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Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero
Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero

Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero (c. 1850-1880)

Idol for Many Generations

Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero will remain alive in the memory of the Ovaherero through the last words of his famous brother Samuel Maharero. On his deathbed, Samuel Maharero addressed his people with the following message: I was awake and was visited by three of my elder brothers Wilhelm, Elias (Kandirikira) and Kamatjikuria (Kandirikira) as spirits. They said: “Do not be afraid, we have come to see your illness, we are the children of Tjamuaha, there is not much time, we are going to wait for you at the grave.” In Samuel Maharero’s imagination, the last visitor at his deathbed was his brother Wilhelm. There are 43 years between the deaths of the two brothers. Samuel died in exile in Botswana in 1923 after the German colonial army had defeated his troops and then annihilated a large part of his people. His brother Wilhelm had already died in 1880 in a victorious battle as commander of the Ovaherero against the Nama. Wilhelm became a legend after his untimely death – he was in his early 30s when he was killed in action. For the RMS missionaries, Wilhelm was the exemplary Christian of the first generation of baptised Ovaherero, and the favoured successor of his father Maharero wa Tjamuaha. Time and again, RMS missionaries had pondered over the war of 1904 and their guess was that Wilhelm Maharero would not have started the war if he had lived to become his father’s successor. That he would possibly have won the war because of his great integrity, his ingenuity and his outstanding strategic skills, never entered their mind. There are two RMS sources that outline the short life of Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero, written with much sympathy and clear sadness at the loss. In August 1881, Hahn wrote a detailed obituary in the reports of the Rhenish Mission. Hahn had already met Wilhelm as a teenager in Otjimbingwe, taught him and soon appointed him as a teaching assistant. Until Hahn’s departure in 1873, he remained in contact with him. The second source is a biography written by Johann Jakob Irle after his return to Germany and published in 1915 as a religious tract of the RMS. Irle also worked with Wilhelm Maharero as the elder in the Okahandja congregation. In part, Irle referred to Hahn in his text and in part he quoted an Ovaherero source, whom he mentioned as an “age-mate” (peer) without providing a name. All later texts on Wilhelm Maharero are based on these two sources. When, in the 1860s, Wilhelm Kauaita moved to Otjimbingwe with his father, he belonged to the group of “sons of chiefs and other great men” who were accepted into the newly founded seminary of the RMS. After his second trip to Germany, Hahn brought along the financial resources to establish a seminary in Otjimbingwe for future helpers. Hahn’s view of mission work had shifted significantly after the unsuccessful years in Otjikango. Now he no longer focussed on individual conversions of outcasts, but on the conversion of the leaders of a group or “nation” in order to be able to convert the whole nation, the reason why the Augustineum was referred to as the “national institute”. In addition to Wilhelm and Samuel Maharero, Peter Tjetjo, Josaphat Riarua and Manasse Zeraua were among the first group of students at the Augustineum; soon also Nikodemus (Elias) Kavikunua, David Kavizeri and Hohoé (Huvèhua) Kahimumua – all of them sons of the leading Ovaherero elite. Their fathers firmly adhered to their own traditions and remained distant from Christianity throughout. But this did not prevent them from encouraging their children, especially their bright sons, to acquire the new knowledge, techniques and way of life of the missionaries. Soon the Ovaherero sons were no longer on their own, because from his trip to Ovamboland in September, Hahn brought the son of a Ndonga chief, Friedrich Nangura to the Augustineum. Other important sons of the Ndonga and Kwanyama (e.g. Mweshipandeka’s two “sons”) followed. Only one of them can be identified by name as Ikukutu Shikongo. According to Hahn, Peter Heinrich Brincker, Friedrich Wilhelm Gottlob Viehe and Heinrich Beiderbecke were still working at the Augustineum five years later and, in addition to Ovaherero and Ovambo, Nama and Dutch-speaking students were being taught there. Matthäus and Franz Gertse, the sons of Samuel Gertse, had already been involved with the RMS in the second generation, and, like David Zwartbooi, a son of the Zartbooi Kaptein, and Nicodemus David from Ameib, they brought other experiences to the classroom than the Ovaherero students. All students spoke Otjiherero, but from as early as 1874 the Augustineum was no longer a pure Ovaherero “national institute”. Wilhelm Maharero stood out amongst the first students because of his sharp intellect and his ability to comprehend. The missionaries agreed with what a fellow student wrote about the young Wilhelm: “He was lively and determined. He was the head and leader of his brothers and his peers.” He also praised his courage and obedience. Unlike his brother Samuel, he stood out in class. Hahn praised Wilhelm’s efforts in defending the mission house during a Nama attack at the end of 1867. Kauaita Maharero was baptised in Otjimbingwe during Christmas 1866, the same year that he started his training at the Augustineum. He was the first member of the Maharero family to be baptised and named “after our good old emperor” Wilhelm I (1797-1888), the grandfather of the eventual colonial emperor Wilhelm II. He remained in Otjimbingwe when the majority of Ovaherero went back to Okahandja and removed their children from the missionaries’ sphere of influence. The “heydays of their [Ovaherero] economic prosperity and political independence; the veritable Golden Age of Herero history”, like Gewald called the period, began. Already before his baptism and before the completion of his training, Hahn employed Wilhelm Maharero as a teacher in Otjimbingwe. In 1870 he married the head of the girls’ school Magdalena Kambauruma Kazahendike, the sister