Thursday, January 30, 2014

Images of Herero Leaders: Tjetjo Kandji and Traugott Tjetjo

Tjetjo Kandji in dark coat, center, and his son Traugott Tjetjo on the white horse
This is one of my favorite images of Herero leaders from the German colonial period in Southwest Africa.  I cannot find an electronic version of it online without watermarks, and if you expand this one you will see a faint white grid superimposed across the photograph.  Originals are in the United Evangelical Mission Archives, Wuppertal. There is also second variant of this image, in which the man next to the chicken has moved slightly and the riders are oriented on a slightly different angle.

The man on the dark horse at the center of the image, wearing a dark coat and with a kerchief under his hat, is Tjetjo Kandji, a leader of an eastern group of Hereros.  His son Traugott Tjetjo is also in the image.  He rides a white horse and wears a sash over his uniform.  There is no way to be certain in this black and white photograph, but it could be the red sash worn as a badge of office by those service as police in German Southwest Africa.   The photograph itself may have been taken in the mid 1890s, during the boundary dispute over which areas would be reserved for African settlement and those that would be restricted for the colonists.

These two men were central, tragic figures in the dispossession of the Herero in Southwest Africa, but also skilled military leaders who dealt the Germans one of their greatest battlefield defeats of the 1904 war.  

Tjetjo unsuccessfully opposed Governor Leutwein's elevation of  Samuel Maharero as paramount chief, contrary to Herero dual descent inheritance and clan structures. He inherited most of the wealth of Maharero Tjamuaha through matrilineal (Eanda) descent, and supported the old chief's half brother and war leader, Riarua , over Samuel Mahareo as Herero chief at Okahandja.  The Germans backed Samuel, however, and Tjetjo was eventually compelled to surrender other inherited cattle to Samuel in 1895 and to recognize him as his paramount chief. 

Following the German war in 1896 with the Otjiherero-speaking Ovambanderu people and their Namaqua allies the Khauas-Khoi, one of Samuel's lieutenant's, Kajata, moved into Tjetjo's territory on the Black Nossob and raided the cattle of his followers.  Traugott Tjetjo retaliated and rode with the Germans on cattle raids of their own.  Several hundred Mbanderu were disarmed and placed under his control after one raid.  These cattle raids were instigated to offset the devastating lose of Herero herds to the Rinderpest outbreak and were necessitated to pay off debts to European traders, which was a factor contributing to the tension and resentment that lead to the German-Herero war of 1904.  In 1899, the Germans moved to disarm Tjetjo and Traugott's people because they refused to register their rifles.

 In early January, 1904, Tjetjo was in the Gobabis district. On January 6th, less than a week before the opening of hostilities, Tjetjo met with Kurt Streitwolf , a German official who reported afterward to his superiors that he believed that war was not imminent. 

Tjetjo's people represented a considerable force, estimated in February by Streitwolf to have at least 1,000 men (with 500 rifles) moving from Kehoro toward the Onjati Mountains.  Governor Leutwein sent the Ostabteilung under Seebataillon Major von Glasnapp to prevent them from escaping to Bechuanaland.  Instead, Tjetjo and his band stayed ahead of the Germans, moving north.  Tjetjo ultimately rounded on them at Owikokerero, where an advance party of the Germans, including a large number of officers, suffered heavy casualties.  A second battle between Tjetjo's people and von Glasnapp's force at Okaharui ended the campaign for the Ostabteilung.

After the battle of Hamakari,  Tjetjo and Traugott and another chief called Mambo retreated along the dry Eiseb River into the Omaheke desert.  They travelled seperately from the main Herero groups under Samuel and his other followers, and were vulnerable both to thirst and to the pursuing Germans.  Major von Estorff's column attacked Tjetjo's people at Owinuau Naua and forced them to flee further into the desert.  Tjetjo ultimately died of thirst near a waterhole called Oruaromunjo.  Mambo is reported to have died of exhaustion, and Traugott Tjetjo is also believed to have died along with so many others trying to reach Bechuanaland.


  1. Thank you so much Tim Abbott, the man you wrote about, that great general Tjetjoo (that's the actual spelling)is my paternal great great great grandmother's brother her name was Hamatupa Kandjii, their father's name was Kandjii kaSeu.

    Thank you so much for sharing such great history about such an important hero in Namibia. Not many people know his contributions.

    1. What was the eyanda of Kandjii Kaseu? Do you perhaps know his martenal family line?

  2. Dear Jossel; I am deeply grateful to you for what you have shared about your family and your great ancestor Tjetjoo. I honor you and your family for keeping his memory and am glad that my attempt to share some of his story was meaningful to you.