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    Nehale lya Mpingana: Battle of Namutoni

    Ovambo's war dance ritual that performed to invoke merciless 'valor spirits' upon attacking. 

    Nehale yaMpingana
    Nehale yaMpingana was the King of Oshitambi (eastern Ondonga).
    Nehale lyaMpingana hailed from the Ondonga's noble family ( Aakwanekamba ) a royal clan highly respected among the Ovambos at Northern Namibia. Aandongas are the ethnic group belonging to the Bantu community believed to came from the Central African region and settled in sub-Saharan Africa and another part of Malagasy islands like Madagascar , Comoros, Mayotte and among others.

    Following the death of King Iitana yaNekwiyu in 1884, a power struggle arose within the royal family of Ondonga about the lineage succession, which was perceived as more chaotic than the current infighting between King Immanuel Kauluma Elifas of Ondonga Traditional Authority and 
    its Councillors over the succession. The feudal contesting for the royal enthrone got out of hand when Mpingana yaShimbu, the father of two brothers Kambonde and Nehale endorsed Kambonde for kingship which drawn tension and division among the royal family.  Kambonde kaMpingana was eventually enthroned in 1884 as a King of Ondonga and thereafter established his royal palace at Okaloko 3.5 km south of Olukonda, the Suomi Headquarter of Martti Rautanen (Nakambale Kanene). 

    Kambonde's coronation has infuriated his brother Nehale, who vowed not to bow to Kambonde’s authority. In an attempt to end a multilinear conflict between the brothers, the father and his wife Namupala decided to allocate Nehale with a separate district, Uutumbe area to rule, far way from Kambonde’s capital. In the following year, Nehale and his company left Ontananga for Uutumbe, but upon arrival there at the designated area, Nehale changed his mind and decided not to settle there, he chose Oshitambi, instead of Uutumbe as per the order of his parent.  After Nehale took Oshitambi to show he also has authority to rule he declared it as his rightful de facto kingdom by proclaiming borders between him and Kambonde's territory. He did this to show defiance toward Kambonde, a person whom he shared some cozy contempt since their childhood. By 1885 the kingdom of 
    Ondonga was divided into two kingdoms, Nehale took Oshitambi in the eastern part of Ondonga with its main headquarter at Onayena. While Kambonde claimed Onamayongo in the western part of Ondonga. 

    According to Odonga's oral history and some studies were done by historians; Nehale throughout his tenure as chief of Oshitambi he never shakes his hands with white settlers. But, his brother Kambonde was a fond admirer of white settlers and he was treated as a celebrated friend among them. Kambonde as a king of Ondonga never took part in any military confrontation against the Europeans, he even declined an invitation from Hereros to give military assistance against white intruders in 1904-1907 war.  On the other hand, Nehale did the opposite supporting the Hereros and sabotaging every effort made to establish a white man's authoritarian powerhouse in Ovamboland. 

    The farmstead at Strydfontein, Grootfontein District: National Archives of Namibia.
    In 1885 Kambonde sold large chuck of arable area measuring about 2500 km² that stretched from Etosha pan in the north to Okaukuejo in the west and Omuramba Wamatako in the east. For this tract of land Jordan paid 25 guns, a ‘salted horse’ and a casket of brandy. Shortly afterwards around 20 Trek Boer-families settled at Oshaanda Shongwe (leopard hill) which they changed to ‘Grootfontein’. The names of the Boers who relocated from Transvaal at that time were Labuschagne, Prinsloo, Bouwer, Venter, Van Vuuren, Du Plessis, Opperman, Botha, Robbertse, Jordaan, Du Toit, Lourens, Holsthuizen, Du Preez, Van den Berg, De Klerk and Van Wyk. 

