Day 11: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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Abraham Morris, unsung hero of the Nama War, here as a scout for the Union of South Africa forces when they invaded German Southwest Africa during the First World War. He expected South Africa to reward him by allowing him back into his motherland. He was wrong.

One of the unsung heroes in “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird” is Abraham Morris. I used Abraham as a minor character, but in truth he is larger than life. His story has already inspired one novel, “The Return” by James Ambrose Brown, so I did not want to pursue his exploits further in my own rendition of the weird, wonderful and tragic happenings of the Nama War of 1904-1908, these dates being very arbitrary, as we will see shortly.

The man Abraham Morris was born in Warmbad, Namibia, around 1872 out of the marriage between a Scotsman and a Bondelswart Nama woman. He grew up deeply religious, probably in the Catholic tradition which dominated the deep south of Namaland.

The most remarkable thing about Morris is the fact that his involvement in the Nama War places the dates of the war into a controversial argument. It is generally accepted that the Nama War started with a declaration of war by Hendrik Witbooi on 3 October 1904, just two months after Witbooi had still acted as an ally to the Germans in the war on the Hereros.

Yet, one year earlier, on 25 October 1903 to be precise, a small incident about a billy goat in the town of Warmbad led to some German soldiers taking a Nama man prisoner. At the police station a group of Namas gathered to protest, among them Abraham Morris and Jakob Morenga.

The situation escalated when lieutenant Walther Jobst used force and shots were fired. Two bodies lay in the sun, that of the young lieutenant and that of the Nama leader, Jan Abraham Christiaan. This incident sparked a Nama uprising or rather a Bondelswarts Nama uprising.

Morris and Marengo fled into the Karas mountains and a fully fledged guerilla war followed, to such an extent that the governor of the country, Leutwein rushed down south to come and restore the peace. His absence allowed the Hereros in the north to rise up and to organise their rebellion. When the first shots of the Herero war were fired Leutwein was still down south trying his best to negotiate peace. Morris and Morenga were not included in the peace talks. Instead Leutwein made the fatal mistake of placing a price on their heads.

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Long before Hendrik Witbooi’s declaration of war on 3 October 1904 Abraham Morris and Jakob Marengo were already fighting the Germans as witnessed by this photograph taken at Uhabis in the territory of the Bondelswarts. Note the date of 8 November 1903.

Events in the north forced Leutwein to go back to fight the Hereros, leaving the Bondelswarts to his men at Warmbad. During the time of the Herero war, January to August 1904, the Bondelswarts were involved in numerous skirmishes with the small band of Germans at Warmbad. On 10 December the Germans under colonel von Burgsdorff, aided by Hendrik Witbooi and his Khowesin and !Aman Namas won a battle against the Bondelswarts but two days later, on 10 December the Bondelswarts defeated lieutenant Böttlin in the battle of Hartebeestmund, wounding the lieutenant and some of his men.

A remarkable thing happened. Morris and Marengo took the wounded Böttlin and his men across the Gariep river to the Roman Catholic mission station at Pella for treatment. Within the context of the Nama war this was extraordinary because no such mercy was ever shown to any Nama or Herero soldier.

The Bondelswarts continued their resistance during 1904 while Hendrik Witbooi was still on the side of the Germans. Witbooi changed his mind, probably when he witnessed first hand the cruelty of the Germans during the Herero war. Then, on 3 October 1904, came his declaration of war against Germany. He was immediately joined by his former enemies, the Bondelswarts of Morris and Marengo.

I contend that the Nama War had started a year earlier when Jobst and Christiaan were killed at Warmbad, not with Witbooi’s declaration. Abraham Morris was there, at the real start of the Nama War, on 25 October 1903, and he would be there also, the very last casualty of the Nama War, 19 years later, as we shall see. The end of the Nama war did not occur as historians hold it out to be in 1907, or 1908. It really only ended when Morris was killed in a most atrocious incident for which South Africa would eventually pay the price many decades later, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Marengo, an educated man who had spent time in Europe became a legend of the Nama War. He fought hard and clever, frustrating the Germans and inspiring the Namas. He was a master strategist. He also was wounded several times. He led his men through the valleys, kloofs and bush of the Karas Mountains and surprised the Germans around every corner, with Morris at his side. When things got too hot for his liking he retreated across the international border, the Gariep river, to the safety of the Union of South Africa. During one such an expedition he was apprehended by the police and placed into custody. He was later released but surprised again and killed. The war was all but over, with the resentment of the Namas festering under the surface. By that time Witbooi was killed and Cornelius Fredericks, another important leader of the Namas and hero of my book, was imprisoned on Shark Island. Simon Koper, the only other Nama leader stayed on the eastern border of the country, fleeing into Bechuanaland when threatened by the Germans. Koper was finally driven away on 16 March 1908 in the great battle of Seatsub, a story for another day.

