Proposed trip to Western Cape: August 2015

In August 2015 we are hoping to visit the Western Cape to do some family history research, and also to see living relatives and friends.

Since we are now both retired, it will probably be the last chance we will ever have to go on such a holiday trip, and to visit the Cape Archives for research.

We are hoping, in particular, to find out more about the Morris, Stewardson and Dixon families, and ones related to them. Members of all these families were traders in what is now Namibia from 1840 onwards, They would trade manufactured goods (cloth, knives, axes & guns) for cattle, ostrich feathers and ivory. They would drive the cattle overland to Cape Town for market, replenish their stock-in-trade, and return by sea to Walvis Bay.

So we hope to travel down the N14 to the Northern Cape, with stops at Kuruman and Aughrabies Falls. The N14 joins the N7 at Springbok, and we hope to spend a few days at Kamieskroon, exploring that area, which the old-timers passed through on their way between Damaraland and Cape Town. One of the places that has been mentioned in their journeys is Leliefontein, the Methodist mission station, and one member of the Morris clan, Thomas Morris, is said to have lived there at one time.

Another Morris, Abraham, also lived in the area when he was on the run from the Germans. He was one of the leaders of a rebellion against German rule in South West Africa in 1904. Sorting out the relationships between the various members of the Morris family is difficult, and a lot depends on compiling a chronology to show which members of the family were in which places at what times.

The area, called Namaqualand, is also famous for its wild flowers in spring, so we are hoping to see some of them too.

The families that livedf in or passed through Namaqualand are not the only ones we are interested in, of course. We’ll be looking up others — Green, Tapscott, Decker, Falkenberg, Crighton, MacLeod/McLeod, Growdon and many others in the archives as well, and, we hope, in real life too.

Devil's Peak, Cape Town, 2011

Devil’s Peak, Cape Town, 2011

When in Cape Town we usually stay at the Formula I Hotel (called something else now). It’s reasonably cheap, and very conveniently placed for going to the archives. The problem is, it’s very inconvenient for just about everything else — it’s in a semi-industrial area, so there is nothing to do there in the evenings, and nowhere in the vicinity where one can even get something to eat. But we hope that after the archives close at 4:00 pm we can visit family and friends, so if you know us, and wouldn’t be averse to a visit, please contact us and let us know (see form below).

While in the Western Cape, or possibly on the way home, we hope to pay another visit to the Orthodox Centre at Robertson, and perhaps also to the Volmoed Community at Hermanus, to meet John de Gruchy and put the finishing touches to our book on the history of the Charismatic Renewal in South Africa, which we hope to have ready for publication by the end of the year.

We are planning to return via the Eastern Cape and Free State, though with less definite ideas about the route. Quite a lot will depend on what we find in Cape Town, and whether we need to look at the Methodist Church archives in Grahamstown.

I’ve been twice up the N7 from Cape Town to Windhoek, in 1971 and 1972, but on both occasions I passed through Namaqualand in the dark, so neither of us has ever actually seen it before.

If you would like to meet us when we travel to the Western Cape in late August/early September, please use the contact form below so we can get in touch to let you know when we will be around and arrange to meet. Please note that whatever you type in this form will be seen only by me — it is not public! It will help us to see who we should try to get in touch with on our travels.

 

To the river’s end

To the River's EndTo the River’s End by Lawrence G. Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was at school, some 60 or so years ago. I found it in the school library, and thought it was OK. My main memory of that reading was that it was there that I first learnt about the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. I had never heard of the Augrabies Falls before, which, according to the book, were higher and had a greater volume of water than the Victoria Falls and the Niagara Falls, which weveryone in the school knew about. But no one else at the school had heard of the Aughrabies Falls either.

I thought that one day I would like to visit the Aughrabies Falls, and about 25 years ago I did. They were impressive. I still haven’t visited the Victoria Falls or the Niagara Falls, and probably never will, but with the possibility that we may pay a second visit to the Aughrabies Falls later this year, I took this book out of the City of Tshwane municipal library and read it again.

