Adventure in South West Africa 1894-98

Adventure in South West Africa 1894-1898Adventure in South West Africa 1894-1898 by Eberhard Rosenblad

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Memories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een. Captain Een, a Swede, described his life and journeys in central and northern Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s, in partnership with a Swedish trader, Axel Wilhelm Eriksson.

Rosenblad’s book is very similar, but it is set in a period 30 years later. He too was a partner of A.W. Eriksson, and covered much the same ground as Een did.

The main difference is that in Een’s time the country was divided into a number of small states that were sometimes at war with each other. In Rosenblad’s time, it was the German colony of South West Africa. It is interesting, therefore, to read descriptions of the same country by two writers a generation apart.

Quite a lot of the difference in the writing reflects the New Imperialism that swept the world in the 1880s, and led to the Scramble for Africa by the European powers. Germany was a bit late in the Scramble, and got a largely desert country. One of the effects of the New Imperialism was that it gave Europeans in Africa an enormous sense of their own superiority to the native Africans, and of the importance of showing the natives that the white man was the Boss. Even though Sweden was not an imperial power, Rosenblad’s writing reflects this sense of European superiority.

Een was aware of cultural differences, and often compared local cultures unfavourably with his own Swedish culture, but he described them in some detail, and assumed that his readers would be interested in these descriptions. Rosenblad tends to dismiss them as not worth describing, except when he is making a point about the superiority of his own culture. He quite often describes the way of disciplining his own employees, with a sjambok, and giving them a beating. He does not entirely lack compassion, however, and expresses pity for a tribe that resisted German rule and were taken as prisoners of war, but it is pity from a position of superiority, as one might pity an ill-treated animal.

Both Een and Rosenblad admired A.W. Eriksson, and recognised him as a remarkably kind and generous man. But when Een was there, Eriksson was a young man, who had started as an assistant to the Anglo-Swedish trader and explorer C.J. Andersson. Thirty years later he was older and more experienced, and clearly had a good reputation with just about everyone.

Rosenblad’s book is less satisfactory than Een’s in other ways too. Not only does he give less details about the different cultures, but also about the individuals he met. Een gives character sketches of people, and describes something of their lives. Rosenblad often does not even mention their names.

At one point he describes how two German soldiers at Heigamkab discoverered a portmanteau with clothes, books and letters in the Namib desert. The papers revealed that the owner was a Damara (Herero), who had gone to the Cape Colony and studied at a mission institution. He had apparently returned by sea, and decided to walk across the desert rather than waiting for wheeled transport, and then got lost. This supposition was verified when Rosenblad’s party reached the Cape, and he writes,

He had probably lost his way in the darkness and fog. He must have drifted around for some days, suffering all the agonies of hunger and thirst, and then must have lain down to rest expecting the end. So much time had already elapsed when the soldiers found the portmanteau, that it was no use starting a search. Perhaps one day his skeleton will emerge from the treacherous drift-sand and grin at the passerby, but then the memory of this event will already have faded long ago.

But it might not have faded quite so much if Rosenblad (or his editor) had bothered to record his name.

The translators of the book, Jalmar and Ione Rudner, have gone to some trouble to give more information about people who are named in the text, but there is obviously nothing they can do if the names are not mentioned.

One of the reasons we read the book was because of our interest in family history, but apart from A.W. Eriksson himself (a relative by marriage), the lack of names makes the book of little use in that respect. It consists, for the most part, of hunters’ and travellers’ tales, such as are told by hunters around campfires in the evenings. That was their entertainment before satellite TV appeared, but for us the lack of historical detail made them less interesting.

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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.

Tracking down elusive Namibian families

Yesterday (Monday 13 May 2013) we had a busy day, and at last managed to track down some of our elusive Namibian families, and found more information than we had time to record.

