Omaruru, the old Swedish town in Namibia

During the 1860’s the Swede Charles Anderson was running a trading station in Otjimbingwe, situated on the road between Walvis bay and Windhoek. In Otjimbingwe you also found two Herero leaders with their people.

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One was Wilhelm Zeraua (seen above with two daughters), the other Maharero. In 1863 Zeraua was meant to become the supreme Herero leader but declined, leaving the supremacy to Maharero.

In 1867 Charles Anderson died and later the same year Oorlam-leader Jonker Afrikaner led an attack on Otjimbingwe. This was also a year of severe draught and this in combination with the attack could explain why Zeraua decided to move north to settle on the banks of the Omaruru river. At about the same time Maharero left Otjimbingwe to establish in Okahandja. At the same time Axel Eriksson, Charles Anderson’s companion, also moved to Omaruru.

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When you today enter Omaruru from the south you come to this large bridge over the wide river bed of the Omaruru river.

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Picture above is standing on the bridge, looking north = upstream. From this view the left side is where Zeraua told the whites (mostly Swedes in those days) to settle. On the right side (this view) Zeraua and his people settled in some 50 huts. Willem Zeraua himself had a brick house.Omaruru04

If you cross the bridge and follow the main road (today named Wilhelm Zeraua Road) you will soon see this house. It was once the mission station that German missionary Viehe built in 1871. It is today the local museum, said to be open Monday-Friday but if you come on a weekend as we did I suggest you contact Chris on Evening Shade and he will assist with getting the keys for a weekend visit!Omaruru05

This house was originally a mission house but has during the years also been used as a school, sick bay, postal agency and hostel. Visiting the museum you will find a few objects but mostly photos and text telling about the early history of Omaruru.Omaruru06

Opposite the mission house/museum you will find the old Evangelical Lutheran Church. The first entry in the church register is the marriage between Axel Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson on 18 September 1871. At that time the Church building was not ready so the ceremony was held in the school house by Missionary Viehe. The Church was opened for Advent in 1873.Omaruru07

Above is Axel who was a truly remarkable man. He came to South West Africa in 1866 at the age of 20. He came to Omaruru in 1870. Three Swedes had entered partnership to form a company. They were Anders Ohlsson (merchant and importer in Cape Town), Thure Een (sea captain) and Axel Eriksson. Een was the first manager of the trading store in Omaruru but returned to Sweden in 1871. That left Eriksson, then only 25 years old in sole charge of the partnership business in Omaruru.

I have read several books where Axel is mentioned and everyone seems to agree that this was a very special and good man. He made friends with all nationalities, including people of several Namibian indigenous groups. He also spend a lot of money helping people – white hunters and traders but also Hereros and Ovambos. All too often he did not get his money back and although he was a very wealthy man for a while he died almost poor. He had a farm at Aukas, near Grootfontein, where he died in 1901.Omaruru08

Next to the old church is the old cemetery. Surely Swedes must have been buried here but I could find no Swedish graves. In the early 1870’s there were some 20 Swedes in Omaruru and later as much as 40. Above is the tomb stones of a Finnish couple, Andreas and Mathilda Piirainen. Andreas (Antti) Piirainen was a Swedish-speaking Finn who came to Omaruru in 1874. He was a craftsman who managed material affairs for the Finnish mission in Ovamboland. He had a store in Omaruru that he had built around two large camel-thorn trees and he used the trees to hang some of his articles on the branches.

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Above, in the middle you can see the Tomb stone of Wilhelm Zeraua. He became a Christian shortly before his death in 1876. He was thus buried in a coffin in this cemetery and to the Hereros 1876 is “the year of the coffin”. On the picture on top of this post you see Wilhelm Zeraua with his two daughters Albertina and Charlotte. The daughters’ tomb stone can also be seen in the picture above.Omaruru10

Axel Eriksson had his store some distance upstream from the Mission station. The store was built on a slope and in that building Een and Eriksson also had their homes. The other Swedes lived below, closer to the river bed. Today I do not think much is remaining but I was able to find one of the old Swedish houses. Very close to the Evening Shade, between the “Pep store” and the “Erongo arms” is a small and insignificant building.
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This house was built by Een in 1870 or 1871. He made it with “fire-proof walls thick enough to withstand rifle bullets”. Een wanted the house to be a gathering place where people could rest after journeys and find refuge in times of hostilities. Later Een sold the house to Oscar Lindholm. Lindholm had come to South West Africa already in 1854. In Otjimbingwe he had been a wagon-maker and black-smith and also managed Anderson’s store. He was one of the first Swedes to come to Omaruru in 1868 to establish the new trading station. After Een left in 1871 he became the manager of Eriksson’s store in Omaruru. Oscar married Elizabeth Stewardson, older sister of Axel’s wife Fanny. This house is today known as Lindholm’s house. One can only wish that it will be taken care of and renovated.

