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

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