We started off going to the Lutheran Church archives, and stopped on the way at a viewing place over the city to take some photos of the changed Windhoek skyline. It was a place I had come to in 1971 with Marge Schmidt, Bishop Colin Winter’s secretary, to take photos for a brochure we were preparing for a project for a new Anglican cathedral, with ecumenical centre attached. The brochure was intended to show potential overseas donors the need for such a centre, and the city it would serve. It worked too, and several of them promised money that would have started the project, but the new dean, who was appointed especially to oversee the project, killed it, and the new cathedral was never built, so St George’s Cathedral (the green roof in the upper right-hand corner of the picture) remains the smallest Anglican cathedral in the world.

Windhoek city centre, with St George's Anglican Catrhedral, 13 May 2013

Windhoek city centre, with St George’s Anglican Cathedral, 13 May 2013

We managed, with some difficulty, to find the Lutheran Church office, with the archives, but the archivist was away on leave, and a retired former archivist, Pastor Pauli, came over to help us.

What we were looking for was baptism, marriage and burial records for the period of 1840-1920 in Rooibank, and Otjimbingue, as Rhenish missionaries were the only Christian clergy in those places at that period. Pastor Pauli was unable to find the records we were looking for, and said, rather ominously, that people tended to steal such records, and he didn’t know if they had them.

But though we came away empty-handed, Pastor Pauli was himself an archive of sorts, full of fascinating anecdotes, and it was worth going there just to meet him.

Pastor Pauli, retired Lutheran archivist in Windhoek, 13 May 2013

Pastor Pauli, retired Lutheran archivist in Windhoek, 13 May 2013

He said he was 96 years old, and was born in Silesia. His grandmother insisted that only German be spoken in the house as he and his brother were growing up, but she was a bit hard of hearing, so they spoke German to her very loudly, and spoke quietly to the maid in Polish, as she knew no German.

His brother, however, died young (at the age of 90), so he was now alone in the world. His brother had been fascinated by aviation, and had been a fighter pilot in the Second World War.

Pastor Pauli himself had come to Africa in 1937, as a missionary in Tanganyika. He said that more than 60 languages were spoken in Tanganyika, so people communicated with the common medium of Swahili, and lived on good terms with each other. He was struck by the contrast with Namibia, with three little languages, and if people who spoke one language found you had been talking to someone who spoke another language, they didn’t want to know you — at least that was his experience.

We went shopping and had lunch at one of the city shopping malls, and there too much change was in evidence.

A Windhoek shopping mall sdeen from across the car park of another. It was all over builders doing additions to it.

A Windhoek shopping mall seen from across the car park of another. It was all over builders doing additions to it.

When I lived in Windhoek in 1970, there was only one supermarket in town, the Model Supermarket in Kaiserstrasse (now Independence Avenue). Back then one could fill a trolley (American English = shopping cart) with groceries for R15.00. Now it would cost 100 times as much. Namibian dollars and South African Rand are the same value, and South African Rand notes are accepted everywhere in Namibia, it seems, though the coins are different sizes. A notable difference from South Africa was that one does not have to pay to park at the supermarket.

Herero fashions in 1969: Magdalena Bahuurua (housekeeper to Biship Mize) outside St George's Anglican cathedral in Windhoek (the priest in the picture is George Pierce).

Herero fashions in 1969: Magdalena Bahuurua (housekeeper to Biship Mize) outside St George’s Anglican cathedral in Windhoek (the priest in the picture is George Pierce).

The old Model Supermarket is still there, only it is now trading under the Shoprite label, the downmarket partner of the Shoprite-Checkers chain. In 1970 you could see Herero ladies in traditional dress standing in queues at the checkout counters, some with the shopping baskets on their heads. A British visitor once remarked, “Where else can in the world can you see women wearing Victorian crinolines doing their shopping in a supermarket?”

Herero ladies in traditional dress seem to be a less common sight nowadays, and the “traditional” dress is changing too. The headgear is growing wider and wider. We showed Hiskia Uanivi and Kaire Mbuende some of our old photos from 40 years ago, and even then the older women wore narrower headdresses, such as that worn by Magdalena Bahuurua in the picture on the right, while the younger ones more much wider ones. But those are nothing compared to the ones you see nowadays.

