The region was a cultural crossroads. To the north and northeast of Volkmann's district were populous African kingdoms that were beyond effective German control. Kambonde Kampinganae, King of the Ndonga Owambo, considered the Otavi Mountains, and especially the copper mines at Tsumeb, within his sphere of influence. The settlement that was later to become Grootfontein was known to the North Herero as Oshivanda Tjongue, or Leopard Hill. There were also Berg Damara and Hai||om bushmen living in the region.
European settlers in the Grootfontein district were far from numerous, and Germans were a distinct minority. The 1904 Deutsches kolonial-Handbuch includes yearly census data for the Grootfontein District that identifies a total of 215 European men, women and children living at 26 settlements; just 49 of these white residents were German. Most of the rest were Afrikaners, Boers who had come to the region in several waves, starting in the mid 1870s as part of an exodus from the Orange Free State and Transvaal in South Africa. Known as the Dorsland Trekkers because they had traversed the dry Kalahari, they would ultimately reach arid southeastern Angola. About 20 of these Boer families returned to the Grootfontein area and established the short-lived Republic of Upingtonia (1885-1887).
|Ochsenzug in der Grassteppe von Südwestafrika by Wilhelm Kuhnert|
Malaria, a trade embargo imposed by Herero paramount chief Maharero kaTjamuaha who disputed the Boers rights to settle in what he regarded as his territory, and conflict with the Hai||om that resulted in the killing of one of the settlers caused this venture to be abandoned. In 1891, the South West Africa Company (based in London with British and German investors) received a ten year concession to develop the mineral interests and transportation routes in this area and to allocate farms for settlement.
|Boer Kommandant Lombard (seated at left) with Gov. Leutwein and Samuel Maharero in 1895|
Given these demographics, it becomes clearer why the Herero leader Mbatona (Batona) would have warned the Boers of the Grootfontein District of his intentions and wanted them to remain nonbelligerent. Oberleutnant Volkmann had no more than 25 riders of the Schutztruppe and some native police at his command to patrol the entire Grootfontein District, and some of these were scattered at remote outposts (Namutoni, with 7 German defenders, and Otjituo with 4). Even with reservists and volunteers from the small German settler population, Grootfontein was isolated and vulnerable in the face of an organized and well armed Herero force. The firepower of the Boers was essential to defending the District, but they had livestock and families to protect on their own farmsteads. We will discuss how these factors played into the Battle of Uitkomst in a subsequent post in this series.