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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2011

Leiden University
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In 1916 a warlord named Oorlog – ‘war’, in Afrikaans – moved into the Kaokoveld in the far north-west of what is now Namibia, and drove off the original inhabitants. Shortly after, Oorlog was formally recognized as a chief by the newly established South African administration and elevated to the highest position of power in the Kaokoveld. This article, through investigating how Oorlog came to be elevated to this position of power, explores issues of colonial governance and personal relationships. By focusing on the micropolitics of the Kaokoveld, it emphasizes how interpersonal relationships – not bureaucratic structures – were of crucial importance in the establishment and maintenance of early colonial rule in Africa.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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I wish to thank Michael Bollig, Casper Erichsen, Werner Hillebrecht, Giacomo Macola, Giorgio Miescher, Lorena Rizzo, Robert Ross, Jeremy Silvester, and reviewers for the Journal of African History for their comments and input, which greatly served to improve this article by giving it focus and context.


1 The man known as Oorlog had a number of names. In the Herero language, Oorlog is referred to as Vita Harunga, in which ‘Vita’ is the Otjiherero word for war, and ‘Harunga’ refers to the matrilineal descent of Vita. Oorlog is also referred to as Vita Tom, in which ‘Tom’ refers to his patrilineal descent from Tom Bechuana, his father. Here, I use the name Oorlog, although I do on occasion use his other names when the situation demands.

2 Today, the Kaokoveld is well known among tourists visiting Namibia as the ‘home’ of the allegedly primordial Ovahimba. On the history of the Kaokoveld and the construction of the Ovahimba as ‘untouched primitives’, see Bollig, M., ‘The colonial encapsulation of the north-western Namibian pastoral economy’, Africa, 68:4 (1998), 506–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and M. Bollig, ‘Framing Kaokoland’, in W. Hartmann, J. Silvester, and P. Hayes (eds.), The Colonising Camera: Photographs in the Making of Namibian History (Cape Town, 1998), 164–70.

3 On the establishment and forms of South African rule in Namibia between 1915 and 1945, see P. Hayes, J. Silvester, M. Wallace, and W. Hartmann, Namibia under South African Rule: Mobility and Containment, 1915–46 (Oxford, 1998).

4 Lonsdale, J. and Berman, B., ‘Coping with the contradictions: the development of the colonial state in Kenya, 1895–1914’, Journal of African History, 20:4 (1979), 487505CrossRefGoogle Scholar. J. Lonsdale, ‘The conquest state of Kenya’, in J. A. de Moor and H. L. Wesseling (eds.), Imperialism and War: Essays on Colonial Wars in Asia and Africa (Leiden, 1989), 87–120; and Lonsdale, J., ‘The politics of conquest: the British in western Kenya, 1894–1908’, Historical Journal, 20:4 (1977), 841–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 L. Rizzo, ‘Gender and colonialism: a history of Kaoko (north-western Namibia) between the 1870s and 1950s’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Basel, 2009).

6 Rizzo, L., ‘The elephant shooting: colonial law and indirect rule in Kaoko, northwestern Namibia, in the 1920s and 1930s’, Journal of African History, 48:2 (2007), 264 and 266CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 On the haphazard nature of the establishment and maintenance of South African rule in Namibia, see R. Gordon, ‘Vagrancy, law & “shadow knowledge”: internal pacification, 1915–1939’, in Hayes et al., Namibia, 51–76.

8 T. Emmett, Popular Resistance and the Roots of Nationalism in Namibia, 1915–1966 (Basel, 1999), 92; J. H. Serfontein, Namibia? (Randburg, 1976) 21–2. Many military officers who had entered Namibia in 1915 (Majors Hahn, Manning, and Bowker among them) remained as civilian administrators.

9 F. Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley, 2005), 184.

10 J. C. Myers, Indirect Rule in South Africa: Tradition, Modernity, and the Costuming of Political Power, (Rochester, 2008), 14–18 and 25–6.

