Thursday, October 10, 2013


Detail from Kriegskarte von Deutsch-Südwestafrica, Blatt Otavi (Berlin, 1904)

Researching the German Colonial period in Southwest Africa (modern Nambia) presents linguistic, geographical and cultural challenges for tabletop wargamers.  Much of the primary documentation is in German and reflects a strong imperial bias.  Much of the material culture of the colonial Schutztruppe resides in museum collections in southern Africa or Europe.  As for the Herero, Nama, Damara and Khoisan people who resisted the Germans and were ultimately dispossessed and decimated in the wars of 1904-1907, their story is only partially glimpsed in the often gruesome photographs taken of starving prisoners and the oral traditions of the survivors.

I am able to partially overcome these disadvantages thanks to a collection of secondary source material I purchased while living in Namibian in 1991-1992 and again between 1996 and 1998.  This includes a full set of the German War Maps published by Dietrich Reimer in 1904, and reprinted by the National Archives of Namibia (Archeia 6) as Kriegskarte von Deutsch-Südwestafrica 1904, together with a supplemental index of names (Archeia 9).  These are wonderfully detailed and provide a wealth of local place names, waterhole locations, wagon tracks and topography that give an excellent feel for the setting of tabletop adventures in this period.

I also own several secondary source histories of the German colonial period in Namibia, including Helmut Bley's Namibia Under German Rule (reprinted in 1996), Gerhard Pool's Samuel Maharero (1991), Warriors Leaders Sages and Outcasts in the Namibian Past; Narratives Collected from Herero Sources for the MSORP project 1985-6 , Horst Drechler's Let Us Die Fighting (reprinted 1984); and N. Mossolow's Waterberg; On the History of the Mission Station Otjozondjupa, the Kambazembi Tribe and Hereroland (1993).  Many of these works are themselves translations and were written with specific research agendae and historical perspectives.  They contain some data that is helpful for tabletop wargaming, especially the events of the German campaigns in 1904.

For the material culture of the Schutztruppe, I know of no better online resource than the extraordinary UK website German Colonial Uniforms.  This is the gold standard, is often updated, and is especially helpful as a uniform guide for miniature selection and painting.
For the material culture of the Herero people during the 1904 war and its aftermath, period photographs are the most helpful resource.  Many of those who fought the Germans did so in European clothing and with European firearms.  Many of the images of emaciated prisoners in chains show them in rags or skins (and in one case, sacks).  This is not a period where the African forces fought in traditional regalia, but there are elements of traditional Herero culture, including the dress of noncombatants, that would be appropriate to depict if only there were appropriate miniatures available for this purpose.

We will explore and evaluate the manufacturers whose offerings may be appropriate for a Colonial German Southwest Africa tabletop scenario based during the war with the Herero in a subsequent post.

No comments:

Post a Comment