Memories of several years in south western Africa

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book that paints a picture of life in what is now Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s. It covers several interests of mine, like family history, because the auther was a friend of my wife Val’s great great grandparents, and missiology, because of his comments on the way missionaries behaved then.

Memories of several years in south-western AfricaMemories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.

Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscript holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.

Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.

Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.

He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people — the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described “wagon trains” going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don’t describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.

Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.

So we have Een’s view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators’ notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can’t have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.

All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of ‘das grosse Vaterland’. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation’s flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans… The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren’s victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion… All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives…

Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,

In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.

It little details like these that make Een’s book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.

It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife’s great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. Fred Green married Kate Stewardson, the daughter of Francis and Frances Stewardson.

The translators, in their notes, persist in repeating the errors of several published sources by referring to Francis Stewardson as “Ian” Stewardson (which is a name that was made up for a historical novel), and giving Fred Green’s middle name as Frederick Joseph Green, when it was actually Frederick Thomas Green. I mention this because of the persistence of these errors, which come from relying on secondary sources. The church records, in Namibia and Canada, show that Fred Green’s middle name was Thomas, and the elder Stewardson’s name was Francis, not Ian. Fred Green’s deceased estate file in the Free State Master’s Office also shows his middle name as Thomas, so he didn’t change his name in middle age as some people do.

Een (2004:74) reveals that Fred and Kate Green had another child that we didn’t know about before:

Last among the hunters to arrive [in Ovamboland in November 1866] was Mr Green with with his wife who had been born in Damaraland of English parents. Both of them were ill. Green already had the first symptoms of the fever [malaria] prevailing in the country, which he had first contracted some years ago and which characteristically recurs every year, and then often enough it reappears some time before the period of its general recurrence. Mrs Green could not, of course, be anything other than exhausted and sick as she had had a son some days previously. The child died soon after their arrival here without having been baptized, and was buried without any ceremony at the foot of a fig tree…

Green was an amiable and pleasant gentleman and known as the most proficient hunter in this part of Africa. He did not consider it worthy of a gentleman to shoot elephants from an ambush at night when they came to the water to quench their thirst.

Een goes on to describe the recent death of another Swede, Johan August Wahlberg, who was killed by an elephant when on a hunting expedition with Fred Green. In Wahlberg’s case, he was ambushed by the elephant.

In a couple of places Een refers to Francis and Frances Stewardson’s daughters as beautiful, and one of the last things he did before he left to return to Sweden was to attend the wedding of one of them, Fanny, to another Swedish trader, Axel Whilhelm Eriksson (Een 2004:187).

Eriksson returned from his expedition to Ovamboland in September [1871]. He wasd engaged to one of the beautiful daughters of Mrs Stewardson, and now the wedding was celebrated with the usual pomp and splendour. He marriage ceremony was performed by Missionary Viehe in the meeting-house or school-house of Omaruru, and was attended by a large crowd of black spectators. The bride, dressed in light-blue silk, was radiantly beautiful. There was a big salute [of guns] and the black spectators were given two fat oxen on which they could feast as they pleased.

Sad to say, the marriage ended in divorce 10 years later. Axel Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson had four children, and one of them was named Axel Francis Zeraua Eriksson, presumably after his father, his maternal grandfather, and Chief Zeraua, who was a close friend of Eriksson.

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The Boteti (or Botletle) River, Botswana

On Saturday 25 May 2013 we left the Island Safari Lodge at Maun, where we had stayed the previous two nights, and continued to follow some of the routes taken by Val’s great-great grandfather Fred Green.

GreenBaobab

Green’s Baobab, near Gweta, Botswana

When planning our trip we had looked at the possibility of going to Gweta on the road to Francistown, and trying to visit Green’s baobab, which is about 30 km south of the town. Two things made the possibility remote: first, there was no accommodation available in Gweta at the time we would be passing that way, and, secondly, we were told that the way to Green’s baobab lay along a sandy track, for which one needed a 4×4 vehicle and our little Toyota Yaris wouldn’t make it, so we had to make do with pictures found by Google. There is a video of it here.

Botswana cattle

Botswana cattle

In July 1858 Fred and Charles Green and George Bonfield left Hereroland with five wagons and went to Lake Ngami. Bonfield stayed there with one wagon while the Green brothers set off for Matabeleland with the other four wagons by way of the north side of the Makgadikgadi Pans, and at Gootsa Pan they carved on a baobab “Green’s Expedition 1858″. Apparently the inscription can still be read today, which is why we thought it might be interesting to see it. But it didn’t seem possible, so we tried to follow the course of the Boteti River instead.

Boteti River

Boteti River bridge at Makalamabedi, Botswana

After filling up with petrol we left Maun at 9:30 am, and drove east towards Francistown, and there were several herds of cattle crossing the road in single file, like the game in Etosha. We stopped to take photos of one lot, and those who had already crossed gathered and looked at us reproachfully, while those who had not yet crossed stopped, wondering when we would get out of the way, perhaps. We saw lots of people riding asses, usually in pairs, and they seemed to be cowboys, watching the herds.

Boteti River at Makalamabedi

Boteti River at Makalamabedi

At 10:12, 67 km after leaving the Island Safari Lodge, we turned south, where a sign pointed to Makalamabedi. The road was narrower, and looked less travelled. After about 8 km we came to the main object of this part of our journey, the Boteti River bridge, so we stopped to take photos of it and the river. The river was surprisingly large, and full of water. When reading about Fred Green travelling along it, I had always pictured it like a Namibian river or like the Taokhe River we had seen a couple of days ago, dry, with water in it only after rain. But the Boteti (or Botletle, as some called it) was wide and beautiful, and though not as large as the Okavango farther north, was similar, as the outflow of the delta. No wonder the Green brothers spent so much time here. As Tabler (1973:45) puts it:

Shelly, Bushe and Green, going to Lake Ngami, were on the Botletle River in September 1851, when they met Livingstone. Shelley and Bushe returned to Kolobeng late in December, and Green was at Winburg, O.R.S. early in March 1852, just returned from Ngami and intending to start for the Lake again as soon as he could.

Boteti River at Makalamabedi

Boteti River at Makalamabedi, looking upstream from the bridge

When travelling by ox wagon, drinking water for the oxen is always an important concern, and there was plenty of that in the Boteti River, at least at this point.

Boteti River at Makalamabedi, looking downstream from the bridge

Boteti River at Makalamabedi, looking downstream from the bridge

We drove on to Makalamabedi, and beyond the bridge the road was full of potholes of Albanian rather then Free State proportions, one drove into and out of them, and was lucky to be able to travel at 40 km an hour. The thought of driving all the way to Serowe on such roads was a bit daunting. Perhaps we should have been sensible and gone via Francistown instead.

Boteti River at Makalamabedi

Boteti River at Makalamabedi

At Makalamabedi there was another foot-and-mouth disease control point, and we had to drive through a dip and stand on a mat again. Val asked the bloke there how he was, as one does, and he said he wasn’t well, or “good” as people say nowadays. He had a headache. Val said “We’ll pray for you”, and he and the woman with him said, rather incredulously, “You know how to pray?’ He then asked why we were travelling on this road, which we had begun to wonder ourselves, and he clearly thought we were nuts to do so. So we told him about Fred Green hunting elephants along the Boteti or Botletle river, and how we wanted to see where he had been.