Herero fashions in 1970: Younger women after an Oruuano Church service in Gobabis old location.

Herero fashions in 1970: Younger women after an Oruuano Church service in Gobabis old location.

After lunch we went to the Namibian Scientific Society, where we wanted to buy a couple of books by early Swedish traders and travellers in Namibia, which had been translated into English and published, in case they mentioned some family members.

They also had photocopies of the Omaruru church registers, and that was where we struck paydirt. We found more in those registers in two hours than we had in two days at the state archives looking at deceased estate files and the like. There was more than we could possibly write down in the time we had left to us, and Gunter von Schumann, the historian there, said we could come to his house the next morning, where he had more copies of old church registers.

Agnes Dorothea Dixon, daughter of Daniel Esma Dixon and Annie Charlotte Gunning,  was born on 29 April 1906, and baptised on 30 May at Omaruru, and there was the Dixon- Gunning link we had been looking for. There were several other children born to that couple. The deceased estate files simply showed Daniel Esma Dixon (Junior) as having disappeared into Angola with no issue. Someone must have been lying! We took lots of photos of the registers, and hope to be able to transcribe the relevant entries and link them when we get home.

Then we switched from deceased relatives to the living. We had arranged to meet Mburumba Kerina at the Kalahari Sands Hotel, so we packed up and rushed over there, and had a pleasant dinner and a three-hour chat.

Val Hayes and Mburumba Kerina, 13 May 2013. Second cousins once removed.

Val Hayes and Mburumba Kerina, 13 May 2013. Second cousins once removed.

We are not sure of the exact relationship, but we think Mburumba Kerina is Val’s half-second cousin once removed. Both are descended from Fred Green (“Kerina” is the old Herero pronunciation of Green), Mburumba from Fred’s second wife Sarah Kaipukire, and Val from his third wife, Kate Stewardson.

Mburumba Kerina

Mburumba Kerina

Like Pastor Pauli, Mburumba Kerina was full of fascinating anecdotes, including how he devised the name of Namibia for the country. When he was in exile, he was visiting President Sukarno of Indonesia, who asked him the name of his country. He said it was “South West Africa”, and President Sukarno said he had never heard of it. He said that Angola was in South West Africa, and that a country must have a proper name.

Shortly afterwards, the Revd Michael Scott, the Anglican priest who had raised the question of South West Africa at the United Nations at the request of the Herero Chiefs’ Council, showed Mburumba Kerina an article about a Texas mining magnate who wanted to make his fortune by mining diamonds  in the Namib desert, and wanted to separate it from the rest of Namibia. So Mburumba came up with the name Namibia, to give the country a name, and also to emphasis that the Namib desert was an integral part of the county.

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This is part of our Namibian travelogue. The previous episode was Sunday in Windhoek: Quaker meeting and walking the dogs | Khanya, and, if you are interested, it begins at Kang: ver in die ou Kalahari | Notes from underground

While we have been staying with Enid and Justin Ellis in Windhoek we have taken advantage of their WiFi to access the Internet. Today we are leaving for Outjo, and then the Etosha National Park and Ovamboland, and the next instalment is at North to Outjo | Notes from underground

Chasing Namibian families

Next week we hope to travel to Namibia to see friends and family, and do some historical research — family, church and general history. We’ll try to update our blogs with our progress if we have internet access: this one for family news and family history; Notes from underground for general observations, photos and chit-chat; and Khanya for general history, church history and more serious observations. It used to be possible to keep in touch with all of them by following Tumblr, but Tumblr doesn’t seem to work as a blog aggregator any more.

It’s more than 20 years since we last visited Namibia, and more than 40 years since I lived there, so we expect to see many changes. We plan to go first to Windhoek, where we hope to stay with Val’s cousins Enid and Justin Ellis. Enid is a cousin on the Pearson/Ellwood side of the family.

