague in the 18th century.

She also said, “The question is why the church of Sao Braz is not a part of the UNESCO heritage sites. However, with the joint action of the Indian and the Croatian government we will try to create awareness that our history was linked even 400 years back.

There is every possibility that the friendly Croatians will consider to adopt the church and perhaps some of the heritage elements there for the purpose of conservation in course of time, according to Silvija Luks-Kalogjera.

"Pray for us, and we pray for you too," remarked one lovely delegate to the enthusiastic, young boys and girls who played host to the Europeans at the ramshackle parish house.

Speaker Tomazinho Cardozo, who welcomed the delegation to Goa and accompanied them to Gandaulim and Old Goa, says, “The very fact that they flew across such a vast distance to have a look at the tiny church and the village, shows the emotional attachment of the Croatians to Goa.”

While conversing, they arrived at the largest house, about 400 years old, in which once lived Francis de Sa, Captain of the Fort of Gandaulim. Jose de Sa and his family live there now. His lovely daughter Sonali showed us the interior of the palatial mansion, which lies just about a hundred metres from the ferry, or at the beginning of the Rua das Flores.

Here Branimir Farkas of the Croatian Television interviewed Silvija Luks-Kalogjera, followed by Braz Silveira, in the foreground of the 400-year-old rustic house. The sleepy village was agog with excitement with so many foreigners arriving there since the departure of the Portuguese. Things are looking up now for the close-knit, largely Catholic village of about 500 people after the Croatian visit. There is so much history buried amidst the ruins, and ruins do draw curious visitors to odd places. GoaNOW, Joel D’Souza, 2000.


Other Sources


Alfonce, Jean. La Cosmographie. Paris: Musset, 1904. Lists Raguesay.

CASA. “Croatians in South Africa and at Goa in India, 1508.” CASA Croatian Association of South Africa, 2000.

D'Souza, Joel. “Croatians Return to Goa Nostalgically.” GoaNOW, 2000.

Eterovich, Adam S. Croatia in the New World: Columbus, The Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Saint Vlaho (Saint Blaise) Patron Saint of Dubrovnik. San Carlos, Calif.: Ragusan Press, 1993. Four Croatians with Columbus

Eterovich, Adam S. “Saint Vlaho-Goa.” Croatian American Times, February 5, 2002. Church of Saint Vlaho was built in India in 1563.     Saint Vlaho was first celebrated in San Francisco in the 1920's.

Hakluyt Society. The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India. London: Hakluyt Society, 1937. Mentions Sao Braz in South Africa.

Markotic, Vladimir. “Ghengiz Kahn, a Moslem Ruler of Broach in Gujarat, India in the 16th Century.” Croatian Historical Society of Canada, July 6, 1984. He was a Croatian.

Mazuranic, V. “Melik Jesa Dubrovcanin u Indiji Godine 1480-1528.” Zbornik Kralja Tomislava Zagreb, 1925. A ruler from Dubrovnik in India, 1480-1528.

Mirkovich, Nicholas. “Ragusa and the Portuguese Spice Trade.” Slavonic and Eastern European Review, London, March 1943.

Schafer, Ernesto. El Consejo Real y Supremo de las indias. Seville, 1947. Mentions Nadalin and Palatin.

Sisevic, Ivo. “Dubrovacka Naseobina u Goi u XVI i XVII Stoljecu.” Ragusan Press, 1987. Dubrovnik in Goa, india in the 1500's.