Sunday, December 15, 2013

Images of Herero Leaders: Assa (Asser) Riarua

Asser Riarua (2nd from left): Photo courtesy Wecke and Voights Collection
Modern histories of the German - Herero conflict in Southwest Africa often confuse Assa (or Asser) Riarua with his father, Riarua, including mislabeling images of the senior with the name of the junior.  The photograph shown at left, from the archives of the Namibian store chain Weche & Voigts, is the only one I have located online that I believe correctly identifies Assa Riarua.  I have also come across a reference to another image in the Namibian Archives (No. 1288) taken in 1901 that aparently shows him wearing a hat with a light colored band alongside Samuel Mahahero and the Nama leader Barnabas, but I have not had the opportunity to view it.

The elder Riarua had been the supreme military commander and adviser to his half brother, the Herero chief Maharero kaTjamuaha (who died in 1890).  After the death of the chief in 1890, Riarua was a rival claimant against Maharero's christian son Samuel Maharero, for the chieftaincy of the Okahandja Herero and other inheritance rights. Traditional leaders backed Riarua, but Samuel Maharero had the backing of the German authorities and the Rhenish missionaries, however, and was ultimately recognized by them as paramount chief of the Herero.

Assa Riarua (b. 1848) was a close friend of Samuel Maharero's who as his veld-cornet or under captain lead his forces against the Nama Kaptein Henrick Witbooi in 1892, and later rallied with him in 1894 when Riarua and his supporters challenged his position as paramount chief.  There is a wonderful description in Jan-Bart Gewald's (1999) Herero Heroes of a reenforcing German column approaching its ally Samuel Maharero's hilltop laager, surrounded by its hedge of thorn and with the Imperial German flag flying above, and being met by "Assa Riarua, who, dressed in the uniform of the German Kaiser's French Guard regiment, told them that Samuel would be joining them as soon as he had finished conducting a field church service." 

Backed by German firepower and with the assistance of Assa Riarua, Samuel was able to compel the elder Riarua to relinquish all his claims to Maharero kaTjiamuaha's inheritance.  Why Assa Riarua chose to support Samuel over his father is a question that deserves further study, though his mission upbringing and the complexities of Herero clan inheritance structures may have been factors.  He might also have seen alliance with Samuel as a path to wealth, and indeed he lead Herero forces along side the Germans in 1895 during the boundary dispute with rival eastern Herero and ovambanderu.

Both Assa Riarua and Samuel were heavily indebted to German traders.  Assa Riarua continued to have difficulties with German merchants, one of whom later forcibly ejected him from a bakery in Windhoek and beat him bloody in the street.  In 1903, Assa Riarua and his followers in Okahandja vocally resisted German encroachment on Herero lands when a proposed native reserve left them with too little territory, unsuitable for grazing, and outside their customary areas of residence.  The reserves were finalized despite these objections and the crisis with the German authorities worsened. Neither Samuel nor Assa Riarua nor Governor Leutwein were available to intervene in Okahandja when misunderstandings and tensions boiled over in January, 1904 and open hostilities began.

Assa Riarua continued as one of Samuel's ablest commanders during the war with the Germans, who for their part suspected him of being the mastermind behind the "revolt".  He commanded the Herero left wing at Ongandjira, and in the early stages of the war was among the Herero leaders who granted safe passage to the German missionary Eich and a small party of German women and children.

After the battles around Waterberg in August 1904, Assa Riarua was among the Herero who fled into the Omaheke.  The captured Herero leader  Zacharius Zeraua later told the Germans that by early September, 1904, Assa Riarua was with Samuel and most of the surviving Herero leadership at a waterhole known as Osombo Onjatu on the dry Eiseb River.  His fate thereafter is unknown, but his daughter Diana Riarua survived in Botswana and reported that after Samuel's death in 1923, his spirit visited her in Christlike fashion with a message that "mine are those who will do my will."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

African Wildlife for a German - Herero War Gaming Table

North Star Africa! Kudu (modified to create cows from bulls)
Having spent several years living in Namibia in the 1990s, and having made a career as a conservation professional, it is not really surprising that my interest in modelling the German - Herero War as authentically as possible on my gaming table extends to getting the scenic and terrain elements right, including wildlife.