We also hope to see Mburumba Kerina, a more distant cousin on the Green side of the family. “Kerina” is the Herero form of  “Green” and Mburumba Kerina is descended from Val’s great great grandfather Fred Green through his second wife, Sarah Kaipukire (Val is descended from his third wife, Kate Stewardson). We also hope to find out something about Fred Green’s first wife, who was a Dixon, and died about 1860. We don’t even know her name. There’s more on this in the earlier article Gunning for the Dixons. On the Stewardson side of the family, there are several descendants in Namibia, mainly of the Lindholm, Dennewill and Jeske families. We don’t have any current addresses for them, but we may be able to make contact with some of them while we are there.

HiskiaUOne of the friends we hope to see is Hiskia Uanivi. When I lived in Windhoek he was a student at the Paulinum, the Lutheran theological seminary then based at Otjimbingue. In early 1971 my friend and colleage Dave de Beer and I went on a holiday trip to see friends and family in South Africa (rather like the trip we are planning now, but in reverse).

Hiskia had never been to South Africa, and the Paulinum was closed for the Christmas holidays, so he came with us, travelling via Keetmanshoop, Vanzylsrust, Hotazel and Kuruman to Johannesburg (about a 22-hour drive). There we were joined by my cousins Jenny and John Aitchison, and we travelled to Nqutu in Zululand, staying at the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital (then an Anglican church hospital), and then via KwaMagwaza and Mphumulo to Pietermaritzburg, where John and Jenny Aitchison lived. We left Hiskia at the Mapumulo Lutheran Seminary for a couple of days, as he was curious to see how it compared with the Paulinum, and one of the old Paulinum teachers, Dr Theo Sundermeier, was then teaching there.

We spent a couple of days with the Mnguni family in the foothills of the Drakensberg, helping them to erect a chicken run that would gather manure for fertilising the crops, and then went on to Umtata, Alice, Grahamstown and Cape Town, and from there back to Namibia. At that time there were Anglican theological colleges in Umtata, Alice and Grahamstown, and we visited them, so Hiskia was able to make more comparisons.

With the Mnguni family at Stepmore, near Himeville. Hiskia Univi on the left, Mr & Mrs Mnguni on the right, Chris Shabalala in the middle, flanked by Dave de Been and Steve Hayes, Jenny Aitchison in front, and other members and neighbours of the Mnguni household. 16 Feb 1971

With the Mnguni family at Stepmore, near Himeville. Hiskia Uanivi on the left, Mr & Mrs Mnguni on the right, Chris Shabalala in the middle, flanked by Dave de Beer and Steve Hayes, Jenny Aitchison in front, and other members and neighbours of the Mnguni household. 16 Feb 1971

Now we are planning, for the first time, to travel to Namibia via Botswana on the Trans-Kalahari route. Back then it was not possible, as one needed passports to cross Botswana, and the South African government, which then ruled Namibia, would not give passports to people it regarded as politically unreliable. We also hope to visit the Etosha Pan Game Reserve, and Ovamboland, and return via the Okavango and following the course of the Taokhe River to Lake Ngami, which in Fred Green’s day was navigable by boat, though getting a boat there by ox wagon must have been quite a feat.

So, if the opportunity arises, we hope to blog about our trip as we go. You’ll find the first instalment of our travelogue here.

The Dixon family of Namaqualand (book review)

Die Dixons van NamakwalandDie Dixons van Namakwaland by Ledivia van Vuuren

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.

We were interested because some members of my wife’s family had married into a Dixon family (as described in the blog post in the link above) and they also appeared to be business partners of the Dixon family, but most of the records we had found were confusing and it was possible that there was more than one Dixon family. We made contact with the author of this book, but weren’t able to get hold of a copy because of a postal strike. Now at last we have a copy, and things become a little bit clearer.

It seems that there were definitely two Dixon families, and Edward C. Tabler confused them in his book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland and conflated them into one.