11 P. Hayes, ‘The “famine of the dams”: gender, labour & politics in colonial Ovamboland, 1929–30’, in Hayes et al., Namibia, 123.

12 Much has been written on the manner in which Africa and its inhabitants have been viewed and ‘invented’, most notably, V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (London, 1988); K. A. Appiah, In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (Oxford, 1992); and J. Fabian, Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa (London, 2000).

13 R. Morrell, From Boys to Gentlemen: Settler Masculinity in Colonial Natal, 1880–1920 (Pretoria, 2001).

14 D. Sauter, F. Eisner, P. Ekman, and Scott, S., ‘Cross-cultural recognition of basic emotions through nonverbal emotional vocalizations’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107:6 (2010), 2408–12Google Scholar. Regarding the ‘discovery’ of the Kaokoveld, see C. Wärnlöf, ‘The “discovery” of the Himba: the politics of ethnographic film making’, Africa, 70:2 (2000), 175–191. For a rebuttal of the PNAS article written by Sauter et al., see J.-Gewald, B., ‘Remote but in contact with history and the world’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107:18 (2010), E75CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 B. Lau, Namibia in Jonker Afrikaner's Time (Windhoek, 1987). For Herero specifically, see D. Henrichsen, ‘Herrschaft und Identifikation im vorkolonialen Zentralnamibia: das Herero- und Damaraland im 19. Jh.’(unpublished PhD thesis, University of Hamburg, 1998).

16 Oorlam communities emerged along the north-western Cape colonial frontier in the late eighteenth century, around the institution of the Commando, and consisted of an amalgam of Khoi community remnants, runaway slaves, Basters, Cape outlaws, and others. See J. B. Gewald, Herero Heroes: A Socio-political History of the Herero of Namibia, 1890–1923 (Oxford, 1999), 14.

17 Bollig, ‘Power & trade in precolonial & early colonial northern Kaokoland, 1860s–1940s’, in Hayes et al., Namibia, 175–9.

18 Rizzo, L., ‘A glance into the camera: gendered visions of historical photographs in Kaoko (north-western Namibia)’, Gender & History, 17:3 (2005), 702CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Bollig, ‘Power & trade’, 182.

20 Regarding Tom Bechuana, see C. J. Andersson, Lake Ngami: Or, Exploration and Discoveries During Four Years' Wanderings in the Wilds of South Western Africa (London, 1856; reprinted Cape Town, 1967). For an overview of the life and times of Manasse Tjisiseta, see J. De Vries, That Time is Long Gone! Manasse Tjisseseta, Chief of Omaruru Namibia 1884–1898 (Cologne, 1999).

21 The best biographical overview of Oorlog to date is E. L. P. Stals and A. Otto-Reiner, ‘Oorlog en Vrede aan die Kunene: die verhaal van Kaptein Vita Tom 1863–1937’, unpublished manuscript (Windhoek, 1990).

22 For biographical details on these hunters, namely Frederick Green, Charles John Andersson, and Axel Wilhelm Ericsson, see E. C. Tabler, Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland 1738–1880 (Cape Town, 1973).

23 Regarding the Herero–German war, see Gewald, Herero Heroes, ch. 5.

24 National Archives of Namibia, Windhoek (NAN), Secretary of the Protectorate (ADM) 17, Ovamboland Administration General, Manning Native Affairs Windhoek, 16 Sept. 1915, to Mr Gorges.

25 NAN, South West Africa Administration: Secretariat, A-series (SWAA) 1496, ‘Report on the tour of Ovamboland by Major Pritchard, 1915’, 21.