Halfway through the town the potholed tar road changed to gravel, and then we were able to travel a bit faster, 65-70 km/hour, which gave us hopes of reaching Serowe before midnight. The river was visible in glimpses caught through the trees.

We came to a tarred road again, and were a bit confused, as the map seemed to differ quite a bit from the territory. Though not as bad as the earlier bit, this one was still potholed, though in Free State rather than Albanian fashion, so we were able to travel at about 70-80, in a zig-zag course to avoid the larger potholes. Some had been repaired, and others marked for repair. From the maps it seemed that the road had only been tarred fairly recently, but the contractors must have done a shoddy job, and cut corners.

Then  we joined another tarred road, which from the map appeared to be an older one, and was in better condition. It went due south, though the river was somewhere on our left, and according to the map, we were somewhere around Khumaga. At one point we stopped to take a picture of a sign which showed that we were pretty far from anywhere. The next place was Rakops, 66 km ahead, though we had been seeing signs from about 130 km mark.  We still had 415 km to go to Serowe, and we had only covered about 200 km.

A long way from anywhere, and still a long way to go

A long way from anywhere, and still a long way to go

There was bush at the sides of the road, and the verges had not been cleared as on other roads. Every now and again there were long skid marks on the light coloured tar, and I wondered if these were where someone travelling at high speed suddenly braked to avoid an animal coming out of the bush. One might just see a cow, but a goat or even a donkey could be hidden until it actually came out into the road.

A bit closer to Rakops the bush opened out, and there was a vast flat expanse stretching over to the west, with a line of trees about a kilometre away to the east, which we took to be the Boteti River still. It took a while before we realised that this must be a westward extension of the Makgadikgadi Pans.

A bit further along we came across a congregation of vultures gathered around the carcass of a donkey that must have been knocked down by a vehicle. It wasn’t, however, in one of the places where the bushes grew along the edge of the road, but rather along a stretch through the flat pan, where you could see for miles to the horizon. There must have been 50-60 vultures, with more circling overhead, and a few crows dropping in to join them. I’d read somewhere about “carrion crows” but this was the first time I had seen them. The only animal actually eating was a starving dog. The vultures seemed to be waiting for someone to say grace or something, and more kept arriving as we watched.

Stray animals knocked down on the road are soon cleared away

Stray animals knocked down on the road are soon cleared away

I suppose donkeys are the most vulnerable of domestic animals when it comes to being run over. Goats are the most intelligent, and think twice about crossing a road when they see a car coming. Cows cross the road regardless. Sheep mill around. But a silly ass will stand its ground in the middle of the road and simply ignore approaching vehicles. When the vehicle is a 26-wheeler with a sleepy driver on a dark night, the vultures have a good brunch the next day.

A vulture and a carrion crow

A vulture and a carrion crow

We eventually reached Rakops, 247 km from Maun, at about 1:15 pm. The main road by-passed Rakops, but we drove in to the town to try to see the river again, still marked by the line of trees in the flat pan. We came to a bridge and crossed it, and the river still had water in it there, and several animals grazing along its banks.

Bridge over the Boteti River at Rakops

Bridge over the Boteti River at Rakops

We drove back to the main road, and continued, now travelling south-eastwards, still with the river on the left, marked by the line of trees and a string of villages. Though the main road (now a good one, with no potholes) by-passed the villages, it still had lots of speed limits of 80 or 60 km/h.

The Boteti River at Rakops

The Boteti River at Rakops

About 40 kilometres from Rakops the road crossed the river again, still with water, and still fairly wide, though only about half the width it was when we first crossed it a couple of hundred kilometres upstream. According to the map the Boteti River flowed into Lake Xau, and there was a road going round the southern end of the lake, but we did not go that way, as it was getting quite late and we still had a long way to go to Serowe.

The Boteti River, just before it reaches Lake Xau

The Boteti River, just before it reaches Lake Xau

We drove around the end of the Mopipi Pan, about 60 km from Rakops. The Mopipi Pan is a kind of eastward extension of Lake Xau, and that seemed to be the end of it, where the mighty Okavango eventually ended up. It was also the end of the flat open country, and we were back in the land of mopani trees, looking golden in the afternoon sun.

Mopipi Pan

Mopipi Pan

We had covered only about half the distance to Serowe, but the road surface was better now, and we drove faster. We looked for a sitplekkie beside the road, but there were none. We passed the town of Letlhakane with its mine, and an enormous mine dump, and after passing that there were fences on either side of the road At sunset we reached a place called Paje, and tried to phone Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, where we were supposed to be staying. The booking paper we received gave detailled instructions on how to leave Gaborone, and thereafter gave exact kilometre measurements to the turn-off over 200 km further on, and where to turn off from there, giving distances, but no landmarks, which was of no use to people coming from a different direction.The cell phones didn’t seem to be working, just as the credit card machines didn’t seem to be working either.

We reached Serowe in the gathering dusk, and came to the road from Palapye, which had a big shopping mall on it, and it seemed that that was where we were supposed to turn up the road we had just come down, managed to work out the way to Lentswe Lodge from there, 600 km from Maun. It was fully dark when we arrived, and there was also a mix-up with our booking, and they were only expecting us on Monday. The guy at reception, who introduced himself as Geoffrey, said he had been on leave, and the people who had filled in for him had left a bit of a mess. But he managed to sort out a room for us, and led us to it along a rough path, with steps going up and down, and then, when we were settled there, we went back the path to the bar, and had fillet steak and eggs for supper, which was excellent. Geoffrey brought us a packed breakfast for the morning, and we went to bed, as we were tired after a long day’s driving. It was the last night of our holiday — we had seen everyhing we had come away to see, and the next day we would be homeward bound.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

From Shakawe to Maun via Lake Ngami

This is the continuation of the story of our holiday journey down the Okavango river, tracing some of the places followed by Val’s ancestor Fred Green some 160 years ago. It continues from Drowning in the Okavango: in the steps (and wake) of the brothers Green | Hayes & Greene family history, and you can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

We left Drotsky’s Cabins at Shakawe in Botswana at about 8:45 am, after a good breakfast. It was a good place to stay, and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. The only drawback was the price. Though the facilities were no better than those at the Kaisosi River Lodge at Rundu in Namibia, it cost nearly twice as much to stay there.

Parts of Namibia and Botswana we travelled through 21-25 May 2013

Parts of Namibia and Botswana we travelled through 21-25 May 2013

The map shows where we travelled these few days, from Rundu to Maun via Shakawe and Sehitua. It also shows where Fred Green and his brother Charles travelled. Initially they travelled to Lake Ngami from Bloemfontein, where their brother Henry was British Resident of the Orange River Sovereignty, approaching it from the east. They would leave some of their cattle with their friend Sechele, the chief of the Bakwena, who lived in the vicinity of the present-day Gaborone. In 1852, however, a group of Boers from the Transvaal raided the Bakwena, and stole a lot of cattle, including those belonging to the Green brothers and the missionary David Livingstone. Soon afterwards the Orange River Sovereignty became an independent Boer republic, and the Green brothers stopped using that route, and approached Lake Ngami from the west, via Walvis Bay. Sometimes they would take the direct route via Gobabis, but people living in the Gobabis area were known to rob travellers, and it was also difficult to find water to trek oxen, so they also used the more circuitous route via the Omurambo Womataka — which is shown on the map as joining the Okavango between Rundu and Bagani. The lower reaches of it may be the mysterious Shoshongo Dum. They would then probably have followed more or less the route we took now.