It is tempting to sprinkle the board with clusters of the classic African game and predator species on offer from two excellent manufacturers - Foundry and North Star Africa - but even with a personal knowledge of the wildlife that these areas of Namibia support today, it would be a mistake to assume that those animals had the same ranges and populations in 1904.

Two significant factors need to be considered.  The first is the impact of extensive harvesting of wildlife resources that occurred after European traders arrived and firearms were introduced to the regional economy in the mid-19th century.  In Land Filled with Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari (1989); Edwin M. Wilmsen makes a compelling case that even the most remote areas of the Omaheke sandfeld were well integrated into regional trade networks that produced hides, ivory and ostrich feathers for both African and European markets. 

Ostriches in particular were valued by the Herero and Matabele for their white feathers and the beads made from egg shells, and  in Europe for their black feathers until that fashion faded in the 1880s and ostrich farming started in South Africa.  More than 300 elephants a year are thought to have been hunted in the 1870s and 1880s in the western Kalahari alone.  These two species would have been rare to nonexistent in the ephemeral Swakop River catchment where most of the engagements in the German-Herero war took place.  The range of Namibia's healthy elephant population today only extends to one battle site: Fort Namutoni in Ethosa National Park.  Rhino would also have been under extreme hunting pressure at this time and were not found on the Waterburg Plateau where southern white rhino have been established today.

The other major factor was the regional Rinderpest pandemic that decimated both cattle herds and even-toed ungulate wildlife species in the region between 1896 and 1897.  The Herero lost up to 90% of their vast herds, along with what one study calls "unquantifiable destruction in the vast, free-ranging populations of fully susceptible wildlife."  These included some species such as cape buffalo and hippopotamus that require perennial water-bodies and regions with more rainfall than these parts of southwest Africa provide, but also giraffe and many antelope species such as kudu that thrive in central Namibia today.  It is estimated that most of these populations crashed to levels that were too small to sustain the virous and may have taken many decades to recover.  The worldiwde eradication of Rinderpest was declared just two years ago.

Wargames Foundry Vultures
So what would have been left?  Certainly there were predators, though these would have been subject to hunting for reasons of stock theft as well as for hides.  The region has cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena today, and all of these are available from either Foundry or North Star.   Lions would have been rare indeed.  It would have been a good time to be a vulture, though, and Foundry has an excellent set with two of these birds that I recently acquired.

I have also purchased the baboons and intend to get the warthog sets made by NorthStar (from a great series of African animals formerly produced by the Honourable Lead Boilersuit Company), as both of these species would have been present in 1904 across this region.  There might still have been a few oryx (gemsbok) in the lower Swakop or Omaruru drainages around Klein Barmen or Liewenberg, and North Star makes these, along with kudu, wildebeest and giraffes though they would be very scarce.  There might have been Hartmann's Mountain Zebra in the lower Swakop as well, though today the range of this endangered species along Namibia's escarpment has been augmented by artificial water points.

North Star Africa! Warthog AA08
I have not found much from  manufacturers in 25mm or 28mm scale to represent some of the smaller ungulate wildlife such as steenbok, diuker, impala or springbok that would have been supported by this landscape before the Rinderpest outbreak and do well here today.  Irregular Miniatures does make a gazelle that could be painted as a Springbok, but that's about it.  Nor have I found any good storks or hornbills. 

Venturing out of this period into the realm of Fantasy offers other unusual options in 28mm, some of which will work for this period.  You can get a falcon, raven, vulture and hedgehog (along with a cat and a baby dragon ) in Reaper Miniatures "Familiar Pack VIII.

