WHO ARE THE NAMA?


To provide a brief introduction to the Nama - who they are, where they originated, what their relationship was with the Hereros, etc. - I've posted the following excerpt from pages xxi-xxii of The Herero War scenario and rules book by Roy Jones and Eric Alvarado


THE WITBOI ABTEILUNG[1]

The Hereros and the Nama were the most powerful indigenous ethnic groups in southwest Africa[2]. In the 1880s Hendrik Witbooi, a politically ambitious and militarily skillful Nama tribal leader, forcibly united the various Nama-speaking tribes under his rule. The Nama were henceforth known as the Witbooi Nama, or simply the Witbooi.

There was a history of conflict between the Nama and the Hereros, predating Hendrik Witbooi’s rise. In a series of wars from 1830 to 1870, the Nama and their indigenous allies fought against the Hereros for control of scarce land[3]. In 1880 conflict between the Hereros and the Nama resumed, and by the late 1880’s and early 1890’s rifle-armed combat between the two groups had reached a fever pitch[4]. By 1892, however, Samuel Maharero and Hendrik Witbooi had made peace. Both leaders had come to the conclusion that recent German encroachment on African land was the most pressing threat.

In reaction to the Herero-Witbooi peace, in 1893 the Germans launched an attack on Hendrik Witbooi’s main settlement. The attack killed mostly women and children. Hendrik Witbooi and his troops responded to the attack by waging a guerilla campaign in which they captured German horses and immobilized German forces. By August 1904, however, in a 13-day-long battle, the Germans used their artillery to defeat the Witbooi Nama at the Naukluf mountains.  

In September 1894 Hendrik Witbooi signed a “protection treaty” with the Germans. In late 1895 a rider was added that obligated Hendrik Witbooi to contribute troops to German military operations in South-West Africa. The September 1894 treaty and the 1895 military alliance rider were ratified in Berlin in November 15 and 16, 1895[5].  In January 1904 Hendrik Witbooi fulfilled his treaty obligations and sent Witbooi troops to fight alongside German forces against the Hereros.

While the resulting Witboi Abteilung (i.e., Witboi Detachment) fought under German command during the Herero War, these Witbooi troops were the military force of, and owed their allegiance to, Hendrik Witbooi and the Witbooi Nama people: they were not the Kaiser’s men. This became clear in October 1904 when, in response to the Herero genocide and the fear that the same fate would eventually befall his own people, Hendrik Witbooi declared war against the German Empire. Hendrik Witbooi led his Witbooi Nama troops against the Germans until October 1905, when he was killed in combat. He died fighting against those who had been both former allies and former foes.

But while they were fighting for the Germans, however, the Witbooi were steady, disciplined troops. When ambushed by Hereros during the 1904 war, they did not waver (much less retreat). Instead, their immediate response was to give battle and begin firing:

“As the forward-located Witbois, who had been following the enemy trail along the river, reached a clearing just before 8:45 am, they suddenly received heavy fire from numerous villages and waterholes approximately 300 meters on the other side [of the clearing]. The Witbois immediately entered into the fire fight, in which shortly afterwards they were supported by the 11th company, which was positioned on their [i.e., the Witboi’s] right.” (Translation by Roy Jones)

“Die vorne befindlichen Witbois, die den feindlichen Spuren längs des Riviers gefolgt waren, erhielten gegen 845 morgens, als sie eine Lichtung unweit der Wasserstelle erreichten, plötzlich heftiges Feuer aus mehreren auf etwa 300 m gegenüberliegenden Kraalen und Wasserlöchern. Die Witbois nahmen sofort den Feuerkampf auf, in dem sie bald darauf durch die 11. Kompagnie, die rechts von ihnen in Stellung ging, unterstützt wurden. “ (Generalstab, pg. 165)

Like the Hereros, the troops of the Witboi Abteilung wore civilian clothes. They can therefore be painted like Hereros, except for one distinction: when the Witbooi went to war, they would wear a white turban wrapped around the crown of their hat (see Generalstab, pg. 105; Bayer, pg. 52; see also Tim Abbott’s excellent essay “The White Feather: Misreading a Key Element of the Material Culture of the Witbooi Nama in 1904” on his blog http://omaheke.blogspot.com).


[1] For this specific military detachment and its members, we repeat the spelling used in the Generalstab official history: “Witboi” and “Witbois”. In all other contexts, we use the modern spelling “Witbooi”.

 

[2] The Hereros, or more accurately their language Otjiherero, are from the Bantu language family; the Hereros migrated to southwest Africa from the north. The Nama, who speak the Nama dialect of the Khoekhoe language of the Khoe language family, came to southwest Africa from what is now South Africa.

 

[3] When the first war between the Hereros and Nama began in 1830 only the Nama were armed with guns, having acquired them from German traders in the early 1800’s. The Hereros began acquiring firearms in significant quantities in the late 1850’s. By the time of the war of 1863-70, both sides were rifle-armed.


[4] In a series of devastating raids in 1890 and 1891 against Samuel Maharero and his Okahandja Hereros, Hendrik Witbooi and his Witbooi Nama forces captured approximately 8000 heads of cattle and drove the Hereros from contested land. See Gewald, pg. 46

 

[5] Bley, pp. 32-36.

 



SOURCES

Die Kämpfe der deutschen Truppen in Südwestafrika. Auf Grund amtlichen Materials bearbeitet von der Kriegsgeschichtlichen Abteilung I des Großen Generalstabes. Erster Band (von 2): Der Feldzug gegen die Hereros; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1906; (hereafter, Generalstab)


Bayer, Maximilian Mit dem Hauptquartier in Südwestafrika; Berlin, Wilhelm Weicher, 1909; (hereafter, Bayer)


Bley, Helmut Namibia under German Rule; Windoek, Namibia; Namibia Scientific Society, 1996; (hereafter, Bley)


Gewald, Jan-Bart Herero Heroes, Athens; Ohio; Ohio University Press, 1999; (hereafter, Gewald)

Copyright  Dr. Roy S. Jones, Jr,  2006-2017