Roadside trees on the road south from Shakawe

Roadside trees on the road south from Shakawe

We drove south through Nxamasere and Sepupa, but though the river was supposed to be somewhere over on the left, we did not catch another glimpse of it. We passed a turn-off to Etsha, and I half thought of going to look at it, as it was the site of Ronald Wynne’s missionary labours among Mbukushu refugees from Angola, described in his book The pool that never dries up. It was therefore of some missiological interest, but time was not on our side, and we were still uncertain about whether we would be able to get enough petrol to get to Maun, so we drove on.

At Gumare, about 130 km from Shakawe, as we had been told, petrol was available, so our fears of being stranded in Botswana were groundless, and we filled up for the first time since Rundu, though we had actually used surprisingly little, and might actually have made it to Maun if we needed to. We also bought some Botswana cellphone SIM cards for Mascom, which seemed to give the usual problems when trying to install them, of asking for information, such as one’s identity number, when one was not sure what exactlywas being asked for.

We reached Nokaneng at noon, 170 km from Shakawe. The map showed that it was closer to the river, and also that there was a gravel
road running down the river bank, so we turned off into the village to see if we could find it, but we drove in a fairly wide circle without seeing either river or road along it, and returned to the main road.

About 20 km beyond Nokaneng we stopped to take photos of a scarecrow — at least that’s what it looked like. We had seen several such things along the road, and wondered what they signified. This one had the figure of a man carrying a plastic bucket and a couple of other things, and a couple of ox skulls nailed to a post, and festooned with old tire treads.

A scarecrow, or something else? Seen about 20 km south of Nokaneng on the road to Sehitwa

A scarecrow, or something else? Seen about 20 km south of Nokaneng on the road to Sehitwa

At Tsau, according to the map, the road crossed the Taokhe River, up which Fred Green was said to have travelled by boat in 1855. He certainly couldn’t have done so today, as there was no sign of water in it. The Taokhe is a distributory of the Okavango — though I’m not sure what to call it. A tributary is a smaller river that adds its flow to a bigger one, but the Okavango works in reverse — it’s a big river that splits up into a lot of smaller ones where it flows into the Kalahari desert and sinks into the sand, so I refer to the smaller rivers as “distributories” for want of a better word.

The bridge over Taokhe River at Tsau -- it may have been navigable in 1855, but not today

The bridge over Taokhe River at Tsau — it may have been navigable in 1855, but not today

The amount of water in these rivers and lakes varies tremendously. In Fred Green’s time, in the early 1850s, Lake Ngami was a fairly large body of water, so that he thought it worthwhile to take a boat there, presumably from Walvis Bay. But after a few years of drought it shrinks a great deal. Our visit seems to have fallen somewhere in between. The Taokhe River was dry as dust, and one couldn’t imagine it being navigable , ever. But when we reached Lake Ngami, it seemed that the level of water in it was higher than it had been for some time past.

Lake Ngami at Sehitwa, 23 May 2013

Lake Ngami at Sehitwa, 23 May 2013

We reached Lake Ngami at Sehitwa, a town on the shore, and there we could drive down to the lake and see it. There were fishing boats and nets and fishermen mending their nets. But there were a lot of dead trees sticking up out of the water. Clearly they had grown there when the level of the water was much lower than it is now. One sometimes sees that when a dam is built. As the water level in the dam rises, it drowns existing vegetation, and the trees die. But Lake Ngami is not a human construction, but a natural lake, and obviously the water level fluctuates a great deal.

Lake Ngami, 23 May 2013

Lake Ngami, 23 May 2013

The dead trees were Kalahari thorn trees, and must have established themselves on the shore of the lake over a number of years before the water level rose again to swallow them up. So perhaps the level of water in the lake is now higher than it has been for 30 years or more, but it seems unlikely that it will rise again to what it was in Fred Green’s time, though, as everywhere we had been in northern Namibia people had been speaking of a drought with crop failures.

Lake Ngami at Sehitwa

Lake Ngami at Sehitwa

We left Sehitwa heading for Maun, and a little way out of town passed a sign that said “Lake Ngami 2 km”. As we had come all this way to see it, we turned back, and rounding a bush suddenly found ourselves on a sandy track like the old road between Rundu and Mukwe (see photo in previous entry). That proved to be to much for our little Toyota Yaris with its small wheels and we got stuck. It proved difficult even to reverse out, as the front bumper was scooping up sand like a shovel, and we enlisted the help of a couple of passers-by to help us get out. At the other end of the lake wass the village of Toteng, and we drove into it to see if there was a view of the lake from there, but could not see anything. The Green brothers, and most of the other foreign traders and tourists of the 1850s, seemed to make for Letsholathebe’s Town, and we wondered whether that was at Toteng, or Sehitwa, or somewhere in between.

A couple of times, when we made excursions into towns and villages, when we got back to the main road there was no speed limit sign, and we were stopped by traffic cops for going too fast.

We reached Maun at about 4:30 pm, about 400 km from Shakawe and were surprised to see how big it was. It was much bigger than Gobabis and Rundu, which had grown enormously in the 40 years since I had last seen them. Neither of us had ever seen Maun before, but from reading descriptions in books we had got the impression that it was a small place, with a couple of general dealer stores, a garage, a post office, and not much else. On maps it had seemed remote, far from anywhere, the last place anyone would go to. But if it was like that 30-40 years ago, it is certainly no longer like that. Not it is a hub, a centre, a crossroads on major trade routes. It is at least 20 km across, to judge from the street lights as measuring the urban area.

Maun, Botswana. May 2013

Maun, Botswana. May 2013

I suspect that this may be the result of the completion of the tarred road between Gobabis and Francistown, which puts Maun on the crossroads of trade routes between Zimbabwe and Zambia and the port at Walvis Bay. There has been talk of extending the railway line from Gobabis to Francistown as well.

Island Safari Lodge, Maun, Botswana

Island Safari Lodge, Maun, Botswana

And that puts me in mind of the idea of an Orthodox theological seminary for southern Africa, following Bishop Shihala Hamupembe’s comments on the difficulties of sending foreign students to South Africa. Maun might be a good central place for such an institution, accessible from South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I wonder how friendly Botswana is to international educational institutions? Perhaps more so than South Africa. It’s a thought for the future, anyway.

Cattle crossing the river in the evening

Cattle crossing the river in the evening

We stayed at the Island Safari Lodge, on the north-eastern side of Maun, about 12 km from the centre of town. It overlooks one of the distributories of the Okavango River, quite high on a bank. It’s not as posh as Kaisosi or Drotsky’s, but comfortable enough, and the staff are equally welcoming and friendly. I wondered if they had all been trained at the same school for the hospitality industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.  It also had free Wi-Fi that worked, at least until the electricity went off. The lights came on again after a few seconds, but the Wi-Fi stayed off till we left.