    The Republic Upingtonia was named after the Prime Minister of the Cape province, Sir Thomas Upington whom was regarded as God-father of white Afrikaners. As many Boers came to settle they erected up some rudimentary block huts in the areas around the water fountains of Grootfontein. Later they built so-called ''hartebeest houses'' on their farms copying the European model house. This lower lying area white people occupied, the land was very fertile, so they began to cultivating commercial crops like wheat, mealies, and tobacco for sale. In that area, there are plenty of natural springs and fountains to obtain water for irrigation. With additional 500 trekkers came from Transvaal, Jordan then declared his land the Republic of Upingtonia officially on 20 October 1885. The Transvaal-Boers, who also came to joined them was commandant Jean M. Lombard and B.D. Bouwer, who had occupied the farm Strydfontein during the time of the Republic of Upingtonia. 

    The so-called purchase was incredibly cheap and allegedly fraudulent land acquisition. This not only angered the Namibians who could no longer fetch their copper ore freely from Otavi for 'iron smith' and collect salt from Etosha' salt pan, but it also increased the existing enmity between the two brothers Nehale and Ondonga's King Kambonde who was treated as a celebrated friend among the white settlers.

    The Boers' Republic of Upingtonia didn't lasted more than a year before Nehale lyaMpingana in 1886 organized his warriors that stormed the DorslandTrek's stronghold and killed its leader, William Jordan and thereafter the group dispersed in panicking with some settlers moving towards Angola, and others turning back to the Transvaal. About 50 000 acres of Ondonga territory include Etosha plain was owned by William Worthington Jordan under the Republic of Upingtonia. King Nehale lyaMpingana brought back the land to Ondonga, now under his dominion. (However the area was retaken again when the whole country fell into the hand of South African Apartheid regime). 

    Namutoni fort Formation

    At the height of scramble for Africa during 18th century, Germany had been the only European power which not yet establishing itself in Africa. One of the few places left ‘unclaimed’ was Namibia (South-West Africa). In 1889 Hauptmann Curt von Frangois and his 25 soldiers left Germany for Suid West Afrika disguised themselves as explorers traveled with a British freighter, the Clan Gordon and landed at the British port of Walvis Bay and moved through the interior to /Ai-//Gams which the name they changed to Windhuk (Windhoek), the first place where they began to build a fortress, the Alte Feste which still visible today in Windhoek's downtown, which now used as a national museum. 

    In 1897, as more troops arrived from the Fatherland and the Germans occupied more and more territory in southern Namibia, this expansion led to establishment of military contingents ''Schutztruppe'' in further northern part of Namibia to serve as a frontier post at Namutoni in the controlling the spread of cattle plague (rinderpest) conduct inoculation, supervising trade with the local tribes, the Ovambo and to prevent the smuggling of firearms and liquor from white settlers to the local communities. Namutoni fort was built in 1897 by German Imperial Force as a strategic sentry. This historic fort is located at the heart of the Etosha National Park, the country’s best sanctuary in close proximity to the Fisher’s Pan a ''hotspot'' for birds and adjacent to King Nehale Waterhole. 

    By 1903 a visible military fort had been completed on the site, under the direction of Dr Paul Jodtka, Chief Medical Officer of the German colonial forces. It was a rectangular building, approximately 650 feet wide and measuring 10 by 24 metres. The walls were built out of sun-baked bricks on a quarry-stone foundation to enforce its fortification. They mounded it with crenelated towers at the eastern and western ends for tactical observation. There was six rooms in the fort, separated by a central corridor. A wooden ladder gave access to the corrugated iron on rooftop.

    The Battle of Namutoni fought between King Nehale lyaMpingana and Germans on 28 Jan 1904

    The Battle of Namutoni 

    German influence increased and demands for land became exorbitant for Germans to sustain it without spending their resources since they were already drained in the conflicts with Herero in 1904, and then the Nama in 1905, quelling off the two revolts in consecutive years. German turned their heads to Ondonga's territory after and used Namutuni Fort as means of protection and as well to launch expeditionary units to impose tax and enforce authority on the indigenous people. 

    On 28 January 1904 King Nehale decided to end the colonial occupation of Namutoni, he sent about 350-400 warriors under the commandship of, Shivute saNdjongolo, Kakuya Kembale, and Amupanda yaShiponeni (oondjai Ndhoyita) to attack Namutoni Fort. 

