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.

Dicky2
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

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