We sat on the terrace and and watched the cattle grazing on the island opposite. At one point a group of them swam across the river to the other side, presumably it was miling time. I sampled the local beer, which had the unlikely name of St Louis, but it wasn’t as good as Windhoek beer. There were boats going up and down the river, much narrower and slower-flowing here than at Shakawe or Rundu, so they punted the boats with poles rather than using paddles.

A boat being punted past the Island Safari Lodge, Maun

A boat being punted past the Island Safari Lodge, Maun

This was followed by a day in Maun, and another boat ride to see a spectacular sunset and moonrise over the Okavango Delta.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

Drowning in the Okavango: in the steps (and wake) of the brothers Green

In 1855 the brothers Fred and Charles Green sailed up the Okavango River from Lake Ngami in Botswana, and thereafter hunted and traded along it for several years. On our holiday trip we tried to visit some of the places they would have seen along the river and its distributories. Story continued from Across northern Namibia | Notes from underground

After driving from Odibo in Ovamboland and spending the night at the Kaisosi River Lodge near Rundu, Val was up early on the morning of Tuesaday 22 May taking pictures of the sunrise, and the professional photographer we had seen the previous evening was at it again, filming the dugout canoes  crossing the Okavango river, so we got more pictures of boats crossing the river. But there were also some other boats, independent of the photographer.

Crossing the Okavango in a dugout canue, this time not for the photographer

Crossing the Okavango in a dugout canue, this time not for the photographer

There was a busload of German tourists staying at Kaisosi, and they went out on the river in a boat for breakfast.

View over the Okavango River from the dining room of Kaisosi River Lodge

View over the Okavango River from the dining room of Kaisosi River Lodge

The tourist breakfast on the river was a far cry from 160 years ago, when Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green and his brother Charles used to come here. In this part of our journey we were trying to visit some of the places the Green brothers passed through and stayed at back in the 1850s and 1860s. Charles Green was drowned in the Okavango river about 1862, so somewhere along this stretch of river his bones must lie in an unmarked grave.  Perhaps he was travelling in a dugout canoe similar to those in the photos.

Breakfast on the Okavango River

Breakfast on the Okavango River

Charles Green’s fate was perhaps better than that of George Bonfield, who was taken by a crocodile when Fred Green’s boat was overturned by a hippo in 1861, near Andara Island, about 120 km downstream from Rundu. No grave at all for him, marked or unmarked.

The Green brothers were born in Montreal, Canada; Charles was born in 1825, and Fred in 1829. The Green family moved to the Cape Colony when their father, William Green, who was in the commissartiat department of the British army, was transferred there some time in the 1840s. Henry Green, the older brother of Charles and Fred, became British Resident of the Orange River Sovereignty, and his borthers joined him there in about 1852-54. From there Charles and Fred set out on hunting expeditions to Lake Ngami travelling up the Boteti (or Botletle) River with their ox wagons (more about that in a later post).

In 1855 Fred Green (Charles had then gone to Australia) travelled up the Taokhe River from Lake Ngami to Andara with his future brother-in-law Oskar Lindholm and a couple of others. We were now travelling in the opposite direction, the one they took on their return journey

We left Kaisosi River Lodge on Tuesday 21 May 2013, and went into Rundu in search of petrol, and the first garage we tried had none, but a Total garage in the centre of town had some, and we filled up, and set out east for Mukwe.

Shebeen in Rundu

The Put More Fire Shebeen in Rundu

When I last travelled this road over 40 years ago in a Water Affairs Jeep, it was a sandy track, suitable only for four-wheel drive vehicles, and even LandRovers were not allowed to use it, as their track was too narrow, and they would mess them up for larger vehicles. Now it is a tarred highway from near Oshikango to Katima Mulilo, and even our little Toyota Yaris can use it. .

The road from Rundu to Mukwe in 1969, the previous time I travelled along it

The road from Rundu to Mukwe in 1969, the previous time I travelled along it

Here is how I described that earlier journey in my diary (9 September 1969). I was travelling with Reiner Iben, my immediate boss, and we were going round northern Namibia servicing the instruments that measured the watert level in various rivers.

We drove to Grootfontein, where we had a puncture repaired and had breakfast in a cafe. Then we went on to Runtu. At midway there was a “stock control post”, and the bloke there didn’t want to let me in because I didn’t have a permit. But Iben talked him into it [by telling him that I would have to stay with him if he didn't let me in], and we had coffee with him. We also noticed that one of the Jeep’s rear shock absorbers was hanging loose. On the way to Runtu one of the front ones also broke loose, so we had a very bouncy ride.

Runtu was hot, with a police station and a hospital, and that was about all. It was strange that there should be a police station, because it was supposed to be out of the police zone, but there it was. The Okavango river looked quite beautiful – it was nice to see an ever-flowing river for a change. We had lunch in a rest hut overlooking the river, and then went on to Mukwe, along the river further to the east. On the way we passed a lorry belonging to the roads department, which had broken down, and we called in at their camp, about twenty miles further on, to tell them about it, and we were offered tea. They had a radio, which they used to call for a spare fanbelt for the truck. Beyond the road camp the road deteriorated into a track, all sandy and rather bumpy, and so it was rather unpleasant going along with only two shock absorbers. The broken ones were both on the driver’s side, so Iben, as the senior, made me drive, so he sat in the passenger seat and had the smoother ride. We passed a letter-box, painted red, at the side of the track, looking most incongruous — not that the place was uninhabited, because we passed many grass huts, but it looked unchanged from the nineteenth or probably the eighteenth century, and the letter box seemed to be an anachronism.

The style of the houses was completely different from that in Natal. There is no mud, so they are built of sticks, and each family home has a maze built around its home, with the individual huts, and the kraal, inside the maze. Zulu homes usually have huts arranged in a semi-circle around the kraal, but here the kraal is at the side and everything is connected by passages. We stopped along the road to collect wood, because Iben said there was no wood at Mukwe.

We reached Mukwe at about sunset, and we installed a new instrument just as it was getting dark. The new instrument was an electrical one, which would only require attention every six months. Then we camped and washed in the river and had supper. The river here is even more beautiful than at Runtu, with lots of little islands, and the water is beautifully clear.

It was soon apparent that though the tarred road to the west of Rundu had been built closer to the river, on the east it had been built farther away than the original track, so we turned off and went along the gravel road shown on the map as closer to the river, though I think it was still further away than the original track.

The Kavango style of domestic architecture was similar to that in Ovamboland, but the walls and fences were often built of grass rather than sticks

The Kavango style of domestic architecture was similar to that in Ovamboland, but the walls and fences were often built of grass rather than sticks

We drove down to the Mukwe police station, and I recalled that the water gauging station had been behind it, but we did not get any closer to the river there. The map also showed a petrol station at Mukwe, but we saw no sign of it. There was a sign saying we had entered Andara, and we stopped to take a photo of what we thought was the island.

Andara Island (we think)

Andara Island (we think)

Edward C. Tabler, in his book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland: 1738-1880, describes Fred Green’s first visit here as follow:

Green fell ill at Walvis Bay, which delayed him there. Wahlberg had arrived at the Bay in April 1854, and he and Green (and perhaps Bonfield and Lindholm) travelled to Letsholathebe’s town by 31 May 1855, when J. Chapman and Edwards arrived there from the east. After the departure of Chapman and Edwards for Walvis Bay on 1 August, Green, Wahlberg, Wilson and Lindholm ascended the Taokhe River to Libebe’s, August to November, using Green’s boat and porters. They were forced to leave the boat at some distance below Andara Island because of rapids. They arrived at Libebe’s on 22 October buty had a bad reception, and therefore soon started away. Only Wahlberg visited Andara Island.