    According to the German verse represented by Karl Hartmann who used to live at the farm next to the fort and was also presented during the siege: At 11.30 am on 28 January,   Karl was in the lower room in the fort feeding his dog with leftovers from a rich dinner held the evening before in honour of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s birthday. He happened to glance up some movement through a firing slit in the wall, he saw the ostrich plumes of hundreds of Ovambo warriors charging towards the fort. He immediately shouted the alarm to the station commander, Fritz Grossmann NCO, and his other five comrades, Sergeant Bruno Lassmann, Warrant 1st Richard Lemke, Albert Lier, NCO Jakob Basendowski and Franz Becker. Hartmann, Basendowski and Becker were local farmers and members of the Schutztruppe Reserve, who had sought for shelter in the fort, together with their cattle, after moved from the military post at Grootfontein some 130 km away. 

    At 7.00 am on 28 January 1904, three Ovambo messengers turned up at the fort to announce that Shivute, Great Captain of King Nehale of the Ndonga tribe of the Ovambo people, was on a hunting trip along the southern edge of Etosha Pan and wished to pay a courtesy visit to the fort. The Germans were understandably suspicious, especially when Captain Shivute himself arrived with a large group of men and three-quarters of them were openly armed with muskets (oomangondo) which were regarded as riffles of war, Shivute was tried to distinguished them as just ‘hunting party’ not warriors. Shivute's scouting team noted five German men mounted on horses and the other 30 on riding oxen. 

    Shortly afterward other remaining warriors creep behind the reeds at the watering-hole were detected by the Germans. Shivute saNyongolo and his interpreter came over closer to the gate, saying that they came to exchange one of their fat oxen for a sack of rice. The Germans suspected a ruse and Grossmann politely declined an invitation from Shivute to come out of the fort and pick the best ox brought along. During the conversation, the Ovambo's warriors began to creep close and closer to the fort crossing the stone corral where the German cattle were kept.  Shivute went back when it became clear that Germans were not going to be enticed to get out of the fortification. 

    The Germans used the interval period to strengthen their defences, bring out all ammunition boxes from underground faults and make ready rope-ladders in case they needed to get down quickly from the towers.  Grossmann, an experienced NCO instructed the garrison to load their personal Mauser riffles and put
    his small force in the ready positions. He also shifted away one person who was sick. He had ample supplies of water, food, explosives and ammunition in the towers (1,100 rounds for Mauser riffles 7.9 mm model (1888) and other Mauser rifles models, but most all Schutztruppe were equipped with the model (1898) riffles. 

    Mauser Riffles Model 1871/84 used at Namutoni by the Germans: Swedish Army Museum.
    Suddenly, at 11.30 am, the Nehale's warriors charged toward the fort, the German defender, Hartmann shouts from the sentries to warn others in the fort, to run to their firing positions. While he was busy issuing an alert alarm, the fastest warriors already reached the main entrance of the fort from different directions, they grabbed nine Herero servants who were employed by the Germans as cattle-herders. As the swarm of other Ovambo men getting near and nearer the fort, the Germans opened maximum fire with their Mauser rifles injuring and killing some Ovambo's warriors, but the rest still advancing toward the entrance passing through blinding smokes of the guns. Shivute, the overall commander (ondjayi yoiita) shouted to his men to beat the drums of war as louder as they can possible to deafening over the sound produced by the Bavarian war machines. 

    The element of bravery and moral steadfastness was observed from all two sides. Each side was boosting its own firepower it possesses. Nehale too his spearmen were driven by the morale to silence the rifle-fire either with bare hands and take over the weapon. The Ovambo warriors have gained the morale adjuration which boosted by the energy they got from a magic potion apparently they had consumed last night before the war. Amupande-wa Shiponeni, was a war commissar with special tasks to inspire and consecrate the warriors with the strength to fight.

    At 3.30 pm the fort was competently overrun, Grossmann and other German escaped the fort heading to Tsumeb. As dusk fell, the Germans were able to slip away to the further south, with the wounded men being supported by fellow comrades.  Fourteen hours later, as the sun rose unto the next day, the seven men who survived Namutoni war reached the farmhouse of Beckers and Basendowski at Sandhup, where they met a German patrol under Veterinary Surgeon Horauf who led them to the German base at Tsumeb, some 75 miles from Namutoni. At dawn on 29 January, the warriors sacked the Namutoni fort and burned it down to the ground to give an unbiased message to white settlers who could attempt to come back again. 

