In the early 1800s, missionaries were gradually moving into southern Namibia. The London Missionary Society and the German Rhenish and Finnish Lutheran Mission societies were all represented. These were important for several reasons. Firstly, they tended to settle in one place, which became the nucleus around which the local Nama people would permanently settle. Often the missionaries would introduce the local people to different ways of cultivation: a further influence to settle in permanent villages, which gradually became larger.
Secondly, they acted as a focal point for traders, who would navigate through the territory from one mission to the next. This effectively set up Namibia's first trade routes – routes that soon became conduits for the local Nama groups to obtain European goods, from guns and ammunition to alcohol. It seems that the missionaries sometimes provided firearms directly to the local people for protection. Whilst understandable, the net effect was that the whole area became a more dangerous place.
In 1811, Reverend Heinrich Schmelen founded Bethanie, and more missions followed. By December 1842, Rhenish missionaries were established where Windhoek now stands, surrounded by about 1,000 of Jonker Afrikaner's followers. The settlement soon started trading with the coast, and within a few years there was a steady supply of guns arriving.
In 1861 Jonker Afrikaner died, whilst returning from a raid he had mounted on the Owambo people (a group of Bantu origin who had settled in the far north of the country and displaced some of the Hereros). Jonker's death left a power vacuum in central Namibia.
There were many skirmishes for control during the rest of the 1860s, and much politicking and switching of alliances between the rival Nama groups (some of Oorlam descent). The main protagonists included the Witboois from around Gibeon, the Afrikaners based in Windhoek, the Swartboois, the Blondelswarts, the Topnaar and the Red Nation.
By around 1850 many hunters and traders were penetrating Namibia's interior, in search of adventure and profit – usually in the form of ivory and ostrich feathers. Amongst these, Charles John Andersson was particularly important, both for his own role in shaping events, and also for the clear documentation that he left behind, including the fascinating books Lake Ngami
and The River Okavango
– chronicling his great journeys of the late 1850s.
In 1860 he bought up the assets of a mining company, and set up a centre for trading at Otjimbingwe, a very strategic position on the Swakop River, halfway between Walvis Bay and Windhoek. (Now it is at the crossroads of the D1953 and the D1976.) In the early 1860s he traded with the Nama groups in the area, and started to open up routes into the Herero lands further north and east. However, after losing cattle to a Nama raid in 1861, he recruited hunters (some the contemporary equivalent of mercenaries) to expand his operations and protect his interests.
In 1863 the eldest son of Jonker Afrikaner led a foolish raid on Otjimbingwe. He was defeated and killed by Andersson's men, adding to the leadership crisis amongst the Nama groups. By 1864 Andersson had formed an alliance with the paramount Herero chief, Kamaherero, and together they led a large army into battle with the Afrikaner Namas at Windhoek. This was indecisive, but did clearly mark the end of Nama domination of central Namibia, as well as inflicting a wound on Andersson from which he never fully recovered.
The peace of 1870
During the late 1860s the centre of Namibia was often in a state of conflict. The Hereros under Kamaherero were vying for control with the various Nama clans, as Charles Andersson and his traders became increasingly important by forming and breaking alliances with them all.
After several defeats, the Nama kaptein Jan Jonker led an army of Afrikaners to Okahandja in 1870 to make peace with Kamaherero. This was brokered by the German Wesleyan missionary Hugo Hahn – who had arrived in Windhoek in 1844, but been replaced swiftly after Jonker Afrikaner had complained about him, and requested his replacement by his missionary superiors.
This treaty effectively subdued the Afrikaners, and Hahn also included a provision for the Basters, who had migrated recently from the Cape, to settle at Rehoboth. The Afrikaners were forced to abandon Windhoek, and Herero groups occupied the area. Thus the Basters around Rehoboth effectively became the buffer between the Herero groups to the north, and the Namas to the south.
The 1870s was a relatively peaceful era, which enabled the missionaries and, especially, the various traders to extend their influence throughout the centre of the country. This most affected the Nama groups in the south, who began to trade more and more with the Cape. Guns, alcohol, coffee, sugar, beads, materials and much else flowed in. To finance these imports, local Nama chiefs and kapteins charged traders and hunters to cross their territory, and granted them licences to exploit the wildlife.
The Hereros, too, traded; but mainly for guns. Their social system valued cattle most highly, and so breeding bigger herds meant more to them than the new Western goods. Thus they emerged into the 1880s stronger than before, whilst the power of many of the Nama groups had waned.