26 Stals and Otto-Reiner, ‘Oorlog’, 29–44.

27 Ibid. 44–5.


28 NAN, Officer Commanding Union Troops (OCT) 17, Mr Bull Brodtkorb in Namutoni, 30 March 1917, to Col. de Jager.

29 Stals and Otto-Reiner, ‘Oorlog’, 82.

30 Rizzo, ‘The elephant shooting’.

31 NAN, OCT 17, Native Unrest Zesfontein, Telegram, 1 Nov. 1916, from Outjo military police to Windhoek sent at 4:20 pm, arrived 4:31 pm.

32 NAN, OCT 17, WDH to Milpol Outjo, 1 Nov. 1916.

33 NAN, OCT 17, Telegram, 2 Nov. 1916, from Outjo Milpol to Windhoek.

34 NAN, OCT 17, Copy of telegram from Outjo Milpol to regcom Windhuk. Lt. Van Wijk reports Kaross, 10 Nov. 1916.

35 NAN, OCT 17, 24 Nov. 1916, ‘Confidential report on investigation native unrest Kaokoveld’.

36 NAN, OCT 17, Ibid.


37 NAN, OCT 17, Telegram, 28 Dec. 1916, Magistrate Outjo to Windhoek.

38 NAN, OCT 17, Telegram from O/C troops in Outjo on 5 Jan. 1917, emphasis added.

39 NAN, OCT 17, Telegram, 27 Feb. 1917, Outjo Milpol to Windhoek.

40 In the event, goods and supplies remaining from the attack on the Ovakwanyama King Mandume were to be used. NAN, OCT 17, Telegram Windhoek to Outjo Milpol, 19 March 1917; Staff Officer for Administrative Services, Ovamboland Expedition, Otjiwarongo, 18 March 1917, to Officer Commanding Military Constabulary, Outjo; and Staff Officer for Administrative Services, Ondonga, 7 March 1917, to Transport Officer Ondonga.

41 NAN, OCT 17, H. Bull Brodtkorb in Namutoni, 30 March 1917, to Col. de Jager, O.C. Troops Windhoek.

42 The death of Mandume has been dealt with by a number of historians. For a detailed account based primarily on archival research, see J. Silvester, My Heart Tells Me That I Have Done Nothing Wrong: The Fall of Mandume (Windhoek, 1992). For the sociopolitical context, see P. Hayes, ‘A history of the Ovambo of Namibia, ca. 1880–1930’, (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 1992), II, 82. For a detailed eyewitness account, see P. Hayes and D. Haipinge, ‘Healing the Land’: Kaulinge's History of Kwanyama (Cologne, 1997), 86–92.

43 NAN, OCT 17, Office of the Officer Commanding Union Forces in Windhoek, 24 April 1917, to the Officer Commanding, Military Constabulary, Outjo.

44 NAN, OCT 17, Milpol Outjo, 1 June 1917, to Windhoek.

45 Having arrested these men and handed them over to the South African authorities, Oorlog probably ensured that his debts to these traders no longer needed to be paid. NAN, OCT 17, ‘Notes of an interview between Colonel de Jager, Major J. F. Herbst, and Lieut Beckley M. Constabulary, with the Native Headman Oorlog, his younger brother and one of Oorlog's sons, at the office of the Officer Commanding Troops, Government Buildings, at Windhuk, on Wednesday, the 6th of June, 1917, at 10.30 a.m.’, fo. 7.

46 NAN, OCT 17, Milpol Outjo, 1 June 1917, to Windhoek.

47 NAN, OCT 17, ‘Notes of an interview’, fo. 7; Union Defence Force, Issue Voucher for Clothing, No. 362, 11 June 1917.

48 NAN, OCT 17, ‘Notes of an interview’, fo. 5.

49 Ibid.


50 Ibid. fo. 6.


51 L. G. Green, Lords of the Last Frontier: The Story of South West Africa and its People of All Races (Cape Town, 1952), 75.

52 Ibid.


53 NAN, Accessions (A) 450, vol. 4, Cocky Hahn's private papers, copy of letter written by Manning to the Royal Geographical Society, 19 Dec. 1921.