    In 1906 the survivors from the battle of Namutoni requested a military assistance to revenge the attack by the Nehale's warriors, but the Imperial German Government was enabled such a proposal to send a military expedition to punish Nehale for his destruction of the fort, and instead German advised them to seek help through the mediation of Finnish missionaries in Ovamboland under Martti Rautanen to persuade King Nehale to agree to a voluntary atonement, but, Nehale never responded to Martti. 

    Nehale's Stratagem

    Despite being up against modern rifles and strong fortifications, Captain Shivute saNyongolo and other oondjayi ndoiita from Ondonga Kingdom have kept their traditional tactics, as indicated below: 

    • Shivute deployed a ''cut-off '' of best sharp-shooters using limited rifles to provide covering fire for those with spears.
    • Shivute, was only armed with large knobkerrie plus war-whistle made from a duiker horn. This was a sign of bravery that shows he was not afraid for entering in war with simple weapon and thus inspired others to fight even more.
    • Nehale's commander Amupanda yaShiponeni always is in possession with the holy fire, which he used to ignite a fire that can kept burning all the time while the warriors are at wars. 
    •  According Ondonga ancient norms (Omandengu gomuzilo ohatema omundilo goshilongo) early morning before the sunrise to award off omens and invoke ancestral spirits; and in this particular case preparing a magic potion made from the milk of the enemy's cattle, in order to protect the warriors against its bullets. 
    • Nehale and (Oondandi) spies were used to recon about the strength of the German military garrison and establish the exactly location of the cattle posts, stores and collect any other useful information.
    •  The main objective was not to engage into full-scale conflict with the German Imperial Force that was better armed with gun heavy cannons and magazine riffles but to strike a quick surprise on the enemies as quieter as possible. The attack on Namutoni Fort was carried out largely by a ‘commando’ the best selected hundred-dismounted warriors
    • Misinformation and disinformation tactics:  Ruses were deployed trying to allure Germans to come out of the fortification as many as possible, before the commencement of the attack.

     An original grave of King Nehale lyaMpingana at Onayena 27 km east of Olukonda, Namibia.
    King Nehale lyaMpinga died in 28 April 1908, the cause of Nehale's death is natural and believed to be a spinal-back related health complication as per oral history. Following his death, Nehale lyaMpingana’s territory of eastern Ondonga was returned to Ondonga under his brother, however, he ruled over the reunited Ondonga kingdoms for only one year and died in 1909. Nehale lyaMpingana in Namibian history is an iconic symbol of anti-colonial struggles, a warrior that revered by many and feared by white settlers.  

    Nehale involvement in anti-colonial struggles set him apart from the rest. Indeed Namibian nations, only know much about Nehale yaMpinga as a king of Ondonga, besides there was Kambonde lyaMpingana who was purported as a legitimate ruler.  It was Nehale who ignited the flame of Namibian liberation struggle. The German presence in Namibia lasted until August 1915 when South African troops under Major Pritchard took over the fort and administrative affair of Ovamboland shortly when the German military surrendered at Khorab. 

    Namutoni Fort was rebuild in 1904 and is situated on the eastern side of Etosha pan.

    Rebuild of Namutoni Fort

    The fort was rebuilt to replace the previous one which had been razed and burnt to the ground by king Nehale lyaMpingana in 1904. On 15 February 1950, the restored Namutoni fort was declared a national monument and was opened for tourism from 1957 and onward. Now it forms part of NWR rest camp for tourists. The building is surrounded by graceful Malakani palms in the aura of the deep blue African sky. Following Namibian independence from South Africa in 1990, the then King of the Ondonga presented the firearms to the museum at Namutoni fort that was used in the battle, they are now displayed next to German Mauser rifles.
    The Nakambale Museum was the first Missionary Station set up in 1870 at Olukonda, Ondonga.
    The Nakambale Museum is in the village of Olukonda, 14 km south-west of Ondangwa, consists of the old Finnish mission house (now a museum) which is the best places to start experiencing the culture of Owambo, especially for the Aandonga people.  The Museum named after the Finnish missionary Martti Rautanen, whose nick name was ''Nakambale Kanene'' as special alias name given to him by the locals referring him 'the one who wears a hat'. 

