WARMBAD BECOMES TWO HUNDRED YEARS

 

Dr. Klaus Dierks

Copyright © 1999 - 2003 Dr. Klaus Dierks

 

Introduction

 

In the year 2005 we celebrate the 200 years anniversary of the advent of the first Christian missionaries in Namibia in 1805, the brothers Abraham and Christian Albrecht from the London Missionary Society. The important community center Warmbad (Nama: language |Aixa-aibes) (|, ||, ! and # are the click sounds in the current Nama language) with an abundance of water played an significant role in Great Namaqualand for centuries. Early European travellers and adventurers report about the high social order of the self-sufficient Nama groups and their rich livestock including cattle as well as the abundance of game (elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamus in the Oranje River). Fragmentary as these notes are, they do give a clear impression of independent, resourceful and traditional African societies.

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Warmbad at the Hom River
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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The hot springs of Warmbad
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

However, in a modern sense the brothers Albrecht can be regarded as the founders of the town of Warmbad. In the next hundred years many historical buildings were built in the settlement. Due to the fact that during the German colonial time from 1884 onwards Warmbad lost its original importance, it was consequently bypassed by modern transport links like railways and highways. Many of the historical building dilapidated to a high degree. Only the missionary church, built in the year 1877, was rebuilt with assistance of the author of this study (1989).

The local Nama community of the Bondelswarts (#Gami-!nun) tries to use the 200 years anniversary to revive the town and to activate funds in order to rebuild many of the neglected and partly destroyed historical buildings. This study gives some background information on Warmbad and has the sole purpose to assist in mobilising funds.

 

Location, Climate and History

  

Warmbad lies in the southernmost part of the southeast of Namibia, sandwiched between two climatic zones: a.) the coastal desert climate of the southern Namib desert penetrating deep into the eastern areas along the course of the Orange River and b.) the cold Karoo belt that lies between the 6-7 degree Celsius July isotherms. Warmbad lies in a climatic region with a strong rainfall deficit, under the control of an annual mean daily temperature of 18 degrees Celsius where the only favourable rains come in the summer. It lies in a zone where there is normally winter frost (between May and August). So the area can be categorized as the typical southern Africa dry-winter, high elevation biome.

In comparison to the rest of Namibia where rainfall varies between 600-700 mm in the northeast to less than 50mm in the southwest of the country, this area lies within a belt of accentuated dryness where the morning humidity starts at 40% dropping down to 30% in the afternoon. The mean daily medial temperatures fluctuate between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius.

 

 The History of Warmbad (|Aixa-aibes)

  

Warmbad was named as early as 1760 (Jacobus Coetzee: 1760 and Heinrich Hoppe/Hendrik Hop: 1761, as well as Willem van Reenen: 1791), as the first jumping off point for European traders, adventurers and large game hunters coming form the south that wanted to penetrate Namibia’s hinterland. From 1805 it also served the missionaries that came from the South African Cape Colony.

Warmbad was also the first largely established stop-over for some Nama communities out of the northern Cape that sought to escape from, or were uprooted from their original homes in South Africa by the Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. The well-known |Aixa-aibes fountain on the Hom River (a periennial dry river) was also a firmly established center for the Namibian Nama, for instance the Bondelswarts.

The Bondelswarts were further strengthened in the early 1800s by the Orlam Afrikaners under the leadership of their leader, Jager Afrikaner. The first European inspired buildings in Warmbad, including a church, were built between 1805 and 1810, by Christian and Abraham Albrecht from the London Missionary Society. Angry at European influence, the Orlam Afrikaners under the leadership of Jager Afrikaner destroyed these buildings in 1811.

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The old "Pastorie" of Warmbad which is built on the Foundations of the House which was established by the London Missionary Society Brothers Abraham and Christian Albrecht in 1805, October 1988
Copyright of Photos: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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The old "Pastorie" of Warmbad which is built on the Foundations of the House which was established by the London Missioary Society Brothers Abraham and Christian Albrecht in 1805, April 2003
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

Following the Orlam uprising, the Wesleyan missionary Edward Cook took up the religious reins in the area in 1834. He erected a mission house on the same foundation that the Albrechts had built their structures. Cook named Warmbad after the founder of the Wesleyan Church Nisbett Bath. The remnants of the original Albrecht’s mission were incorporated into the new three-roomed house. The British scientist Sir James Alexander, lived in one of these room during his stay in 1836. It can therefore be accepted that the Cook built mission house is the oldest, still standing, European inspired structure in Namibia.

The missionary Cook died tragically in 1843. His church successors were various Wesleyan missionaries, amongst whom, B. Ridsdale, J.A. Bailie, J.Tindale and J. Priestley served the longest time in Warmbad.

In 1867 the Rhenish Missionary Society took over operations in Warmbad. The first Rhenish missionary, Friedrich Wilhelm Weber, built a school next to the church in 1868. Missionary Weber officially opened a new church in 1877. This church was built out of natural stone with a roof woven from reeds. In 1886, missionary Karl Wandres enlarged the pastor’s house and replaced the reed-roof with one of corrugated iron. At the same time he erected a new school building on the same site.