Morris, with a price on his head, remained in the relative safety of South Africa. He lived there for the next two decades, banished from his home country, eking out an existence as a subsistence farmer, greatly respected by everyone. He was a family man and happily married.

In 1914 the First World War broke out and General Louis Botha, prime minister of the newly formed Union of South Africa, decided to fight with the King and his allies. His first task was to invade his neighbour, the German colony called German Southwest Africa. He did so on no less than four fronts, one of them the south of German Southwest Africa and the others Lüderitz, Swakopmund and Rietfontein.

The south of Namibia, adjoined to the northern Richtersveld of South Africa, is one of the most desolate, wild and dry places on the face of the earth, even today. The invading Union troops of general Botha needed scouts to show them the way and the drinking places. Abraham Morris volunteered as one on these scouts. After all, he had an axe to grind with the Germans. Morris was convinced that his services would not go unrecognised and that the South Africans would treat his people better than did the Germans. How wrong he was.

During the South African expedition into German Southwest Africa he made the acquaintance of a young soldier, Hendrik Prinsloo who later wrote very favourably about the Nama scout.

Morris completed his scouting services for the Union Defence Force with distinction, but after South African rule was consolidated no invitation to come back was issued. Instead his banishment was confirmed! Despite acting as scout for South Africa he was not allowed back into Southwest Africa. He had no option but to continue living on South African soil.

On 24 May 1922 his wife passed away and Morris wrote these bitter, tragic words, “MIjn hart is warlijk droog van de bywonerskap. Naar mijn land (of moeder’s land) terug te komen, dat is mijn vast plan en ook mening. Maar om geen moelikheid te bringen, zal ik goedkeuring zoeken…Dat het den Here behaagd om zijn wil uit te voeren en heeft (Hij) de ziel van mijn dierbaren echtgenoot uit die leven weg geroepen (opde) 24ste Mei: Zodat ik nu mijn leven op aarde alleen moet voortzetten”.

Loosely translated this desperate cry from the heart reads, “My heart is bone dry of life as a beggar. I am determined to go back to the land of my mother, but to prevent any trouble I will seek permission…God has decided to call the soul of my dear wife from this life and that I shall live alone”.

Abraham Morris crossed the river back into “the land of his mother,” now called South West Africa. He was soon confronted by the police who wanted to take him into custody. Yet his people, the Bondelswarts Namas, now crowded into the Bondelswarts reserve by South African decree, had welcomed his return. They hailed him as their saviour who had come to lead them from the oppression of the South Africans. The Bondelswarts took heart and within days a full rebellion started. Abraham Morris, the hero of the many glorious battles of 1903-1907 against the Germans became the unwilling leader.

In Pretoria General Jan Smuts dispatched his air force and from Windhoek came the self styled “colonel” Gysbert Hofmeyr with cannons and machine guns.

The Bondelswarts fled into the mountainous terrain and several skirmishes followed. Eventually the aircraft, under the leadership of the famous Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld bombed the men, women and children as well as the animals of the Bondelswarts into oblivion. A search party under Captain Hendrik Prinsloo was dispatched. Prinsloo followed Morris and his few men for days on end and eventually shot and killed him, on 4 June 1922.

As it was night Prinsloo retired to the headquarters but confirmation was needed that Morris was indeed dead. Prinsloo came back, found the grave, exhumed Morris and reburied him again. To this day the site of this grave is unknown. Last year I went on a futile search expedition. I came away from that dry, rough, desolated, quiet wilderness with a deep sadness about this man’s forgotten legacy.