I can imagine  fashioning the nests of social weavers in my acacia trees, and constructing termite hills the color of clay.  That project, though will have to wait for another time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Schutztruppe Barracks at Omaruru

This postcard shows the Schutztruppe barracks at Omaruru in German Southwest Africa.  The architecture is distinctive, and helps to identify the setting for the Shutztruppe mounted infantry and artillery pulled by mule teams in the photograph, below.

I am not sure about the provenance of this picture.  I have seen it misidentified as part of the Marine Expeditionary Force, but it clearly shows Schutztruppen.  In the foreground is a small mountain gun pulled by a six mule team and attached to a tiny limber with four ammunition boxes.  The supply cart alongside has eight mules.  There is a covered wagon in front of the veranda of the barracks at right, and the troops are in the process of forming up.  Whether they are from Franke's 2nd field company (which would be appropriate for early 1904), or another unit from the Schutztruppe, or even an image from 1915 as the Germans prepared to retreat before the Union of South Africa invasion forces of General Louis Botha, will have to await further research to determine.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The German - Herero War in 15mm (1/72 scale)

While they are a smaller scale than the 25mm / 28mm figures I am using for this project, I am really impressed by another new option for wargaming the German Herero War in 15mm metal figures.  Hagen Miniatures in Germany is a company established to partner sculptors with collectors and develop and market lines of figures to satisfy their figure "wish lists".  One of the first projects is a line of Germans and Hereros for Southwest Africa, and the results are some very dynamic and detailed sculpts. I wish these were available in 25mm scale, but for now will have to be satisfied to admire them from afar.

Farbfotografie from Deutsch-Südwestafrika

Hereros from Farbenphotographien aus den Deutschen Kolonien
Color photography was in its infancy at the turn of the 20th century, yet it did exist and there were enthusiastic amateur photographers using this medium in the years leading up to World War I.  The Autochrome process developed by the Lumière brothers and brought to market in 1907 required a tripod and a longer exposure time, lending itself more readily to portraiture and landscape photography.  Although not in use during the German Herero War, there were color photographs taken in German Southwest Africa  as early as 1910. 
Many of these were published in 1913 in Farbenphotographien aus den Deutschen Kolonien by Dr. Willy Scheel, and some of these later appeared among the 126 color photographs included in the 2 volume Die Deutschen Kolonien written by former Schutztruppe Officer Kurd Schwabe.  Schwabe's books credit three photographers:  Dr. Robert Lohmeyer, Bruno Marquardt and Eduard Kiewning.  I am not certain whether any of these were responsible for taking the images in 1910 published in Scheel's book of Southwest Africa. 

These color photographs are an astonishing visual record of the land and some of its people in the years immediately following the Herero and Nama uprisings.  They are of particular interest to me both because of what they reveal (and perhaps betray) about the "colonizing lens" of the photographers, and also the material culture of the indigenous people they have captured in color.
Christian Herero Woman from Farbenphotographien aus den Deutschen Kolonien

These two color images of Herero people  were published by Scheel.  Given the overcast sky, the group image above was taken during the rainy season.  You can just make out two tin roofed, white walled houses beyond the trees.  The crease of the hat worn by the man at the front of the cart is worn and discolored from frequent removal and his coat may be corduroy.  The tall man's blue and white striped shirt is too small for his long arms.  The women in the cart wear orange and red print dresses.  None of them looks at the photographer, except, perhaps, for the man whose face is entirely in shadow.. 

In contrast,  the portrait of the Herero woman in white, above is hauntingly direct.  Identified by Scheel as a Christian Herero woman, her dress has what look like bone buttons.  She wears multiple strands of beads that are predominantly a reddish brown color but also include yellow, white, blue and black segments.  Her eyes, though, are unflinching, fathomless, and for the European viewer in the early 20th century, ultimately unknowable. 

In a time when few people smiled for the camera, viewers projected their own interpretations on the subjects of these portraits.  Did  German readers of Scheel or Schwabe see a "civilized" Africans,  defeated subjects brought back to their allegiance, evidence that the extermination of the Herero had been greatly exaggerated?  Do viewers today see the defiance of a survivor, or a thousand yard stare?