Though Tabler lists his sources, he did not say which one he used for this account, and it would be interesting to read the original. Letsholathebe was the ruler  of the Tawana people, who, according to this article, had come to the Lake about 1820, and subjugated the other people living there. Libebe was the ruler of the Hambukushu people who lived in the area in the mid-19th century.

A few kilometres further on we rejoined the we rejoined the tar road where it crossed the river on a bridge to West Caprivi. We saw a garage there, but it had no petrol.

Okavango River just below the Popa rapids

Okavango River just below the Popa rapids

We went on towards the Botswana border at Mohembo, and saw a sign pointing to the Popo falls, which had blocked Fred Green’s progress in his boat, but there was a newly-built gate there, and they would not let us in. They said they were busy upgrading the accommodation. We said we weren’t looking for accommodation, but just wanted to see the rapids, but historical interest must give way to private enterprise and commercialisation, and they would not let us in.

Drotsky's Cabins, near Shakawe in Botswana

Drotsky’s Cabins, near Shakawe in Botswana

A little further on was Divara Lodge, and we stopped there for a very expensive lunch of a toasted ham and cheese sandwich (N$190.00), but it was perhaps worth it for the view of the river. We drove on through a game park, where we saw three zebras, and reached the Namibian border at 3:00 pm, and crossed into Botswana, leaving the border post at 4:28 pm, since Botswana time is an hour ahead of Namibian time.

Okavango River at Drotsky's Cabins

Okavango River at Drotsky’s Cabins

At about 4:55 we reached Shakawe, and looked for petrol there too, but there was none, and we wondered if we might end up being
stranded in Botswana, We reached Drotsky’s Cabins at about 5:20, and checked in to cabin number 9. It was close to the river so we took some photos and went for a beer before supper. There was a dog there who, like our dog Samwise, was crazy about having balls thrown for her. Drotsky’s was very pleasant, but, though the facilities were no better than Kaisosi River Lodge, where we had spent the previous night, it was almost double the price.

Sunrise at Drotsky's Cabins

Sunrise at Drotsky’s Cabins

The next morning (Wednesday 22 May) we were up by 5:30. We took photos of the sun shining through the trees, and after breakfast went on a boat ride up the river. Our boatman was called Salvation, which seemed fairly auspicious, and he first took us a little way downstream to see a colony of bee-eaters nesting in the river bank. There were dozens of holes in the bank where they made their nests, and dozens of birds popping in and out of them, or perched on the branches outside.

Bee eaters

Bee eaters

He then took us close to the bank a little bit further up, to see a small crocodile basking in the sun. The steep bank, about 7-8 feet high, where the cabins were situated, with their thorn trees, turned out to be rather unusual, and soon there were low reed banks on both sides of the river. We mainly wanted to see what Fred Green would have seen when he came up here in a boat, to get a picture of what it was like, but Salvation also took us inshore at various places to see birds and animals, which Fred Green would no doubt also have seen.

Crocodile on the bank of the Okavango River

Crocodile on the bank of the Okavango River

At one point we saw a snake eagle, and then a couple of fish eagles, and Salvation threw a couple of pieces of fish in the water so we could see how they swooped down to scoop them up. I found it difficult to take photos with the digital camera, though, because it was impossible to see anything on the screen. Trying to take a photo of a bird on a branch was a hit or miss affair, because it was impossible to distinguish the branch from the reflection of the frame of my glasses on the screen. We used to have an older digital camera which also had an optical viewfinder, but the newer ones don’t seem to have that feature.

Fish eagle

Fish eagle

There was a monitor lizard lying against a tree trunk, amazingly well camouflaged. It was almost exactly the same colour as the bark. We would never have spotted it if Salvation had not pointed it out. He is probably so familiar with the animals and birds on this stretch of river that he knows their favourite haunts and habits, but even so, it must be remarkably difficult to see.

Shakawe, Botswana, from the Okavango River

Shakawe, Botswana, from the Okavango River

We passed Shakawe village, and went on upstream, seeing an adult hippo and a couple of young ones. The adult hippo ran into the water almost as soon as we saw it, and then surfaced about halfway between us and the shore. I wondered if history would repeat itself, and whether we might enjoy the fate of George Bonfield 160 years ago.

Darter, sometimes called a "snake bird", because its neck looks a bit like a snake

Darter, sometimes called a “snake bird”, because its neck looks a bit like a snake

We had booked the boat for an hour, but extended our trip because it was so pleasant on the water that we extended it, and must have gone about 15 kilometres up the river. As we went we wondered how Fred Green had fared on the river. Below the Popa rapids, as above, the river flows at the rate of about 1-1,5 metres a second. With an outboard motor it was easy, but it must be more difficult if one was rowing. And back in those days the only power boats were ones with steam engines. Fuel would be no problem, but carrying a steam boat by ox-wagon from Walvis Bay would be quite a schlepp.

Hippo on the Okavango

Hippo on the Okavango

We saw some of the same creatures on the way back, and explored some side channels of the river, going around the islands.

Fish eagle

Fish eagle

Salvation dropped us back at the landing stage, apparently an old pont, at lunch time. I asked what his surname was, but it was a Yei name, and utterly unfamiliar to me, and as I had nothing to write it down with, I’d forgotten how to spell it five minutes later.

Salvation at the wheel

Salvation at the wheel

We had a drink on the veranda before lunch, and there were a bunch of other people there, apparently having a business meeting, and the dog with the ball was carrying it around hopefully, hinting that it needed to be thrown. She brought it to us once and I threw it for her.

Ball-obsessed dog

Ball-obsessed dog

The web site had told us that “Drotsky’s Cabins is a family business, and since it has been here for a long time, its owners are extremely knowledgeable about the Shakawe area, as well as the flora and fauna in this part of the Okavango Delta in Botswana” and also that “The bar at Drotsky’s Cabins is also frequented by locals, apart from tourists, so you are guaranteed to hear some fascinating stories about the Shakawe region of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.” I was rather disappointed that the guarantee was not fulfilled. I had rather hoped we might find someone to ask if there were any stories extant about the Green brothers, though of course Salvation had been knowledgable enough about the fauna of the delta.

Drotsky's Cabins - bar, lounge and dining room

Drotsky’s Cabins – bar, lounge and dining room

We spent most of the afternoon reading and relaxing, in the comfortable cabin. Though we have been on holiday, it has been quite a busy time with things to do and people to see or travelling taking up a lot of the time.

The story of our journey continues here.

Our family history wiki in 2012

Here are some statistics for our Family History Wiki in 2012.

The pages that had the most visitors were:

  1. 2184 – Jessie Koch, formerly Falkenberg, born Schultz
  2. 2063 – Morton family
  3. 1974 – Home Page
  4. 1815 – Alfred William Green discussion (bit of a mystery this)
  5. 1638 – Vause family
  6. 1555 – Frederick Thomas Green
  7. 1501 – Bagot family

It is a bit of a mystery why 1815 people (that’s nearly five people a day) should be drawn to a page for discussing Alfred William Green, but then completely fail to discuss him when they get there. By contrast, only 130 people visited the page that actually has information about Alfred William Green.