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This is the area where the Bondelswarts were attacked by the full force of the South African Defence Force, including the aircraft under the leadership of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld.

 

Only when Abraham Morris was dead, was the resistance of the Namas finally crushed, never to rise again. I contend that the Nama War only ended when Morris died. He was there in the real beginning, on 25 October 2903, and he was there when it really ended, on 4 June 1922, a true hero to the very last, but sadly never honoured. He does not even have a proper grave.

Following the aerial bombardment and the indiscriminate machine gunning of the Bondelswarts people, South Africa was reprimanded in the League of Nations. An investigation that lasted two years found that South Africa had violated the trust the world had placed in South Africa as custodian of “The land God made in anger” as John Gordon Davis named Southwest Africa. This international distrust of South Africa continued when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations. Perhaps, if this had not happened, Namibia would now have been South Africa’s tenth province. 

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com

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Day 10: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

One of the central places in my novel, “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird” is Aus, a tiny town on the edge of the Namib Desert, nestled against the rough Aus mountains, on the side of the road and railway connecting Lüderitz at the coast with Keetmanshoop in the interior.

Aus is very small, by any standards, but it has a rich history. The best is that much of the history is still visible and tangible. In addition the town sports several very comfortable and even luxurious accommodation establishments for the tourists that come to enjoy the unique environment.

In my story I tell how the brave men of the ox wagon transport routes used Aus as their springboard and resting station when they plied their trades in the difficult days of the late 19th and early 20th century. In those days these men and their ox wagons and animals were the only means of transportation for all the goods that the German soldiers and the farmers of the south of the country needed. Keetmanshoop is 325 kilometers from Lüderitz, a distance that would take any ox wagon at least two weeks, even under the most favourable conditions.

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An antique map showing some of the ox wagon routes leading to and from Aus.

The thing is that the piece of real estate between Lüderitz and Aus, measuring 125 kilometers, offered some of the most unfavourable land for man and beast anywhere in the world, especially on the inbound journey. The entire area is desert, the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world. Aus lies some 4500 feet above the sea, which means that the poor oxen faced an uphill battle, all of the time, in a very literal sense. Also, there is no grazing or water on the way, except for a few small brackish fountains which was dry most of the time. Mostly the wagons were relatively empty on their outbound journeys to the coast, but once on their way back in the direction of Aus and Keetmanshoop the wagons were laden to their maximum capacity. Add to that the searing hot, loose sand and the worst of all, the stinging east wind which raged into the men and oxen’s faces and one had the perfect ingredients for disaster.

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The wild horses of Aus, a favourite with tourists.

Aus was the calm before and after the storms of the journeys through the Namib. The routes between Aus and Keetmanshoop were comparatively easy to traverse with abundant grazing, flat, hard surfaces and several fountains and rivers. The transport riders were acutely aware of this. They used Aus to rest up and allow their animals to graze and drink well before tackling the harsh desert. Conversely, on their way back, they strained with all their might to reach Aus. Aus was the aim, the goal. It literally meant the difference between life and death. They knew that if they reached Aus they would make it.

In German Aus means “out”. One would assume that in this context the town was named because it meant that it was “out of the desert”, but not so. Aus means “Place of Snakes” in Khoekhoegowab (Namadamara) the language of the original inhabitants of the South of Namibia, the Nama people. Presumably it once was home to many snakes, or perhaps still is.

My favourite place of rest in Aus is Klein-Aus Vista, the establishment run by Piet and Christine Swiegers. They offer luxurious hotel rooms with all amenities, a perfect camping terrain as well as two unique separate units, the Geisterschlucht and Eagle’s Nest, tucked deep into the mountains providing total isolation and some of the most spectacular sunset views anywhere in the world. When one looks west one can almost see all the way to Lüderitz, causing me to write in a special moment of inspiration: “When the four ox wagons rounded the foothills of the Aus Mountains, the outstretched expanse of the Namib Desert lay laughing before them, almost like a lady of the night in all her nakedness. It was as though the desert was enticing them, knowing she would soon have them in her power.”