The second reading was very different from the first. The first reader was a schoolboy who had never been to any of the places described, and could only imagine what they were like. I had to picture it like the land of Mordor in a work of fiction (which I only read abouot 10 years later, in 1966).

On the second reading I had visited several of the places described in the book, and so the second reading was a reminder of places I have known. The second reading was also after we had embarked on the study of family history, and Lawrence G. Green mentions relatives of mine or my wife’s in this and several others of his books. His anecdotes are not always accurate, but they are nevertheless informative and entertaining.

How does one characterise Lawrence G. Green‘s books? He is a journalist, travel writer, amateur historian, gossip and raconteur. He has a journalist’s nose for the news, and so in his travels he makes notes of stories, not just current news, but old news, news of years ago, stories that are, as he puts it in the title of one of his books, Almost forgotten never told.

I come to this book now with a more critical eye. Not only have I researched the family history (and so know that some of the details of his stories about our relatives are inaccurate), but I’ve also studied general history and historiography, and so am on my guard for evidence of racism or colonialist propaganda, which are evident in many books written by white people about history and travel in southern Africa in the first half o0f the 20th century. There is some, but less than I expected. In describing the wars of the German colonial rulers of Namibia with the Bondelswarts tribe, he notes several instances of the Bondelswarts chivalrous behaviour, trying to avoid civilian casualties, leaving a note of apology on the body of a military medical officer they had shot by mistake, as they had not noticed his medical badgges until it was too late, and saying they would not shoot unarmed doctors. The Germans, representatives of Western “civilization”, on the other hand, were carrying out wars of extermination in that period (1904-1908).

Green begins his story a bit away from the river, at Union’s End, the remote boundary marker where the borders of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa meet, now part of the Transfrontier Kalahari Park. I haven’t been to Union’s End, but I have travelled through the Kalahari Gemsbook National Park from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata, up the dry and dusty valley of the Auob River, on my first visit to Namibia in 1969.

I did not know, having forgotten from the first reading, that there was a settlement of Basters there, different from those of Rehoboth, who once had a shortlived Republic of Mier.

Of course there is the description of the Aughrabies Falls, though when Green visited in the 1930s he had to swim streams to get to where he could see the falls, whereas when we went there in 1991 there were bridges.

Aughrabies Falls, 8 April 1991

Aughrabies Falls, 8 April 1991

He describes the history of Onseepkans, where we crossed into Namibia in 1991, a year after it became independent, when the border officials were still housed in prefabs and tents. I took the name to indicate that some travellers who had crossed the hot and dry plains of Bushmanland, south of the river (which Green also describes) had taken the opportunity to wash their hair in the river, and washed the soap out too. But apparently the name is derived from a Hottentot word, meaning the drinking place for cattle.

The Orange River at Onseepkans, halfway between South Africa and Namibia. Namibia on the left, South Africa on the right. 8 April 1991

The Orange River at Onseepkans, halfway between South Africa and Namibia. Namibia on the left, South Africa on the right. 8 April 1991

Green tells some of the history of the mission station at Pella, which we have not visited, but may visit later this year, where Roman Catholic missionaries, with no knowledge of building at all, constructed a large cathedral.

Green also describes Goodhouse, where a relative, Abraham Morris, seems to have worked at one time, probably in the early 1920s. Green gives more information about Abraham Morris in another book, So few are free, and you can read more about the Morris family here. If we travel this way again in August, we hope to see more of the places where these families passed on their overland journeys between Damaraland and Cape Town, and also to do some more research on them in the Cape Archives.

So the second read was much more interesting than the first, partly because I have been to some of the places mention in the book, and we hope to see some of those he mentions that we have never seen before.

So I recommend this book to anyone who has travelled in the Northern Cape or southern Namibia, or who is planning to. Others might find it interesting too, as I did when I read it the first time.

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So few are free

So few are freeSo few are free by Lawrence George Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lawrence G. Green‘s books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.

This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the “Diamond Road” and the Skeleton Coast.

