Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Images of Herero Leaders: Mbandjo/Bandju.

from an 1897 woodblock engraving
One of the less well known African leaders from the period of the German - Herero War of 1904 was Mbandjo (Banjo/ Bandju), the headman of the Herero who lived in the vicinity of Otjombonde, a few days travel to the north of Omaruru. 

Mbandjo was the leader of a  northern Herero community that followed traditional practices rather than Christianity. The woodcut at left shows him as he appeared in 1897, wearing the regalia of a Herero headman, including a necklace of large white seashells.

Mbandjo is mentioned in the Journal of Gustaf De Vylder, a naturalist and trader who made several excursions in Hereroland in the mid 1870s.  During a trek made by ox wagon between Omaruru and Otjozondjupa near the Waterberg, De Vylder notes that while stopped at Ondombo:  "The chief, Bandju, came and begged as usual for everything he saw.  He selected a rifle that he said he wished to buy."  The next day De Vylder "bought a 'kru' bird from Banju for a rifled musket." 

Aside from illustrating the complex mercantile system that influenced and affected the economy of traditional  Herero communities during this period, De Vylder's account also shows that he had met Mbanjo before and that as a European trader he viewed the Africa leader's interest in receiving a gift of valuable trade goods with disdain.

Mbandjo was still the headman of the Otjombonde Herero at the time of the Rinderpest
outbreak in 1897, and is described in German accounts as allowing his herds to be vaccinated and his sick cattle shot for their gall to be used for inoculation.  Around this same period, most likely at the same time that the portrait was made, above, another image was taken of Mbandjo and his family,  later reproduced as the fancifully tinted German colonial postcard, at right.

I have not yet determined Chief Mbandjo's and his followers movements  prior to the battle of Hamakari at the Waterberg.  Possibly he fought against Captain Franke's 2nd Feldcompanie at Omaruru in February or against Estorff's Westabteilung at Otjihaenamaperero in March, 1904.  Captured Herero leader Zacharias Zeraua reported under interrogation that during the flight through the Omaheke, Mbandjo was among the Herero leaders who were gathered at Osombo Onjatu on the Eiseb River in September.  Subsequent margin notes on his testimony thought by historian Jan-Bart Gewald to have been made by Major Ludwig von Estorff indicate that Mbanjo was dead, and one of his sons, Moses Mbandjo or M'Buanjo, was among the leaders of the Herero survivors who returned to Southwest Africa after the South African invasion in 1915 and later headman in Omaruru. 

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