In town is the Bahnhof Hotel which I gave a special place in my book. It is also my favourite lunchtime eating place. The food is always German and fresh and the beer is teeth hurtingly cold. Bahnhof is German for station. In 1906 a railway between Lüderitz and Keetmanshoop was built in record time. Unfortunately it involved the use of forced labour and resulted in the deaths on hundreds if not thousands of Nama prisoners. The “Bahnhof” of Aus played a role in all of this.

Aus is also home to the site of a very famous and special concentration camp of the First World war, some special entrenchments of the same war, the famous wild horses of Garub and the site of the very first aerial bombardment in the history of warfare -the Tschaukaib Plain.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com

Day 9: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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Cornelius Fredericks, leader of the !Aman tribe of Namas from Bethanien, Namibia. The photograph was probably taken after his capture which followed the incident when the Luchtenstein family was overwhelmed by Fredericks’s men.

Two men dominate the storyline of The Scourge of the Kaiserbird. One was Ernst Luchtenstein, the young German Jewish immigrant and the other Cornelius Fredericks, the Nama, leader of the !Aman of Bethanien, son of Josef Fredericks the second.

The story I tell is fiction based upon facts. Ernst and Cornelius were real people. I told the story of Ernst in Day 8 of this blog. Today I want to focus on the true story of the real Cornelius Fredericks. Because of the paucity of documents I had to do my own research and use my imagination to devise a story, but I knew that I wanted to remain as close as possible to the truth.

Cornelius’s father Josef sold a large piece of land to Adolph Lüderitz in 1883. In the process Lüderitz was guilty of using a term that the Nama people didn’t know – the geographical mile. Lüderitz was well aware that they didn’t know this term and he deliberately kept that secret. There is documentary proof for this in the Namibian archives. In the story I describe Cornelius as an eye witness to the signing, but I have no proof for this. What is beyond any doubt is that this transaction opened the floodgates of German colonists to populate the south of the country. Without this transaction the history of the country may have been quite different.

My first reference to the contact between the two central characters came from the late Dicky Strauss from Kirriis Wes, near Keetmanshoop. He told me of the incident where the new immigrant family, the Luchtensteins, had been apprehended by some or other Nama group with a famous leader. At the time he thought it might have been Simon Koper.

I studied the Nama war in depth and by a process of elimination I determined that it could not have been either Simon Koper, Hendrik Witbooi, Jakob Morenga or Abraham Morris. I came upon a book, The Lonely Grave in the Fish River Canyon, which told the story of the young German soldier that is buried in the canyon, lieutenant Thilo von Trotha. It also tells how the lieutenant came to the country to fight the Hereros in the war that lasted from January to October 1904 and how some Nama scouts loyal to Hendrik Witbooi worked with Thilo von Trotha. One of them was none other than Cornelius Fredericks. They became friends during this terrible campaign which saw the majority of the Herero people being killed.

In an ironic twist the same Hendrik Witbooi declared war on the Germans on 3 October 1904. From that moment Fredericks and his erstwhile comrade and friend, Thilo von Trotha became enemies. Despite this von Trotha tried to get Fredericks to surrender and followed him into the vast wilderness of the Fish River Canyon, where he, von Trotha met his fate. The book, The Lonely Grave in the Fish River Canyon, describes in detail how the incident happened and makes it quite clear that Fredericks was not guilty of betraying and killing his friend, but one can forgive the German Schutztruppe who at the time did not have this information, for casting Cornelius Fredericks as suspect Number One. What eventually happened to Fredericks and so many other of his countrymen is however unforgivable.

Some time after the incident in the Fish River Canyon Cornelius Fredericks was caught and imprisoned on Shark Island in Lüderitzbucht, today’s Lüderitz. Dicky Strauss told me of the famous leader of the Namas who were caught after the incident when the Luchtenstein family had been overwhelmed by the band of Namas in the desert. Dicky said that the leader was eventually hanged, but I travelled to Windhoek especially to meet and talk to one of the Fredericks descendants, pastor Isak Fredericks. Pastor Fredericks told me in no uncertain terms that Cornelius Fredericks had been poisoned on Shark Island during his incarceration there. His skull was one of the many sent to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where it is still to this day.