Jessie Schultz was Val’s great great grand mother, who came to South Africa from Germany in 1858, and it would be nice to know if any of the people who visited her page are related to us, but none of them is saying.

Here are some more general statistics for the site as a whole, and, sadly, they seem to indicate that collaborative family history research is not very popular:

WikiStat

That’s quite a lot of visitors, but the emptiness of the “Messages” section shows that the feedback is almost zero, which is why the edits are relatively few. If few people respond, there is little  motivation to add to the information.

So I’m still a bit disappointed. I thought the wiki format was ideal for family participation, and that other members of the family could help to contribute to information, especially with family stories and biographical information.

I hoped that some cousins might start their own wikis, where the relations we have in common could be linked across two wikis, and then their own wiki could branch out to the unlinked families on their side of the family. In that way we could have a whole network of interlinked family wikis. But somehow it has never reached critical mass, and never taken off.

But maybe this year will be different.

Would it be too much to hope for — that we could have one linked family wiki a month? Or even a quarter? Or perhaps even one for the whole year? It’s quite easy to start one on Wikispaces, but it doesn’t even have to be there, there are other wiki sites as well.

In the steps of Fred Green

Twenty years ago this month we went to Namibia on holiday, and one of the reasons we wanted to go was to learn more about Fred Green, Val’s great great grandfather, who was a trader and elephant hunter there for about 25 years, from about 1850 until his death in 1876.

Frederick Thomas Green (1829-1876) Born Montreal, Quebec. Died Heikhamkab, near Walvis Bay

We’ve been scanning some old photos, including photos of that holiday trip, and so it seemed a good time to share them and some of the related family history, old and new. Val had been to Namibia a year before, about a week after it became independent, and spent some time in the archives looking up the history of the Green family, and meeting some relatives and other researchers, like Dag Henrichsen, from Switzerland, who was particularly interested in Fred Green’s eldest daughter, Ada Maria Green, known as Kaera. Val also met a cousin, a descendant of Kaera, Mburumba Kerina, who is credited with the invention of the name Namibia.

In April 1991, however we all went, driving via Upington and the Augrabies Falls on Bright Monday, spending a night in Karasburg, and reaching Windhoek the next day. It was the first time I had been back to Namibia since being deported nearly twenty years before. It was interesting to see how things had changed in twenty years, and especially since independence. Some friends in Windhoek said that the biggest change had taken place overnight — the moment that the South African army withdrew to south of the border the whole country breathed a sign of relief and peace descended. There were several new buildings in Windhoek, which seemed somehow brighter and more cheerful.

We went north to stay ar Gross Barmen, and from there visited Okahandja, Omaruru and Otjimbingwe, places that Fred Green knew well 130 years before. You can read more about Fred Green’s life and times here and here.

8-Apr-1991, Monday

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Bright Monday. Leave for Namibia. Visit Kuruman, Aughrabies Falls, stay in Karasburg

Left for Namibia at 03:30, and travelled down the freeway to Muldersdrift, then through Tarlton and Ventersdorp. It began to get light then, and between Ventersdorp and Coligny for quite a long way there were road works and deviations. At Biesiesvlei Val took over driving, and we stopped for breakfast in Vryburg at a restaurant that served a “Kalahari breakfast” of eggs, wors, bacon and chips. We reached Kuruman at about 11:00 and had a look at the eye, and the fish in the pool next to it, and filled up with petrol.

Augrabies Falls, on Orange River below Upington

Social weavers' nest on a telephone pole

We reached Upington about 14:00, and bought Kentucky fried chicken for lunch, then drove on to Keimoes where we filled up with petrol, and reached the Aughrabies falls at 15:00, and spent about an hour there wandering around and looking at the falls from various viewpoints. Simon found a colony of dassies. We drove west across a flat plain, and contemplated going to Pofadder and possibly sleeping there. I’d always wanted to see Pofadder, because of the name, and it seemed the most isolated place in South Africa, but the scenery looked boring, and so we decided rather to go to Karasburg via Onseepkans, and it was a scenic drive down to the Orange river with the sun beginning to go down, social weaver nests on the telephone poles, and groves of kokerbome on the hills, and one next to the road that we stopped to photograph.

Kokerbome (Quiver trees), found in Northern Cape and southern Namibia

Kokerbome (Quiver trees), found in Northern Cape and southern Namibia

At the border there was a square army tent with a black guy and a white guy in camouflage uniform, looking bored. They stamped our passports, and we crossed the river. It was quite wide there, flowing slowly through pools and reeds – nothing like the roaring rush of water through the gorge upstream at Aughrabies. On the Namibian side there was an identical tent, but the immigration/police officers smartly dressed in navy blue trousers and white shirts. One was reading an English novel with the help of a dictionary – with the official language being English now, a lot of people will have to learn it.

We drove into the setting sun towards Karasburg, and arrived there at 19:00. We asked for a room at the Kalkfontein Hotel, and they guy there offered us his “five-star” room, with six beds, and air-conditioner and a bathroom and shower for the all-in price of R175-00 – not bad for these days. We went straight to dinner – mutton stew and vegetables – and then straight to bed. It had been a long day of driving.

9-Apr-1991, Tuesday

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Karasburg to Windhoek. Supper with Enid Ellis

We woke up about 06:50, and had breakfast at the hotel – similar to what we had had yesterday, wors, eggs, bacon and chips. They had stickers from UNTAG and the Australian Army, relics of the transitional period last year. The atmosphere seemed relaxed and friendly. in marked contrast to what it had been when I left nearly twenty years ago. We left just after 08:00, and drove to Grunau, where we stopped for petrol at the Shell garage just north of the village. There was a shop in the garage with an amazing range of merchandise on sale, and a sign on the door that said “Come in” in English, Afrikaans and Kwanyama – the last seemed rather strange this far south. We bought a map and some postcards, and on the way to Keetmanshoop I wrote postcards to Joy Bidgood, Marios and Kia Prelorenzo. We took photos of the Karasberge – I had been through them many times, mainly at sunrise or sunset, but had never really taken pictures of them, and they were always to me the real sign of entering or leaving Namibia, even though they are about 200 km from the border.

At Keetmanshoop we bought a lot of stamps. Some cars had new number plates, with an N, followed by the number, and then a K, instead of the old SK ones. Others had green numberplates with GRN on, which I assumed stood for “Government of the Republic of Namibia” in place of the old A…G numbers. As we went north from there Val and the children stuck stamps on to the “Blue Press” that we were sending out. There was one section where they were working on the road, and we had about 15 km of gravel detour, with great clouds of dust. There were many heavy trucks on the road – far more than I remember from twenty years ago. Mukurob, the finger rock, which used to be visible from the road, was also gone – it had fallen down a couple of years ago.

We stopped at Mariental for hamburgers – real ones this time. There were many more cafes and shops selling food. Last time I had stopped at a cafe the menu had “Rice – or something else” and a “hamburger” consisted of very greasy mince on toast. Now they had some quite  good ones. We posted some of the Blue Presses, and pushed on to Windhoek. Rehoboth, too, seemed much developed. There were street lights on the main road, and many more prosperous-looking houses. We reached the Auas mountains about 15:30, and stopped to look  over Windhoek and take some photos, and when we started again the car battery light came on. We called at a garage at the bottom of the hill, and found that it was just that the ignition lock had been in the wrong position.