As South West Africa became a German protectorate and colony in 1884 things started to change. The Swedish group had appreciated the freedom of life in Namibia, they had been able to establish peaceful and fruitful connections with the indigenous population. Eriksson even had a son called Jacob who via his mother was the grandson of the mighty Herero chief Kambazembi and also the nephew of Maharero, the Paramount Chief of the Herero. Jacob later became cattle farmer in the south of Angola and had several cattle-posts in Kaokoland.
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With the new German leadership Eriksson and the other Swedes found life more difficult. In Omaruru the population became more German than Swedish and German farmers established cattle farms where the Hereros used to stay.

When the war between the Germans and Hereros started in 1904 Omaruru was attacked and surrounded by Herero warriors. The local garrison had left town and was 400 km to the south. The commander of the Omaruru Company, Captain Victor Franke, got news of the uprising via heliograph and immediately returned. In only twenty days he had his men march 900 km. He first managed to relief Windhoek, then Okahandja and finally managed to break through the ring around Omaruru to free the settlers. On the southern side of the river you can find the rock pictured above that marks the place of the battle.

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Later the Germans defeated the Hereros in the battle of Waterberg, August 1904 and the German leader von Trotha issued his infamous extermination order: “Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children.” There are estimates of between 24 000 up to 100 000 hereros killed. In 1985, the United Nations’ Whitaker Report classified the aftermath as an attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of South-West Africa, and therefore one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the 20th century. The German government recognised and apologised for the events in 2004, but has ruled out financial compensation for the victims’ descendants.

In 1907 Omaruru built a watchtower to have a good strategic position for future attacks. It was named Franke Tower in honour of Captain Viktor Franke. It was opened in 1908 and declared a national monument in 1963. You will find the tower close to the rock, not far from the Kashana lodge.

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Above is the Wronsky house, built in 1907. Here you can find a souvenir shop, a café and also a small photo exhibition describing the history of the town.Omaruru15

The old German houses and signs are still here although South Africa defeated the German government in 1915 which turned South West Africa into a League of Nations mandate territory. After the second world war South Africa introduced apartheid in South West Africa. In 1990 South West Africa became the independent and democratic state of Namibia.

The descendants of Lothar von Trotha and the von Trotha family travelled to Omaruru in October 2007 by invitation of the royal Herero chiefs and publicly apologised for his role in the Herero Genocide. Member of the family Wolf-Thilo von Trotha: “We, the von Trotha family, are deeply ashamed of the terrible events that took place 100 years ago. Human rights were grossly abused that time.”Omaruru16

Today you find lot of interesting buildings in Omaruru with shops, cafés and restaurants. Omaruru17

Omaruru is a mixture of the old and the new and the town has some 14 000 inhabitants.Omaruru18

In the last decade or so Omaruru has become something of a haven for those of an artistic nature. True to its creative roots Omaruru produces several fine products including chocolate, cheese and wine.

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Since 2001 Omaruru has established a partnership with the Swedish town Vänersborg, the town where Axel Eriksson was born.

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At the entrance of the town you will find a large store specialised in wood carvings.

I will be back soon with two posts describing places in Omaruru for sleeping and eating:

Kashana and the Evening Shade!

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36 Responses to Omaruru, the old Swedish town in Namibia

  1. Pingback: Omaruru – Kashana | Namibia

  2. Pingback: Omaruru – Evening Shade | Namibia

  3. Christer Blomstrand says:

    Hej,
    Kul att du får ut lite information om Omaruru.
    för några veckor sedan kom vi tillbaka från en forskningsresa till
    Norra Namibia och Angola där vi sökte efter spåren av svenskarna.
    Har du kontakt med Peter Johansson på Vänersborgs Museum?
    Christer

    • Anders says:

      Hej Christer,
      Jag har läst om er resa, men inye om era resultat. Jag har inte haft kontakt med Peter Johansson men läst hans bok om Axel Eriksson.
      Hälsningar Anders

  4. Pingback: Evening Shade and Omaruru | Namibia

  5. Xuezhu Åberg says:

    Many days of years I dreamed back to the Desert in Namibia alone. It would be nice to visit these places too.

    Xuezhu Åberg

  6. Pingback: Hoanib 1 – on the road | Namibia

  7. Pingback: Tourism – Erongo | Namibia

  8. kornelia says:

    hi, Christer am very happy that someone is finally doing research about Andersson. But certain things are not being researched on. Why are people not interested in know what really happened to him and his family. Eriksson couldn’t tell the whole truth as his life was threatened. please contact me as I can tell you more on what really happened to Andersson family in Ovambo . my email address is kornelia.malima@yahoo.com.