The Nama leader of Dicky Strauss’s story and Cornelius Fredericks who fought with Thilo von Trotha was one and the same person. Many years later Ernst Luchtenstein himself wrote of the incident where his mother knelt in front of the Nama leader and begged for mercy. Ernst witnessed how the Nama leader took his mother’s hand and told her to kneel only to God. The Nama leader said that they did not fight women and children.

Once I made the connection between the Nama leader of Dicky’s story and Cornelius Fredericks, the story wrote itself.

 

Day 8: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Who was the real Ernst Luchtenstein? In The Scourge of the Kaiserbird I tell the story of a young boy who arrived in the then German South-West Africa and grew up to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the country. Who was he really?

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Ernst Luchtenstein in his later years.

I tried to remain as close to the truth as possible, but readers must keep in mind that Ernst passed away in 1972, long before I knew of him. The image and character I created was based upon what I could read about him and what I could learn by interviewing two of his children, Margaret van Rooyen and the late Tudi Luchtenstein. The latter was initially reluctant to grant me an interview because he said that his father always shunned publicity. In the end he did give me an interview and told me many stories of his famous father.

Ernst Luchtenstein was born on 3 January 1893 in Schmalkalden, Germany and attended school in Tilsit. He arrived in Lüderitzbucht, now called Lüderitz, in 1906. He was with his mother Therese, sister Charlotte and brother, Ewald, of whom I had no information and left out of the story. When he disembarked from the ship he nearly drowned, a fact which I embroidered upon in order to suit my central plot.

The family was met by his father Joseph Luchtenstein, a transport rider. The family then crossed the Namib Desert in Joseph’s ox wagon. Somewhere along the route they were captured by a band of Nama warriors. Ernst’s mother fell on her knees before the leader and pleaded for their lives upon which the leader said, “Madam, kneel before God alone. We do not make war against women and children.” Later on I figured out that this man was Cornelius Fredericks, leader of the !Aman tribe of Namas of Bethanien.

Ernst’s mother Therese died very soon after their arrival in the country and Ernst was placed in the care of a one-eyed Keetmanshoop farmer, the Scotsman Robert McKay and his Nama wife. He learnt to speak the Nama language fluently and he had a good relationship with the Namas throughout his life. Once, he acted as touleier for one of McKay’s treks which turned out to be a disaster. Ernst was stuck in the desert for three weeks with only one Nama for company and a bag of maize meal as rations. Later on he recalled this time fondly.

During the First World war he was taken prisoner of war by the Union of South Africa forces but he managed to escape. He then lived a secret, solitary life in the Karas Mountains for 18 months. During this time he killed a leopard with a knobkierie and a knife.

Towards the end of the war he was again “captured” by two soldiers. He learnt from them that his flight into the mountains had been unnecessary because as a civilian conscript into the German army he would not have been interned. He was taken to Keetmanshoop to be employed as a hunting guide to a certain captain Tilley.

He became a transport rider, like his father, and started buying land until he eventually owned 500 000 hectares of farming land. He married Regina and they had four daughters and one son. In later years he contracted polio and he then turned to woodworking. Some of his finely crafted work survives to this day.

During his life time he made massive charitable donations, even to Protestant and Catholic churches. Many of the older people in the Keetmanshoop area still speak fondly of him.

I used this man as a symbol of who we could be, if only we decide to live a selfless life.

References

To the River’s End. Lawrence G Green. Howard B Symonds Cape Town: 4th Edition 1950

Lords of the Last Frontier. Lawrence G Green. Howard B Symonds Cape Town: 1952

Touleier to millionaire. Sam Davis. The Windhoek Observer p13.

Early days of a SWA pioneer. SWA Jaarboek. p68-69: 1962

“Touleier” on Trek. Ernst Luchtenstein. SWA Jaarboek  pp 62-65: 1965

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com

Day 7: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

The “Scourge of the Kaiserbird” begins with the arrival by ship in 1906 of the young Ernst Luchtenstein, his little sister Charlotte, and their mother Therese at Lüderitzbucht, later renamed simply Lüderitz.

Their father and Therese’s husband, Joseph was waiting for them. He had been in the country for three years when they came. He was a transport rider meaning he used ox wagons to transport goods from the bay of Lüderitzbucht to Keetmanshoop in the interior, 325 kilometers away. German Southwest Africa was a young colony then having been appropriated by Adolph Lüderitz in a dubious transaction in 1883, a mere 23 years earlier.