of Johanna Uerieta Kambauruma Kazahendike. A number of young Ovaherero women moved to the Cape in the 1850s together with the mission families in which they were working as nannies. They attended the mission school for girls in Stellenbosch and returned to Otjimbingwe together with Carl Hugo Hahn when he came back from his second visit to Germany. The marriage between Kauaita and Kambauruma Kazahendike was also promoted by Hahn whose aim was to tie the few Christians together in a network of family relationships. But the description of Wilhelm’s character does not speak for a marriage of convenience, so much so that Irle called this marriage “the first marriage of an Ovaherero royal son’s free choice of his heart’s content”. In addition, the two shared comparable experiences as Christian “first-fruits” and their work as teachers. But they did not have similar backgrounds: Wilhelm Maharero came from the leading elite of the Ovaherero, Magdalena, on the other hand, came from an Ovatjimba family, impoverished and disenfranchised Ovaherero, who could only survive under the protection of the Otjikango mission station. This difference suggests that Wilhelm Maharero took a personal decision in favour of this marriage. In the year in which he married, Wilhelm moved to Okahandja, the place where his father lived. Although they lived close to each other, different life perspectives separated them. Here in Okahandja, Wilhelm Maharero became one of the founders of the Christian congregations and assumed the work of an Evangelist even before this term prevailed in the terminology of the RMS missionaries. He gathered Christians around him, he gave baptism classes and became the right hand of the RMS station missionary. He built his house between the mission station and the settlement which consisted of traditional dwellings erected around his father’s yard. The very location of his house made his prominent position clear: Wilhelm Maharero became a cultural broker between the two worlds and lived in both. His home furnishings and habits amazed some passing Europeans: “In the clean living room you could see not only tables and chairs, but also a bookshelf and an organ. Every morning and evening Wilhelm held house devotions here with his family and his household, whereas his wife accompanied the singing on the organ.” His greatest ability to be an “enthralling speaker who captivates his listeners” was not only put to use in his congregation where, according to Irle, he became an advocate of strict discipline against “heathen-religious customs” and alcohol. During the Herero missionaries’ conferences, Wilhelm Maharero’s advice on these issues was “mostly decisive” and was followed due the appreciation of his broad knowledge. But he also fulfilled his obligations as part of the Ovaherero elite. With a commando of about 150 mounted and armed men, he controlled the eastern Hereroland in order to prevent the settlement of Dorslandtrekkers. From 1876 he usually participated in the negotiations between Kamaharero and the Cape Commissioner Palgrave, during which he often acted as a deputy to his father. Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero would hereby have wanted to demonstrate his identity as a Herero, as he did in his last military operation, because Christians were regarded as “non-Ovaherero”. Henrichsen describes this as follows: “Their active role in the front line of fighting must be seen as an effort to counter internal [sic] tensions between Christians and the rest of Herero society.” Wilhelm Maharero’s trip to Cape Town with his brother, the Ovaherero leader Asser Riarua, in 1878, should be seen in this context. During their four-month stay in Cape Town, Maharero had an audience with the Governor of the Cape, who saw him as a serious negotiator of an aspiring people. In Paarl, Wilhelm Maharero met “his” old missionary Hahn, who worked there as a pastor of the German congregation. Barely two years later, Wilhelm Maharero was in the limelight again, this time as an army commander of about 2,000 Ovaherero warriors. The soldiers gathered in Okahandja and the local missionary documented the event with his words: “Wilhelm [...] delivered a very serious speech [...] admonished everyone to behave humanely and in a Christian way towards the wounded and prisoners.” Their task was to recapture Otjikango which had been taken by Jan Jonker Afrikaner. On 12 December 1880, the Ovaherero under Wilhelm Maharero won the decisive battle. They succeeded in driving Jan Jonker Afrikaner out of Otjikango. However, Wilhelm Kauaita Maharero himself was fatally wounded and he died a short while later. According to the oral Ovaherero tradition, it seemed of great importance that shortly before his death Wilhelm Kauaita gave his gun to his friend Karl Apona – and not as expected, to his brother Samuel. Just like Kauaita, Karl Apona was the son of an Omahona, Salomon Apona. Karl Apona had been at the Augustineum at the same time as Kauaita. He died in 1892 in a battle against troops under the command of Hendrik Witbooi. With the death of Karl Apona, the battle between the Ovaherero/Mbanderu and the Nama came to an end. During battles in the 1860s to 1880s, losses amongst RMS Evangelists and elders were high. In addition to Wilhelm Maharero, Petrus Kandjii, David Kavizeri, the congregation elder Karl (an uncle of Wilhelm Maharero whose surname was not documented), three sons of Chief Kukuri, the elder Martin Tjamuaha, Salomo Kenario, David (surname unknown) “and others” perished. Among the Evangelists of Namibia, they would not be the last victims of war. The fighting in Otjikango between Ovaherero and Nama in 1880 took on a new dimension for the RMS. After the conversions of the first Ovaherero, now for the first time there were Christians on both sides who faced each another in battle. While important Evangelists such as Wilhelm Maharero had fallen on the side of the Ovaherero, the RMS mourned “the noble kapitein David Christian [Frederik]” on the side of the Nama. Philipp Diehl had advised his Ovaherero Christians in Okahandja, “You must not refuse to go [to war], for you owe obedience to the God-given authority.” On the other hand, for the RMS, the baptised leader of the Bethanie Nama Christians embodied this God-given authority.