We drove into town, getting lost because of the new bypass roads a couple of times, and went to the post office, and posted the Blue Press for people within Namibia. We then went to Klein Windhoek, past 41 Klein Windhoek Road, where I had lived 20 years ago, and called on Val’s cousin Enid Ellis, and stayed for supper with them. Enid’s husband Justin was away at a conference. We saw their son Hugh, now aged 12, for the first time since he was three months old, and their daughter Bronwen, aged 7, for the first time ever. Bronwen was embarrassed because she had been to the beach at Swakopmund, and had been bitten by sandfleas, and was all over itchy bites.

I phoned Dave de Beer, who was staying at the Safari motel, and had said he would be here accompanying a group of European parliamentarians on a tour of Namibia. He wasn’t available, but I left a message for him to phone me back, and soon afterwards he did. He said we should go to see him about lunch time tomorrow at the hotel, as, though he would later be going to Johannesburg, we thought it

would be good to meet again on Namibian soil. Enid said that locally people spoke of the GRN number plate vehicles as standing for “Go Round Namibia”.After supper we drove to the Daan Viljoen Park on the Khomas Hochland road, and slept in a couple of huts there.

10-Apr-1991, Wednesday

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Spend morning in Windhoek archives, lunch with Dave de Beer. Enid Ellis & her children come to have a braai with us at Daan Viljoen Park

We went in to Windhoek in the morning, and parked in a parking ground opposite the Zoo Gardens, and went in to Wecke and Voigts, where I had bought a hat once. I looked for another hat like the one I had lost in Swaziland, but they only had JB Stetson Texan-style hats that would have been OK if it hadn’t been for the TV character J.R. Ewing. But in a shop next door they had some nice hats. A little further down the road there was a new pedestrian mall that went over Stuebelstrasse, and was very pleasant. We stopped at a kiosk there for some ham and salami brotchens for breakfast, and a guy came up and said he was hungry, and we gave him some money and he promptly bought chips and all the most bulky things he could get. We left the children looking at shops for stickers and T shirts and things, and went to the archives, where we saw Brigitte Lau, and told her about our project for transcribing Ada Leinhos’s case against the South West Africa Company. She said we had given so much stuff to the archives that she would give us a free copy of the German war map, which showed Frederick Vincent Green’s birthplace of Ehangero, on the Omuramba Wamatako, about 20km west of the present Okahandja-Otjiwarongo road. We looked up a few other things, and photocopied some missing pages from the court case.

Then we went to the Safari Motel to wait for Dave de Beer, whose conference was finishing. We had lunch at the Safari Motel with Dave, who told us something of what he had been doing. He had visited Gobabis with his parliamentarians, and they had stayed at the hotel there, and seen the jail. They had also visited Epukiro, where chief Munyuku was cooperating with the establishment of community farms. Dave said they were particularly concerned about health services, and that the nurses said that there was a lot of high blood pressure among Hereros, presumably because of all the milk and meat they eat. He said that in Ovamboland the traditional healers were cooperating with the health services, but when he asked about it in Hereroland, people were very cagey, though he had no idea why that should be so. He also said that Mburumba Kerina had been kicked out of parliament – I hadn’t known that he was in, but apparently he had represented a small coalition of his own group and the Rehoboth Basters, and Sam Nujoma had taken him and some of the other original petitioners to the United Nations along with him when he went there to apply for membership of the UN, even though they were now political rivals. This had led to Mburumba Kerina and Sam Nujoma being reconciled, and Mburumba joined SWAPO, so his original group obviously no longer wanted him as their representative. He said Assaria Kamburona was very active politically in the DTA, and that political differences had split the Oruuano Church, though he didn’t seem to have much evidence for that. Hiskia Uanivi is still, apparently, active in his Communist Party. While we were talking, Zephania Kameeta walked by, and said we could see him tomorrow at the Lutheran Church offices, where he is staying in a guest room.

We took Dave to the Anglican cathedral, and looked for Roger Key in the deanery, but he was out, so Val took some pictures of us together up by the bell, and we took some photos of the whole family there. We went down to the diocesan office, now in Fr Willie van der Sijde’s old house, and spoke to the diocesan secretary, who said that the diocese was chronically short of money and didn’t have enough to pay clergy stipends – though it was in the pockets of the people. It reminded me of the day I arrived [in 1969], when Dave himself was diocesan secretary, and he had R95.00 in the account and had to pay stipends the following week. We gave a calendar to Dinah Handura’s daughter, who worked in the office. Dinah had cleaned our house in Klein Windhoek.

Then we took Dave to the centre of town, and went to the OK Bazaars (another innovation since I was last here) and bought some ingredients for a braai tonight, and went back to the Daan Viljoen Park to prepare it. Enid, Hugh and Bronwen joined us about 16:30, and after walking around the dam we had a braai – except for Bronwen, who is vegetarian, and we chatted about old times, and caught up on the news of what we had been doing since we had last met 12 years ago, when we were in Melmoth and Enid was about to leave for England. The children all played soccer, and seemed to get on well together.

Bridget Hayes, Bronwen Ellis, Hugh Ellis, Jethro Hayes, Simon Hayes, Val Hayes, Enid Ellis at Daan Viljoen Park, Khomas Hochland, Namibia

11-Apr-1991, Thursday

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Visit Zephania Kameeta, stay at Gross Barmen

We drove around the Daan Viljoen Park before leaving, and saw several animals – jackals, tsessebe, kudus and wildebeest. We again went to town and had brotchens for breakfast, then went to see Zephania Kameeta. He said he and his wife had bought a house in Mariental, as she originally came from there, and houses were much cheaper. Their white neighbours were very right-wing, and it was a new experience for them to have blacks living next door. Zephania said that cabinet ministers were civil servants, and so got housing allowances, but on an MP’s salary he could not afford a house in Windhoek. We remarked on the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere in the place, and he said that it had originally seemed strange to think that they could cooperate with some of the right-wing political groups like ACN, but that when they did so, things seemed to work well. Zephania said he had done research into his own family history from the church registers in Otjimbingwe, where he himself had been born, and said we should go there and ask the Pastor, Pastor Mujoro, if we could look at the early registers, which should still be there.

Zephania Kameeta & Steve Hayes. Windhoek 11 April 1991

We left Windhoek then, and drove around Katutura for a while, and stopped to take photos of the graffiti on the Ovambo compound, which were colourful, and wondered what the compound was used for now. There was a new four-lane highway as far as Brakwater. At Okahandja we drove around for a while looking for Maharero’s grave – it was far more hidden away than I remembered it, and then went on to the resort at Gross Barmen, where we stayed in a marvellous flat, complete with air conditioning, chairs and tables, and we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and in the evening went swimming before having dinner at the restaurant, and we chatted to the waiter who was Kwanyama, and knew Nehemiah Hamupembe and some of the Anglican clergy at Odibo.