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The delapidated Church of the Rhenish Missionary Society at Warmbad, inaugurated by Missionary Weber in 1877, Photo taken in October 1988
Copyright of Photos: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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The renovated Church (Planning for the Re-Construction by Klaus Dierks, Namibia Consult Incorporated, 1988/89) of the Rhenish Missionary Society at Warmbad, inaugurated by Missionary Weber in 1877
Copyright of Photos: Dr. Klaus Dierks

Farmers and business people also played a role during Warmbad’s colonial period. The first European farmers settled in the Warmbad area in the 1870s. Amongst them were Jan Louw, Piet le Riche and Leonard Celliers. They were followed in the 1880s by Jan and George Lerm, Dirk Brand, Andries and Jacobus Burger, as well as Gert and Abraham Coetzee. Koos van Zyl, an unforgettable character, settled on the Amas locale. Amas chewing tobacco later became famous throughout Namibia.

The oldest shop in Warmbad was established by the Morris family. This store can be seen on the 1876 photographs taken by the British Special Commissioner for Damaraland, William Coates Palgrave. A Mission trading co-operative was established in 1877. The building of this company was taken over by the Kharaskhoma Company in 1893 which was established by Theophilus Hahn. The property and mining rights of this company were handed over in 1895 to the South African Territories Limited.

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The Cemetery in Warmbad: With a Grave reflecting the History of the Kharaskhoma Syndicate of the South
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

On the 21st of August, 1890 the German colonial epoch began with a protection treaty signed by the German Emperor’s representative commissioner, Dr. H. Göring and the leader of the Bondelswart Nama, Wilhelm Christian. A German detachment of the "Schutztruppe" was stationed in Warmbad in 1894. Although Warmbad was recognised as its own district in 1895, it still was regarded a subdistrict of Keetmanshoop. Finally in 1910 Warmbad gained its own District status.

In 1903 the mission work was disrupted by the Bondelswarts uprising against the German colonial presence in Namibia. Rhenish missionary Hermann Nyhof took up the operations four years later and lived in Warmbad until his death in 1936. He is the only missionary who is buried at Warmbad. His successor, Pastor A. Rethemeyer served the Warmbad congregation until 1946. However, the missionary works were repeatedly interrupted by the Great Nama War against the German colonial authority between 1904 and 1909 and a further Bondelswart uprising against the South African administration in 1922.

A Fort was built in Warmbad (1905) during the wars of liberation of the Nama against the German colonial power. Other military and civilian buildings were added during the same period, including the District administration headquarters (1904/05) and the Officers house (1908). Cattle and Camel pens were also enlarged. On the hill east of the town still lie the garrison hospital and doctor’s house built in 1908. In that same year a huge swimming pool was built at the |Aixa-aibes warm springs by dynamiting a hole in the rocky ground and lining it with clay tiles.

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Remains of the German Fort at Warmbad which has been 1913 restored as the present police station: It served as the headquarters of Lieutenant Walter Jobst at the time of his death in October 1903, and was blockaded unsuccessfully by Marengo's forces in 1903 and 1904
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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The Grave of the Bondelswart Chief, Jan Abraham Christian (Tôasib: |Nanseb Kaib #Naoxamab), in Warmbad (Old Location) who fell against the Germans (Walter Jobst) on 25.10.1903 and initiated the German-Namibian War, 1903-1909
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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The Cemetery in Warmbad with many German war graves of the various battles between 1903 and 1905: Walter Jobst' grave is the big tomb stone in the background
Copyright of Photos: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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Garrison and Doctor's House in Warmbad
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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!Gami-#nun Women at Warmbad, October 1988
Copyright of Photos: Dr. Klaus Dierks

In 1906 , the Roman Catholic Church, under Father Gineiger started to operate parallel to the Rhenish mission. With the help of two nuns he built the Mission house and the church followed by 1912. A school and hostel were erected in 1911/12 on the neighbouring plot, probably initiated by the German District Council.

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On June, 21th 1906 Gabis, west of Warmbad, is attacked by !Gami-#nun Leader Johannes Christian
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

In 1915 the South African Union troops occupied Ukamas, and subsequently German troops left Warmbad in March of the same year. Thus ended the German colonial time in Warmbad.

The colonial era, however, didn’t end in Warmbad. The South African colonial epoch of apartheid policies continued for another 75 years, until the date of independence for Namibia on March, 21st 1990. May the two hundred years of anniversary also bring the fruits of independence to the so far neglected town and community of Warmbad.

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83 Years old Anna Veldskoen, a Nama Lady, living in Gabis in the Bondelswart Area
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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Timotheus Morris (born 06.05.1952), Grandson of Abraham Morris who fell against the South Africans during the Bondelswart Uprising in 1922
Copyright of Photo: Dr. Klaus Dierks

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The Cemetery in Warmbad: With some Graves of the Bondelswart Chiefs of Warmbad
Copyright of Photos: Dr. Klaus Dierks

 

April, 2003