As I’ve already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.

We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, “To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen.”

Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.

I’ve been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.

Abraham Morris’s mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val’s ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us — but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham’s father.

This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.

One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.

Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.

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A sense of place: Kilner Park

One of the things that I’ve noticed in researching family history is that we often have very little sense of where family members lived. We’ve sometimes visited the towns or houses where they lived, but things have often changed a lot since they were there, and it is often difficult to picture what it was like in their time.

It therefore seemed to be a good idea to record where we live now, our neighbourhood, before it changes and becomes unrecognisable.

Corner of Owen Avenue and Slater Street, Kilner Park

Corner of Owen Avenue and Slater Street, Kilner Park

This is where we live, at the corner of Owen Avenue and Slater Street, Kilner Park, looking south down Owen Avenue. We’ve lived here for over 25 years, so the trees have grown quite a bit since we first came. The green fence is our third fence. The first one was a low diamond-mesh one, and after 13 break-ins we replaced it with a higher one in 1991. The thorn tree in the corner of our garden was the envy of our previous neighbour, who said he wished he could include it in his garden before we moved in. It’s now about twice as big as it was then. The photos were taken on 5 September 2013, early spring. Most trees are still winter-bare. Others are just beginning to show  new leaves.

Corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, Kilner Park

Corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, Kilner Park

The picture above is from the other end of Owen Avenue, on the corner of Matterson Street, looking north. The open ground on the right is a servitude for the electricity pylons that go right around eastern Pretoria.

Matterson Street, Kilner Park

Matterson Street, Kilner Park

Looking west down Matterson Street. This is the way in and out of our bit of Kilner Park, the only way in and out by car. At the end can be seen the N1 freeway bridge. On the left is the railway line. Not much use to us, as we are almost exactly halfway between stations.

A memorial near the corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, to N.A.R. Coetzee, known as "Kat". Persumably he died in a road accident nearby, though that seems a bit strange in our quiet little cul-de-sac, which gets very little traffic.

A memorial near the corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, to N.A.R. Coetzee, known as “Kat”. Born 6 Oct 1959, died 25 Dec 2010

N.A.R. Coetzee was presumably he killed in a road accident nearby, though that seems a bit strange in our quiet little cul-de-sac, which gets very little traffic. Who he was, or how he died, we don’t know, but obviously someone still misses him.

Hartbees Spruit, looking North

Hartbees Spruit, looking North

After a dry winter there isn’t much water in Hartbees Spruit, seen from the bridge in Matterson Street, and the reeds are still winter-brown. But you can see, if you look carefully, a couple of weavers building a nest in the tree on the right. There are two nests, but I’ve heard that if the female weaver is not satisfied with the nest, she demands that the male build her another, so there may just be one pair of birds.

Queens Corner shopping centre, built on one of the sports fields of Clapham High School

Queens Corner shopping centre, built on one of the sports fields of Clapham High School

My destination, about 2,5 km from our house, was Queens Corner in Queenswood, the shopping centre, where I had to pick up some medicines at the chemist, a 50 minute walk. It was built on one of the sports fields of Clapham High School, and opened in about September 2000, so it’s been there for 13 years,and sometimes it feels as though it has been there for ever. The chemist is part of a chain called Pharmavalu, and when it opened we continued going to the one in the other shopping centre across the road, and wondered if there would be enough business to support two of them. The result was that the original one was forced to close down. It was originally called Queenswood Pharmacy, and later became part of a chain called Hyperpharm, but even then it couldn’t survive.

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, to the east. Soutpansberg Road on the right.

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, to the east. Soutpansberg Road on the right.

I walked back down Soutpansberg Road. Both Queenswood and Kilner Park were built on land that used to belong to the Methodist Church, and apparently one of the conditions was that no bottle stores or pubs should be built there. But some one must have gone to some trouble to remove the restrictions in the title deeds, because there are now several bottle stores in the area — they don’t seem to suffer from competition as the pharmacies do. Kilner Park was named after the Secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society, John Kilner. It was the site of a Methodist educational centre, called the Kilnerton Institute, but, like the theological seminaries of several other denominations, John Wesley Seminary (part of Kilnerton) was forced to close and moved to Alice in the Eastern Cape in 1963. It reopened on its old site briefly after the end of apartheid in 1994, but moved to Pietermaritzburg a few years later.