The graves of Herero heroes at Okahandja: Clemens Kapuuo and Hosea Kutako

12-Apr-1991, Friday

Abstract

Visit Omaruru, drive round Erongo mountains to Otjimbingue

Anthill between Gross Barmen & Wilhelmstal

We were up early, and drove along the back road to Wilhelmstal, where I had gone when I worked for the department of water affairs. We saw lots of game – jackals, kudu and gemsbok – all along the road. We then went to Omaruru, which was much more green and pleasant than I remembered it. We stopped at a small cafe for breakfast – again our ham and salami brotchens – and handed out St Nicholas Calendars to everyone we met. We went to the municipal offices where there was a sign advertising tourist information, and spoke to a Mr Bester, a former policeman who had come here from South Africa in 1964, and stayed on when he left the police force. He told us about some of the tourist attractions in the area, and we bought a couple of booklets as well. He showed us some maps, and some reports of a geological survey done by people from Rhodes University a few years ago – they said that the nearby Erongo mountains were the largest volcanic formation in the Southern hemisphere.

We drove through the Erongo mountains, wishing we had more time to spend here and explore. I remembered one, in particular, that looked like an enormous lizard, and when I passed in when working at the Department of Water Affairs it had seemed as though this was the end of the world. Knowing the country beyond it, it now seemed much more tame. We drove south past the western edge of the mountains, stopping to take photos of the Erongo and Spitsberg. I had once travelled along this road when the sun was setting over the Spitsberg and the moon rising over the Erongo, and it had been spectacularly beautiful. But even in the middle of the day there was a grandeur to it. We stopped for cold drinks at Usakos, but most of the shops were shut for the afternoon siesta. We went on to Karibib, where I wanted to take pictures of the old hotel, but it had vanished, and someone said it had been demolished 16 years ago, which was sad, because it had been the most interesting building in the town.

The Erongo mountains in west-central Namibia -- country that would have veen familiar to Fred Green

Powder tower at Otjimbingue, said to have been built by Fred Green

We went down to Otjimbingue, and looked for pastor Mujoro, and found there were two pastors – a husband and wife, but the wife was out at the church council, and the husband was asleep and apparently not to be disturbed, so we did not get to see the church registers, but took photos of the powder tower, allegedly built by Fred Green in the 1870s. As we were leaving Otjimbingue, the exhaust pipe fell off, but we were able to tie it up with a bit of wire, and got back to Gross Barmen roaring like a ferry.

13-Apr-1991, Saturday

Abstract

Gross Barmen to Ai Ais. See Roger Key, but not Mburumba Kerina

My 50th birthday. We packed up at Gross Barmen, and drove in to Windhoek, went straight to a garage called Auto-Fit, where they repaired the exhaust pipe, and then once again parked at the Zoo Gardens parking ground, and got brotchens from Wecke and Voigts for breakfast, and then went round to Kerina’s office in Kenya House in Leutweinstrasse (he’d said the street name had been changed to Mugabe Avenue, but all the old signs were still up) – it took us some time to find it. He had said it was the former Grand Hotel, but only when we got there did my memory of it come back – I’d met some journalists there from the Argus Africa News Service once. But Kerina was not in. A guy at the reception counter was rather cynical – Kerina had said he would meet us at 09:30, and the guy said that meant he wouldn’t be in before 10:00.

Jethro, Bridget, Steve & Simon Hayes: at Zoo Park above Independence Avenue, Windhoek. 13 April 1991, Steve's 50th birthday

Roger & Shaunie Key

We went to see Roger and Shaunie Key at the Anglican Deanery, and chatted to them for a while, and Roger got me to sign the Cathedral visitor’s books. He said he’d been very surprised to receive the Blue Press we had sent him [it was Roger who told us how peace descended on the country when the South African army left]. We made another attempt to see Kerina, but he was still not there, so we left Windhoek, driving south to Ai Ais. We turned off the main road at Kalkrand, and went towards Maltahohe, reaching it at about 14:00, and filled up with petrol there. The town seemed absolutely dead. We drove on to Helmeringhausen across the flat and dusty plain, with the iron-red plateau range on the left. Helmeringhausen too was dead on a Saturday afternoon, a little hamlet with stone houses that looked as if it hadn’t changed for 80 years.

We drove on to Bethanien, and took some photos on the way, and stopped at Bethanien for petrol, and then drove on to Ai Ais as the sun was setting, seeing the Karasberge from the west this time, looking very different. It was dark by the time we got to Ai Ais, and we only just made it to the restaurant before they closed.

14-Apr-1991, Sunday

Abstract

Ai Ais to Olifantshoek

After breakfast we walked around for a while, looking at the Fish River canyon, and bought a few things at the shop, and then drove back north along the road we had come down in the dark last night, and went to the view point on the Fish River Canyon and took photos from there. We then drove to Grunau, and bought hamburgers and wors rolls for lunch. We debated going south via Vioolsdrift, Springbok and Pofadder, but decided that it was too late for that, and took the direct route through Karasburg and Ariamsvlei.

Fish River Canyon

We passed the Namibian border control post just past Ariamsvlei, quite a way before the actual border. Though it was a prefab building it looked quite smart, with the flag flying, and immigration officers who were polite and efficient. About twenty km on we came to the South African “monitoring post” – a khaki tent, no flag, and an enormous Casspir armoured car parked outside. There were three scruffy looking characters in camouflage uniform sitting at a folding table covered with cold drink cans – one to write down the information in the passports, the second to stamp the passports, and the third to read the picture story book. It could hardly have been a greater contrast.

I’d bought a copy of the Sunday newspaper “Rapport” in Grunau, and we were back to the reports of violence. Virtually nothing was said about any news in Namibia at all. We filled up with petrol in Upington, and set off for Kuruman as quickly as possible, as the car lights weren’t working properly, but by sunset we had only reached Olifantshoek, so we booked in at the hotel there. It was very pleasant. We had a good supper, and it was cheaper than Karasburg. We celebrated with a bottle of 5th Avenue Cold Duck, and when we popped the cork it hit the ceiling and squashed a mosquito there.

15-Apr-1991, Monday

Abstract

Returned home – someone had broken into the house

We left Olifantshoek after breakfast, and drove through Kuruman, Vryburg (where we stopped to get a couple of new tyres),
Biesiesvlei and Ventersdorp. We got home about 16:30, and there was a policeman there guarding the house. someone had broken in sometime, and broken seven window panes, but they appeared to have been disturbed, as apparently everything they had taken was at the police station. Marios came round, and said he thought the break-in was last night, as he had come to check the place and found all the lights on.

End of diary extracts

Much of the country we passed through on this trip would have been familiar to Fred Green, his wife Catherine Stewardson (who was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay) and their older children — Mary, who was born in Ovamboland, and Fred junior (Val’s great grandfather) who was born somewhere east of Omaruru.The graves of the Herero heroes took on a new significance when we discovered that Fred Green and Samuel Maharero had been firends (though they had also fought), and Samuel Maharero made a grant of land to Fred Green’s daughter Ada when the Germans were beginning to colonise the country. The Germans tried to give her land to a commercial company, but she took them on in court, and won. When the South Africans invaded in 1915, she had to fight the battle all over again, and won a second time, and she then lost it all when she stood surety for her no-good son-in-law.

When we started our family history research in 1974 we didn’t have a clue about the Namibian (or Canadian) connections of the Green family, and we only learnt them when we made contact with Val’s great aunt Gladys Clark, so this trip enabled us to look at things with new eyes.

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