Joseph Luchtenstein, like all transport riders in that area, faced a serious challenge. He had to move his family across 125 kilometers of Namib desert without a ready supply of water. In fact Lüderitzbucht had no water of its own. All its water had to be imported from the Cape, by ship. The German colonists built desalination plants but these often were out of service. The thirsty oxen, horses, mules and humans had to share the limited water supply imported from the Cape, or produced by the dodgy desalination plants.

The heavily laden ox wagons then also had to overcome the thick sand, the ferocious east winds in their faces, the scorching heat by day and the freezing cold at night. On top of it all Germany was in the midst of a war against the indigenous Nama people with Nama commandos ever ready to pounce on transport columns.

It often took an ox wagon weeks to cross the Namib desert and to arrive at Aus, a “mere” 125 kilometers from Lüderitz. It was common practice for the oxen to pull the wagons a few kilometers into the desert, then to be outspanned and driven back to Lüderitz to drink some more of that expensive water and then to be driven back to the wagons in the desert for more of the same. When they had crossed the halfway mark between Lüderitz and Aus the animals would be driven forwards towards Aus, then called Kleinfontein, to drink at the big waterhole at Klein Kubub.

The ordeal was a challenge which only the toughest of men and animals would survive. For a long time I struggled to get my mind around the problem. When you view this inhospitable landscape you find it difficult to believe that anybody could succeed in doing it. It cost me a lot of research and many rewrites before I managed to understand how they did it. It was only then when I could present a credible story.

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An antique map showing some of the transport routes between Lüderitz and Aus. This map helped me to understand how the transport riders managed to survive this ordeal of trekking across the Namib Desert.

One of the things which helped me to understand was when I discovered an antique map of the ox wagon routes showing the presence of some fountains and collections of water in the desert. The treks between Lüderitz and Keetmanshoop mostly didn’t take a direct route over the Tschaukaib plain where the current tar road and the old railway tracks are. Instead they mostly veered south to make use of the little water at Ukamas, sometimes spelt Ukama, and Kaukasib. Without these sources the treks would have been all but impossible.

In one of the stories I related it took one trek six weeks to trek from Lüderitz to Aus. This was based on documented evidence. It proves how hardy these men were.

Once the ox wagons reached Aus, the rest was easy. There were plenty of fountains and grazing between Aus and Keetmanshoop.

It is another of my personal dreams to visit Ukamas and the Kaukasib one day in the future. At the moment it is impossible because they fall inside the prohibited Sperrgebiet.

“The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” will be available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com

Day 6: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Perhaps the most important place I visited during my recent tour on the tracks and trails of “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” translated from my book “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland” was Shark Island in the bay of Lüderitz.

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The memorial stone celebrating Cornelius Fredericks, Nama war hero. His skull is reported to be still in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin.

This island was the scene of some terrible atrocities during the Nama War and thousands died there.

I have been accused by certain interested parties of slightly exaggerating these atrocities. Perhaps certain scenes were over emphasised, but perhaps not. The central truth is that none of what I have described can be worse as to what eventually happened in Poland and Germany during World War 2, the Holocaust in which six million Jews and also other “lesser” people were killed.

It was my deliberate intention to describe these atrocities in their horrific detail, because many commentators including myself contend that the Jewish Holocaust of 1939 -1945 really began on Shark Island during the Nama War. It was here that people (Namas and Hereros) were incarcerated, killed and experimented on, because they were considered an inferior race. At least one “researcher” claimed that he had found the “missing link”, the Nama people. This concept of the “Untermenschen,” inferior beings, led to the idea and philosophy of eugenics and racial classification and eventually genocide in the name of science. And it all started on Shark Island, 33 years earlier in 1906 -1907 with the research work of dr Eugen Fischer. Fischer wrote books and published articles which Adolf Hitler read and used for some of his ideas in Mein Kampf. He and Fischer became friends and according to one source Fischer was appointed as head of racial hygiene at Auschwitz with the outbreak of World War 2.

The most damning evidence of these atrocities is the skulls of Nama prisoners sent to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. The heads of the dead Namas were given to the prisoners’ wives to scrape clean with glass shards, cooked and then packed and shipped.