This book deals with only one of the families, and makes no mention at all of the other, but that at least helps us to say that people who can be identified as members of this family are very unlikely to be members of the other.

Both Dixon families were probably Irish in origin, however.

The two Dixon families are:

1. Benjamin Dixon and Lodivia Manifold (the subjects of this book)
2. Peter Daniel Dixon and Whilhelmina Hendriks

I will refer to them as the “Ben Dixon” and “Peter Dixon” families.

Ben Dixon became a business partner of James Morris, and their two families set out for Namibia in 1843, travelling overland by ox waggon. They were Wesleyan Methodists and travelled part of the way with some Wesleyan missionaries, and stayed at mission stations on the way. They crossed the Orange (Gariep) river on Christmas day 1843, and reached Walvis Bay in about June 1844. This is all described in detail in the book, seen through the eyes of the Dixons’ eldest daughter Jane, who was 13 years old when they left, and had her 14th birthday on the journey.

The Dixon and Morris families built two houses and a store on the Kuiseb River, at a place they named Sandfontein, about three miles from the present town of Walvis Bay, and began trading for cattle, which they exported to St Helena to provide meat for the British garrison there. In September 1844 Mary Morris gave birth to a daughter at Sandfontein (she was named Sarah Ann Kuisip, because she was born on the Kuiseb River, though that is not mentioned in the book).

They kept a couple of lion cubs as pets, and various sailors from ships in Walvis Bay harbour wanted to buy them, and when they would not sell, tried to steal them. Walvis Bay harbour was amazingly busy in those days, mainly with ships collecting guano from the offshore islands, and sometimes there were 10 or 12 of them in the bay at the same time, come to re-stock with stores before going back to collect more guano.

For a while the business prospered, and then things went bad. Fewer guano ships arrived, and many of the people inland who traded cattle for goods did not pay for the goods, and so Ben Dixon and James Morris had so go on debt collecting tours. The debtors, however, sometimes decided that they easiest way to pay their debts was simply to steal the cattle from someone else, or even from those to whom they were owed. One group bought a waggon for a number of cattle, and then took the cattle back to haul the waggon home. Complaints to the British government about this led to the St Helena contract being cancelled.

James Morris took a large herd of cattle overland to Cape Town, to try to sell them there, and returned by sea with his sister Fanny and her husband Frank Stewardson, and their two children. Fanny and Frank Stewardson were my wife Val’s great-great-great grandparents, so snippets like that were of special interest to us.

So one thing that we learned from the book was that while that Ben Dixon and the Morris and Stewardson families were in a business partnership together, they did not intermarry.

Eventually Ben Dixon returned to the Cape Colony, but instead of going back to Cape Town he settled in Little Namaqualand, on a farm near the town of Garies. Their eldest daughter Jane married William Latham, and remained in what is now Namibia until her husband’s death, then went to stay with her parents. The second daughter, Rebecca, married Frank Bassingthwaighte, and their family remained in Namibia, and some of their descendants are still there today. The younger members farmed in the Northern Cape, and so the Ben Dixon family is mainly associated with Namaqualand, as the book’s title suggests.

The Peter Dixon family seems to be entirely different, though also perhaps originally from Ireland.

Peter Daniel Dixon was the son of McCombe Donald Dixon and Maria Sprewt. He was born in the Cape Colony about 1821, and married Wilhelmina Hendriks, by whom he had at least 7 children. He was trading in Walvis Bay in the early 1860s, and his daughter married Fred Green, the elephant hunter, but died in about 1860, and they seem to have had no children. Fred Green then married Sarah Kaipukire, and after a separation or divorce, married Catherine Stewardson, the daughter of Frank and Fanny Stewardson mentioned above. So Fred Green was married into the Peter Dixon family, but was also friendly with the Ben Dixon family.