54 Morrell, From Boys to Gentlemen, explicitly deals with Maritzburg College as an important site for the socialization of boys and men in settler Natal.

55 At the outbreak of the First World War, large numbers of Boer soldiers and their officers refused to take up arms against imperial Germany and many entered into open rebellion against imperial Britain. See T. R. H. Davenport, South Africa: A Modern History (2nd edn, Johannesburg, 1978), 184–6.

56 Dictionary of South African Biography (Cape Town, 1968–87), V, 488.

57 NAN, ADM 156, General Kaokoland report Major Manning, 7.

58 NAN, SWAA 23, McHugh, 22 July 1926, to Secretary SWA Windhoek.

59 NAN, OCT 17, ‘Notes of an interview’, fo. 2.

60 See in this regard the development of similar traditions among the Griqua and Oorlam communities in southern and central Namibia and South Africa, as described in Lau, Namibia. On South Africa proper, see M. C. Legassick, ‘The Northern Frontier to 1820: the emergence of the Griqua people’, in R. Elphick and H. Gilliomee (eds.), The Shaping of South African Society, 1652–1820 (Cape Town, 1979); N. Penn, Rogues, Rebels and Runaways: Eighteenth-century Cape Characters (Cape Town, 1999); N. Penn, The Forgotten Frontier: Colonist and Khoisan on the Cape's Northern Frontier in the 18th Century (Cape Town, 2005); R. Ross, Adam Kok's Griquas: A Study in the Development of Stratification in South Africa (Cambridge, 1976).

61 NAN, SWAA 23, A3/69, Special Police Patrol into Kaokoveld 1925–1926, Sergeant, South West Police, Karibib, 22 July 1926, to Secretary SWA Windhoek. For more on agterryers (‘those who ride behind’), see P. Warwick, Black People and the South African War, 1899–1902 (Johannesburg, 1983), 11, 25, 26, 130.

62 NAN, ADM 156, Manning Report, 1.

63 NAN, ADM 106, Extract from General Report of Manning, 1917. Without access to something like Manning's personal diaries, there is, of course, no way of knowing whether Manning was telling his superiors what he believed or what he wanted his superiors to believe.

64 Tabler, Pioneers.

65 For more on this topic, see, e.g., Morrell, From Boys to Gentlemen; J. Richards, ‘“Boys’ Own Empire”: feature films and imperialism in the 1930s', in J. M. Mackenzie (ed.), ‘Boys’ Own Empire': Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester, 1986).

66 NAN, ADM 106, Manning Extract, 1.

67 Ibid.


68 Ibid. 5.


69 Ibid.


70 Ibid.


71 Ibid. 2.


72 Ibid. 6.


73 Ibid. 2.


74 For an introduction to the literature, see J. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, 1998).

75 It is interesting to speculate, given that Oorlog was born and spent his youth in Otjimbingwe, that he imbibed these sentiments from the Rhenish missionaries stationed in the settlement. These missionaries, who had first established themselves in Otjimbingwe in the 1850s, continually attempted to turn the migrant pastoralists who roamed the vicinity into settled agriculturalists. To this end, the missionaries doggedly attempted to sow and reap crops of wheat in the Swakop riverbed that ran through the settlement. For a detailed overview of these attempts, see Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, Windhoek, V. Chroniken 25. Otjimbingwe.

76 NAN, OCT 17, ‘Notes of an interview’, 3.

77 NAN, ADM 156, Manning Report, 11.

78 Ibid. 14.


79 NAN, ADM 106, Manning Extract, 3.

80 Ibid. 1.


81 The presentation of Oorlog's relations to colonial administration in southern Angola shortly before his move to Namibia contrasts sharply with the view presented by Mr. Brodtkorb. NAN, OCT 17, H. Bull Brodtkorb in Namutoni, 30 March 17, to Col. de Jager, O.C. Troops Windhoek.