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, lokking west, towards Queens Corner

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, looking west, towards Queens Corner. The tree on the left is a jacaranda, having just lost its leaves. In another 6 weeks it will be all over blue flowers

The jacarandas that line Soutpansberg Road are bare now. They are always the last to lose their leaves in winter, and the last to bloom in spring, towards the end of October. I crossed C.R.Swart Drive. It used to be called Kilnerton Road, but was renamed by the old Pretoria City Council just before the end of apartheid, after the former National Party Minister of Justice who enforced so many of the apartheid laws, including the closing of the Kilnerton Institute. When Pretoria was incorporated into the new megacity of Tshwane the new council renamed several roads, but not this one, which remains as an insult to black people and a monument to the destruction of black education in South Africa.

The Kilner Park shopping centre is much smaller than the Queenswood ones. When we first moved here in 1984 it had a tea room (convenience store) on the right, called Tony’s, where our son Simon used to go to play arcade games like Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It was later taken over by someone else, and eventually incorporated into the Casbah Roadhouse, which opened some time in the late 1990s. We wondered if it would survive long, being off the beaten track, but it produced good food and cheap with generous servings. Their hamburgers had real meat, and one could get a large curry and rice for R18.00, Now the large curry and rice costs R120.00 and the hamburger patties are mass-produced, over-salted and tasteless, and probably consist of beef nostril and imported kangaroo offal.

Kilner Park shops, with the Casbah Roadhouse and Jock of the Bushveld Restaurant, and the Neon Cafe on the left

Kilner Park shops, with the Casbah Roadhouse and Jock of the Bushveld Restaurant, and the Neon Cafe on the left

There have been several restaurants there.

When we moved here in 1984 it was called the Count du Barry, and had a picture of a bloke riding on a shrimp. We never went there then. But it was taken over by a Yugoslav called Misha, who painted Yugoslav scenes on the wall, of Dubrovnik harbour and shepherds in the hills. He produced good pizzas, and flying saucers (pizza bases with no cheese), and a Yugoslav dish for carnivores, which consisted of 12-13 sausages with onions. Delicious stuff, but exceedingly filling. He also continued some desserts from the previous owners, notably the “Count’s Coupe” -made with ice cream and cherries.

Then Misha l;eft, and the name changed to “Peasant’s” (they kept the pictures of Yugoslav rural scenes). It was replaced by McLaren’s, which replaced the picture of Dubrovnik with a large and badly-painted Scottish flag, which seemed unnecessary vandalism. We went there for Christmas lunch once, after church, and when they served tinned fruit salad for an exorbitant price, decided never again. They did, however, give each of us a cheap wallet as a gift, and I still use mine, thought much of the imitation leather covering has worn off.

The restaurant later became a Blue Bulls fan venue (the local rugby side), and is now the Jock of the Bushveld. They advertise cheap lunches on Thursdays, and I’ve been meaning to try them some time, but have yet to get round to it.

North Shore flats, on the south side of Matterson Road

North Shore flats, on the south side of Matterson Road

On the south side of Matterson Road, beside the Hartbees Spruit, is North Shore flats, which, if I recall correctly, were built about the time we moved to Kilner Park at the end of 1984. And so back across the Hartbees Spruit, and home.

Hartbees Spruit, looking south towards the Colbyn Wetlands, with a train passing through. North Shore flats on the left

Hartbees Spruit, looking south towards the Colbyn Wetlands, with a train passing through. North Shore flats on the left

 

 

 

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland by Ione Rudner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this “life and letters” book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.

All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.

It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.

Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson’s arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.

Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.

My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.

The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as “ten years of hell”. After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson.

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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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