Peter Dixon married a second time to Annie Cloete, probably in Damaraland, but if they had any children, we know nothing of them. We are hoping to visit Namibia in May, and to do some research in the archives here, and reading this book was in part a preparation for that. When visiting archives a long way away, with limited time, it is useful to know what you are looking for, and also to know what you are not looking for. It can save a lot of time not going down false trails.

But though it appears that we are not related to the Ben Dixon family either by descent or marriage, the book was nevertheless a fascinating and informative read, and gives a good insight into life 150 years ago.

View all my reviews

Two Scotts on the trot

Andrew and Catherine Scott (cousins on the Growdon side of the family) are cycling around in South America, and have started a blog Two Scotts on the trot, where you can follow their adventures.

Cycling round South America, but a lift can help if there’s a headwind

As they put it, “A trot, yes, but on our ‘burros de aceros’ (iron donkeys)… a “cheap-as-we-can” cycling-camping expedition around southern South America.”

Thursday 20th August saw two firsts.  We obtained our first hitchhike (owing to a nasty headwind and dry heat) with a friendly gentleman, an electrical engineer, who was heading as far as Wanda, which happened to be a perfect destination.  It gave us enough distance to cycle to Iguazu, but without having to spend a week getting there.  The drive also turned into a Spanish lesson.  We unloaded in Wanda and gratefully thanked him.  It was then we noticed Andrew’s bicycle’s back tyre was completely flat. Our first puncture.

 

Home from holiday trip

Val and I have just returned home after a holiday trip to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State, which lasted just over three weeks. It was very much a “seeing people” holiday, and we saw old friends and cousins we hadn’t seen for many years, and some family members we had never met before. We left on Bright Tuesday, 26th April 2011, and travelled through Springs, Nigel, Balfour, Villiers, Frankfort and Bethlehem to Clarens, where we stayed at the Cottage Pie B&B, and visited Dons and Anneke Kritzinger and Toni Badcock-Walters, wife of my second cousin Peter Badcock-Walters, who was away in New York.

On 27 April we drove to Graaff-Reinet, and were struck by the deterioration of the road and rail infrastructure caused by road transport deregulation — — the Free State roads were particularly bad. We stopped at Aliwal North for lunch and Val ate a venison pie under the reproachful gaze of a gemsbok whose head was mounted on the wall above. In Graaff Reinet we stayed at Villa Reinet, run by Hannan cousins Nick and Ailsa Grobler, but Ailsa was away, visiting her son in Dubai. We spent two nights there, and on Thursday visited the Valley of Desolation and Nieu Bethesda, which is famous for its Owl House, but deserves to be more famous for its beer, which is much better than the insipid chemical concoctions produced by SAB-Miller.

On Friday 29 April we drove to Barrydale and stayed overnight at the Watercourt Lodge, and saw an old friend Dick Usher, whom I had known when he was a journalist on the Daily News in Durban in 1969, and a member of the Christian Institute youth groups.

On Saturday 30 April we had a shorter trip to Robertson, where we visited cousin Sandy Struckmeyer (nee Vause) and her daughter Kerry, and then went to the Orthodox Centre established by Fr Zacharias van Wyk, who has converted an old packing shed into the last homely house, with a chapel attached, where we stayed the night and had Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgy in a mixture of Afrikaans and Dutch.

After Liturgy on Sunday 1 May we drove to Hermanus, where we stayed at the Volmoed Community for four days, and I spend a lot of time with John de Gruchy, another old friend, discussing our proposed book on the history of the charismatic renewal in South Africa.

On Thursday 5 May we went to Villiersdorp, where we spent a couple of nights, and visited Val’s sister Elaine Machin and her friend Averil
Anderson, and on Friday went with them to Genadendal and Greyton where we had lunch, with magical misty mountains all around.

On Saturday 7 May we went to Cape Town and stayed at the Formula 1 hotel on the Foreshore, and visited Richard Girdwood, now Rector of St Michael’s Anglican Church in Observatory, whom we had known in Durban North in the 1970s. We had supper with Val’s first cousin Gail Stierlin (formerly Farqhuarson, formerly Alldred, born Terblanche) and met her husband Gustav Stierlin for the first time, and Gail’s mother, Val’s aunt Pat, was staying with them.