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The head of a Nama prisoner. The skulls were scraped clean by the other prisoners and then shipped to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin.

It is well documented with published photographs, and even as a final insult, used as illustrations for postcards. Most of these are still in Berlin.

One of the prisoners whose skull is still in Berlin was Cornelius Fredericks, leader of the Bethanien !Aman during the Nama war. He was also the son-in-law of Hendrik Witbooi. Cornelius is one of the main characters in “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird.” In a strange and ironic twist he is commemorated with a memorial stone on Shark Island.

I have returned to Shark Island many times, but not with pleasure. It is a sad place, made even more so by the presence of, of all things, a modern caravan camp site. The noise and jubilance of weekend revellers and picnic makers sound hollow and out of place when one knows the history.

To my mind a proper museum should be erected or even better a school or college or hospital should be built on this stark, windy and rocky island. It can and should remind us all of the madness that caused so much hardship and tragedy for so many people.

I visited Shark Island again on this trip because I had to.

“The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” will be available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com

Day 5: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

The one question I hear most often about The Scourge of the Kaiserbird is: “What inspired you to write this remarkable story?” People want to know how it all started, how did it happen that I spent the best part of 11 years to produce this book, originally published as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland.”

In 2007 I went on a hunting trip to Namibia with my friend Johan van Rooyen, a fellow dentist who now lives in New Zeeland. We hunted on the farm of the late Dicky Strauss, Kirris-Wes. That is the correct spelling of the farm’s name. Dicky was a wonderful raconteur who regaled us with many stories as we drove around Kirris-Wes.

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Dicky Strauss, a wonderful man, who first told me about Ernst Luchtenstein his uncle and the central character in The Scourge of the Kaiserbird. He sadly passed away before he could see the book.

One day he told us about his uncle who became a very wealthy man, one of the two richest individuals in the country. He arrived in the early part of the 20th century and travelled with his parents by ox wagon from Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop.

k&I-graf
In 2016 my wife and I visited Dicky’s grave site on his farm Kirris-Wes, east of Keetmanshoop.

As they travelled they had to outspan the oxen and drive them back to Lüderitz to drink and then back to the wagon to trek even further into the Namib desert, until they were half way to Aus. From then on they had to take the oxen to Aus to drink.

On their way the family were accosted by a group of Namas but treated well. The Namas took what they wanted but spared their lives. The Namas were later captured and the leader taken to prison. According to Dicky his uncle’s father took the Nama leader some food and drink for six months in the prison but eventually the man was hanged.

Dicky then expanded and told me how his uncle escaped during the first World War and hid in the mountains for a long time. He observed the rain patterns during this time and then after the war knew which farms to buy, and that was how he became so rich.

The name of this man, Dicky Strauss’s uncle, was Ernst Luchtenstein, the son of the Prussian immigrants, Joseph and Therese.

That was all the information I got from Dicky. I was fascinated by the story, incomplete as it was. I then went to Swakopmund and went into the Sam Cohen Museum where I did a library search and found more information. That was how it all started.

Initially I was more interested in the life of Ernst Luchtenstein but as time went by I learnt how the young man’s life was influenced by the Nama people. He was later raised by a Nama woman and her Scottish husband and he learnt to speak Nama fluently. He had a good relationship with his Nama workers all through his life. I also gradually learnt more about the Nama war and the Herero war which preceded it. I then discovered for myself for the first time some of the dubious practices and crimes committed by certain German individuals during these two wars. When I read that this eventually reverberated in the Holocaust of the second World War I was totally caught up in the narrative. I was hooked. Some say obsessed.  I just could not stop writing and reading. My frequent trips to Namibia increased. In 2010 I visited Namibia five times with the purpose of research for the book.

I have more than 30 versions of the book on record. I am very proud of the final result, but I hesitate to show the earlier versions to my friends. I not only learnt about the Luchtensteins and the Nama War. I also learnt about writing.

Another thing I learnt was never, ever to write a book like this again. I will always write, but never will I write another book of the nature and size of this one. It really was a mammoth task, to use that cliche. In writing one should avoid these, but the thing with cliches is that they are all so very true.

“The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” will be available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com