    Rautanen was a very popular Suomi missionary came to Namibia in 1880 and thereafter started a missionary station at Omandongo, Olukonda in 1870. He was the first European to introduced Christian gospels to the locals. Rautanen translated the Bible include hymns into indigenous languages which he spoke fluently more than the natives. He made meteorological observations, worked in botanical research and became a respected personality in both Namibia as well as Finland.


    The German historians are claiming that there were many bodies of Nehale's warriors that had died during the war while another source has put the figure of the dead at 1508. Another one done by Missionaries counted about 108 dead. But, on the official commemorative tablet, an emblem on the fort has indicated 68 dead. World history is littered with tonnes of beautiful history books well crafted just for the purpose to teach other way around. This history doesn't represent the true nature of the people.  The collection in academia is in favor of the colonial masters and deliberately put some omission in the description of the actual history of the black races.

    Ondonga's Kings/Queens

    • (1) Nembulungo lyNgwedha, 1650-1690 
    • (2) Shindongo shaNamutenya gwa Nguti, 1690-1700
    • (3) Nangombe yaMvula, 1700-1750 (Oshamba) 
    • (4) Nembungu lyAmutundu, 1750- ca. 1820 (Iinenge) 
    • (5) Nangolo dAmutenya, ca. 1820-1857 (Ondonga)
    •  (6) Shipanga shAmukwiita, 1857-1859
    •  (7) Shikongo shaKalulu, 1859-1874 (Omandongo) 
    • (8) Kambonde kaNankwaya, 1874-1883 (Onamungundo) 
    • (9) Iitana yaNekwiyu, 1883-1884 
    • (10) Nehale lya Mpingana, 1884-1908 (Okaloko)
    • (11) Kambonde kaNgula, 1909-1912 
    • (12) Martin Nambala yaKadhikwa, 1912-1942 (Ondjumba) 
    • (13) Kambonde kaNamene, 1942-1960 (Okaloko) 
    • (14) Martin Ambala Ashikoto, 1960-1967 (Ontananga) 
    • (15) Paulus Elifas, (1967-1970) (Omwandi) 
    • (16) Filemon yElifas lyaShindondola, 1970-1975 (Onamungundo) 
    • (17) Immanuel Kauluma Elifas, 1975 - to date (Onamungundo)

    Andeas Vogt, Von Tsaobis bis Namutoni, Klaus Hess Verlag, Gottingen-Windhoek, 2002, page 277.
    Dr N Mossolow, The History of Namutoni, John Meinert (Pty) Ltd, Windhoek, 1971, page 44.
    Lawrence G. Green, Lords of the Last Frontier, Cape Times Ltd, South Africa, 1952, page 135. Karl Hartmann.  Jon M. Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros, University of California Press Ltd, Berkeley, 1981, page 84. C.H.L. Hahn, The Native Tribes of South-West Africa, Frank Cass & Co Ltd, 1966.
    Patricia Hayes, A History of the Ovambo of Namibia 1880-1935, University of Cambridge, Ph.D thesis, 1992 (British Library reference D062451 DSC). Edwin Herbert, Small Wars and Skirmishes, Foundry Books, 2003, pages 117-29, gives a general account of the war. Figures 166 and 167 depict Ovambo warriors. Maija Hiltunen, University of Helsinki : Suomen Antropologinen Seura, 1993.

    • (1) Ovambo Politics in the Twentieth Century (Patricia Hayes: Book)
    • (2) A history of the Ovambo of Namibia, c. 1880-1935 (Book)
    • (3) German-Herero conflict of 1904–07 (Britannica)
    • (4) Good Magic in Ovambo (Maija Hiltunen:Book)
    • (5) Swedish Army Museum (Digital Museum)
    • (6) National Archives of Namibia.

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