On Sunday we went to the Divine Liturgy at St George’s Cathedral in Woodstock, where I served with Fr Nicholas, and afterwards had lunch with Renfrew Christie at the Foresters Arms in Rondebosch. I wasn’t sure whether I had met him before or not, but I certainly knew of him from the 1970s. Then we went to Simonstown to visit more Hannan cousins, Arthur and Jean Vlok, and met their daughter Anthea for the first time. We had met their son-in-law Julian Buys on an earlier visit in 2003.

The next three days we spent mainly in the archives, doing family history research, and had supper with Erica Murray, another old friend, whom I had first met in 1964, but had not seen since she went to Canada in the 1980s. We also saw His Eminence Metropolitan Sergios, the Archbishop of the Cape of Good Hope.

On Thursday 12 May we left Cape Town early in the morning on our return journey, travelling eastwards on the N2 to Knysna. It was misty much of the way, and at one point we saw three bright lights, which we at first took for lights on a mountain, but when we didn’t pass them and as they went higher in the sky realised were stars or planets. No other stars were visible, just those three in the east, which were quite magical. One was certainly Venus (Lucifer), but I’m not sure what the other two were. We caught the tail end of a news item on TV saying that it was a quite rare conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars (or was it Mercury?).

We spent a couple of nights at Knysna, and saw my first cousin Glenda Lauwrens (nee Growdon), her husband Brian and daughter Joanne, whom we hadn’t seen since they moved to Knysna from Ladysmith 21 years ago. We also saw Val’s father’s first cousin, Patrick Clark, and his wife Carol, whom we had never met before.

On Saturday 14 May we drove to Port Elizabeth, and were forced to use a toll road (boo! hiss!) for the only time on our trip, as the Bloukrans
Pass was closed. In PE we had tea with David and Mary MacGregor. David was formerly the Anglican Dean of Pretoria, and we had not seen them since the 1980s. We had supper with Val’s aunt Nat Greene, On Sunday we went to the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Dormition, and afterwards went to lunch with Dimitri and Marguerite Paizis, and stayed talking with them the whole afternoon.

On Monday 16th May we drove to Stutterheim via Port Alfred. At Bathurst we tried to visit Lindsay Walker, an old BBS friend, but did not have his address. We got a phone book at the post office and called the only Walker listed in Bathurst, but there was no reply. At Stutterheim we stayed with Growdon cousins, Hamish and Monica Scott. Their son Robbie runs a nursery and an eco-lodge called “The Shire”, and we spent the night in one of the splendid cabins at The Shire.

On Tuesday 17th May we travelled to Burgersdorp via Cathcart, Queenstown and Molteno. We had driven through Burgersdorp on the way down, and wanted to see more of it, and so spent the night there.

On Wednesday 18th May we retraced our route to Clarens over the horrible Free State roads, and Wepener was as dirty and run-down as Burgersdorp was neat and well kept. This time we stayed with Toni Badcock-Walters (my second cousin Peter was away again, this time in Namibia), but we met their son Craig, and Peter’s half-sister Louise Philp, and caught up on a lot of family history information. It was election day for the local government elections, but there was no way we could get home in time to vote, in spite of a flurry of urgent SMS messages from the Democratic Alliance urging us to vote for them so they could take the City of Tshwane. I thought it was a bit presumptuous of them to assume that we would vote for them.

On Thursday 19th May we drove the last leg homewards, via Petrus Steyn Heilbron, Vereeniging, Heidelberg, Nigel, Springs and Bapsfontein. We stopped in Petrus Steyn to visit church friends Danie Steyn and his mother, who gave us mushroom soup for lunch.

Well, that’s the outline, but we will also be posting more detailed accounts, with pictures, on our various blogs, perhaps after the pattern
of Cobbett’s “rural rides”.

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