We Are Proud to Present.. Dramaturgy and Background
See history and background below. for anti-racist reading links, See Bottom.
In the 1800s, land that had originally belonged to two main tribes of Southwest Africa—the Herero and the Namaqua—was declared a German colony. German settlers, who’d first began arriving in the 1840s, began to push tribesman off their lands in an effort to “develop” the area. In response to the German colonial occupation, the Herero and the Nama people rebelled in January 1904. The uprising was unsuccessful, and by October of 1904, an extermination order was issued that led to the near extinction of the two nations of Southwest Africa. The Herero and Nama die in labor camps or by disease and starvation in the desert; by the time the deadly order is canceled 50% of the Nama tribe has been killed and the Herero, numbering 80,000 before the uprising, number 15,000.
May 1884: Imperial Chancellor of Germany, Prince Bismarck, joins the Scramble for Africa, deciding that Germany would indeed seize Cameroon, Togoland, and South West Africa and make them colonies of Germany.
November 15, 1884: The Berlin Conference convenes. Thirteen European states, the Ottoman Empire, and the United States gather to negotiate the colonization of Africa. Those in attendance discuss territorial disputes, acceptable use of force when dealing with natives, and claims. After competing with Cape interests, the British crown, and natives, German occupation in South West Africa—now Namibia—is finally confirmed. No African representatives are invited.
July 1890: Germany pledges to “preserve the aboriginal races of Africa, […], watch over their interests, [and] cultivate their moral and material advancement and discovery” making further promise at the Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels to “protect the native races of Africa from oppression and slavery” (Brandt, as cited in Report on the Natives…18-19).
1890: Hottentot (Nama)-Herero War and German Intervention
The Herero and Nama, also known as the Hottentot, are livestock farmers and the two main tribes of South West Africa. The two tribes are constantly pushing for territory, resulting in fights for land. The wars are ‘civil;’ when a victor is determined a peace agreement is established and fighting ceased. This was before German intervention.
Captain C. von Francois is appointed Administrator of German West Africa. He arrives with 21 soldiers, intended to be a police force that could foster a relationship with the natives, gain control, and maintain peace. German forces intervene in the Herero-Nama War.
August 12, 1893: After hearing of a tribe appointed treaty between the Herero and the Nama, Captain Francois ordered 250 soldiers shipped to South West Africa. The Nama tribe is attacked.
1894: Major Theodor Leutwein has replaced Captain C. von Francois and begins to divide Südwestafrika’s (German South West Africa) natives into five groups: the Ovambo, the Nama, the Bastards, the Bushmen and Berg-Damaras, and the Herero who were 80,000 strong. Leutwein begins a tour of the new groups in an effort to control the colonies and offer them “protection.”
Mid 1890s: The Germans decide to build a railroad through the Herero land forcing relocation and displacement.
1897: The Rinderpest—a cattle virus epidemic—kills approximately 60,000 cattle. The Herero, who possessed the greater number of cattle, were greatly affected. The colonists offer aid to the tribesmen by lending them money and in turn the tribes amass great debt. Many Herero begin working on German farms and the invasion of the Germans continue to erase their way of life and arrest their freedom.
1903: The Nama rebels are lead by Hendrik Witbooi and Jacob Morenga.
January 12, 1904: The Herero join the fight. Lead by Samuel Maharero, Herero warriors attack German outposts.
January 23, 1904: Herero who were not involved in the revolt are affected when German soldiers open fire on the Herero during a Sunday church service. The revolution becomes the race war that will lead to genocide.
August 1904: The Herero have retreated and await peace agreements to restore order. Major Theodor Leutwein, deemed to amiable for his post, is replaced by Lieutenant-General Lothar von Trotha. A man with a reputation for crushing resistance to German power and occupation in Africa.
August 11, 1904: The Waterberg Massacre | German forces surround tribes on three sides and open fire at Waterberg. The Herero are forced to flee into the Kalahari Desert and a guard post, 200 miles long is erected, trapping the Herero on barren land. The few water sources are poisoned by the Germans.
October 1904: The General issues the extermination order.
December 9, 1904: Kaiser Wilhelm II orders von Trotha to accept the Herero’s surrender and allow them back into Südwestafrika.
1904-1907: The Herero and Nama are ‘welcomed’ into concentration camps. After being starved and dehydrated in the desert, the survivors are forced into labor. Women were raped and children were placed in the German army as mascots. The tribes were sold/rented, and tortured. The tribes were forced to participate in “racial sciences.” Studies lead by professor Eugen Fischer were meant to prove the racial inferiority of the black race. Fischer would later be appointed by Hitler in 1933.
March 31, 1907: The ‘war’ is officially over.
January 1908: The last of the prisoners are released from the concentration camps.
1908-1915: Released, the Herero and the Nama are still under German control. Land that was once theirs had become foreign and the white settlers that had taken it from them became their employers. The Herero and Name, having lost their identity as herdsmen, worked under Germans until 1915 when South Africa took over.
March 7, 2019: New York Federal court dismissed Namibia’s genocide compensation suit.
Further Reading on the genocide
Shigwedha, Vilho. (2018). The return of Herero and Nama bones from Germany. 10.7765/9781526129338.00014. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327127378_The_return_of_Herero_and_Nama_bones_from_Germany
Shigwedha discusses how the return of Herero and Nama bones has created tension in present day Namibia and Germany.
An Introduction to Namibia’s Herero People https://theculturetrip.com/africa/namibia/articles/an-introduction-to-namibias-herero-people/
An introduction to the background, history, and culture of the Herero people of Namibia.
Herero and Namaqua Genocide: The little-known first genocide of the Second Reich https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-important-events/herero-and-namaqua-genocide-little-known-first-genocide-second-reich-003828
An introduction to the first genocide of the 20th century, the Herero and Namaqua Genocide of 1904.
Genocide in German South West Africa & the Herero Reparations Movement https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=senior_theses
Melaine Brandt’s senior thesis on the Herero and Nama Genocide and the Herero tribes present day move for reparations.