82 NAN, SWAA 23, Officer in Charge, Native Affairs, Ondonga, 20 May 1926, Cocky Hahn to Secretary for SWA Windhoek, 3.

83 NAN, ADM 106, Manning Extract, 6; and ADM 156, Manning Report, 43.

84 NAN, ADM 106, Manning Extract 7.

85 Ibid.


86 NAN, ADM 106, Manning extract 8.

87 NAN, SWAA 23, McHugh, 22 July 1926, to Secretary SWA Windhoek.

88 Saul Dubow, Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa (Cambridge, 1995).

89 For a comparative and eloquently written case see, S. F. Moore, Social Facts and Fabrications: ‘Customary’ Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880–1980 (Cambridge, 1986). Rather less eloquently, Gewald, J.-B., ‘Making tribes: social engineering in the Western Province of British administered Eritrea 1941–52’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 1:2 (2000CrossRefGoogle Scholar), (consulted 9 February 2011).

90 NAN, ADM 156, Manning Report, 73.

91 Ibid. 35.


92 Ibid.


93 Oorlog features in Green's Lords of the Last Frontier, 75–81, in an extensive description that is based on Manning's 1917 tour report.

94 NAN, ADM 106, Manning Extract, 7.

95 NAN, SWAA 23, Report Kaokoveld Patrol, 1925.

96 NAN, SWAA 23, Hahn in Ondonga, 20 May 1926, to Secretary for South West Africa.

97 Carl Hugo Linsingen Hahn (1886–1948), grandson of Carl Hugo Hahn, the German missionary who effectively established the Rhenish Mission in central Namibia in the nineteenth century. The young Hahn, known as ‘Cocky’ by his friends and colleagues, and Shangolo (‘Whip’) by his subjects, dominated the administration of Ovamboland for three decades. In 1910 he played for the Springboks, the South African rugby team. In Namibia, he became particularly known as an administrator, amateur ethnographer, and photographer. See Gregor Dobler, ‘Traders and trade in colonial Ovamboland, 1925–1990: elite formation and the politics of consumption under indirect rule and apartheid’ (unpublished Habilitationsschrift, University of Basel, 2010), 47–9.

98 I refer here to the work by Klaus Theweleit on fascist consciousness and bodily experience: K. Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Vol I and Vol II, trans. E. Carter and C. Turner (Minneapolis, 1989).

99 NAN, ADM 106, Manning Extract, 8–9.

100 NAN, SWAA 23, Report Kaokoveld Patrol, 1925, 15.

101 NAN, SWAA 23, Officer in Charge, Native Affairs, Ondonga, 20 May 1926, Cocky Hahn to Secretary for SWA Windhoek, 2.

102 NAN, SWAA 23, Report Kaokoveld Patrol, 1925, 16.

103 Brodtkorb was the Norwegian trader and hunter who had fought in joint commandos with Oorlog in southern Angola, and who had provided the incoming South Africans with their first detailed reports on Oorlog. Brodtkorb urged the South African military to negotiate and warned that ‘If Oorlog sees a big force coming up, he will probably fight and will have good chances in the mountains and passes’. NAN, OCT 17, H. Bull Brodtkorb in Namutoni, 30 March 17, to Col. de Jager, O.C. Troops Windhoek.

104 NAN, ADM 156, Manning Report, 22.

105 Ibid. 25.


106 M. Crowder, West Africa under Colonial Rule (London, 1968), 165.

107 As Rizzo aptly noted, ‘the administration tended to support the headmen's exercise of power and application of controlled violence against their subjects, as long as it remained useful to the general colonial project’ (Rizzo, ‘The elephant shooting’, 260).

108 For a comparative approach that recognizes the importance of the individual, see Baz Lecocq, ‘That Desert is Our Country’: Tuareg Rebellions and Competing Nationalisms in Contemporary Mali (1946–1996) (Amsterdam, 2002), 28–9.

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