  9. Sten Norell says:

    Hej, Oscar Theodor Lindholm har ju uppgivits vara född i Motala på diverse sidor jag sett här och där. Jag har dock hittat hans rätta fakta, han var född i Askersunds lands fs den 21 september 1834 och år 1850 flyttar han till Motala samt emigrerar därifrån 1853 – han tar väl en kanalbåt till Göteborg precis som Wahlberg gjorde 1838 ! Själv arbetade jag i början av 1970-talet i Ghanzi i Botswana och har forskat lite vilka som kan ha varit där före mig, därav mitt intresse.

    • Anders says:

      Hej Sten, tack för informationen. Intressant! Jag avslutade mitt arbetet i Namibia i mars förra året. / Hälsningar Anders

      • Sten Norell says:

        Ja det är intressant, och kuriosa att du är från Ängelholm och jag från Hyllinge ! Jag var då ett och ett halvt år i Ghanzi och körde runt mycket i Kalahari, sedan blev jag förflyttad till Gaborone och efter ett halvår till nytt departement som vehicel inspector och fik så sista året köra runt hela Botswana och passerade då Ghanzi varannan månad exempelvis. Jag åkte hem 1975 men 1977 återvände jag till Mozampique för ett och ett halvt års tjänst. Var även i Nigeria för ett snabbjobb i några månader där emellan.

  10. Linda-Lea Olivier says:

    Hi I would like the Swedish message of 29 February 2016 by Sten Norell translated to English. I am busy with research on Oscar Theodore LINDHOLM who came to current Namibia beginning 1854 with one Wahlberg. O T Lindholm was my great-grandfather.

    • Anders says:

      Hi Linda-Lea, my translation of the comment above by Sten Norell:

      “Hi, Oscar Theodor Lindholm has been stated as born in Motala on various pages I’ve seen. I have however found the correct facts, he was born in the Parish of Askersund (land-parish) on September 21 1834 and in the year 1850 he moves to Motala and emigrates from there in 1853 – he probably takes a canal boat to Gothenburg just like Wahlberg did in 1838! I myself worked in the beginning of the 1970´s in Ghanzi in Botswana and have done some research on who could have been there before me, thereof my interest.”

      • Sten Norell says:

        Thank You for the translation of my note about Oscar T Lindholm. I do have some more information about him and the family if you do like to get it Linda-Lee. I hav as well been in Contact with relatives from a brother to Oscar, and they did not know they had a relative emigrating to Africa, they live not so far from my place today and just nerby were Oscar was born.

  11. Linda-Lea Olivier says:

    Hi Sten, I am very much interested in more information on Oscar Theodore Lindholm’s life in Sweden before he emigrated here. Genealogical researchers in Sweden gave me [a] birth and baptism information, [b] Askersund Household Exam Roll with names of parents, sister Eva and Oscar himself and [c] Motala Household Exam Roll referring to his emigration. All information corresponding with that supplied by yourself. Also genealogy of his mother’s line and information of his father’s parents. He died in 1897 and just represented a name to me all my life. Since I started researching his whereabouts here in South Africa and in present-day Namibia their history caused me to start asking questions and always wanting to know more. I have compiled a book about him and some of the others in the circle around them in South Africa which is now nearing finalization. If you say descendants of his brother did not even know about his emigration from my side I can fill them in on that and his life here. I would like to know the names of all his siblings [I think you call it `barn’] and may be a little more on grand-parents etc. One thing that really puzzles me – Is Asker and Askersund the same place?

    • Sten Norell says:

      Hi Linda, I can give all what I know and copies from churchbooks – but mabye this will bee easier by e-mail instead ? You my tell me how you do like it. The parish Asker is not the same as Askersund but in the same county Örebro or in old ancient time Närke. My e-mail are sten.norell@teli.com

    • Sten Norell says:

      Hi – this morning I do give you some facts. The father of Oscar was Peter Lindholm and he was a Forest keeper at an smal iland with the name Aspön just South of the Town Askersund, he was born 20 oct 1802 in Askersunds Lands fs by parents Peter Andersson and wife Stina Persdotter settled at Karstorp in the same parish. Hes first marriage was with Fredrica Helena Skeppstedt born 5 dec 1806 in Asker parish by parents Carl (Gustaf) Skeppstedt and Maja Lisa Siöqvist (?). Sibblings to Oscar was as follow – Eva Carolina Augusta b 11 aug 1832, Carl Peter b 14 jun 1836 died 1846, Fredrik Auhust 7 may 1839 died 1845, Gustaf Adolf 24 march 1841 – d 14 nov 1911, Axel Leonard b 15 sep 1843 died 1844. The wife of Peter died 5 dec 1843. Peter remarried but they got no further Children, Peter died 7 oct 1878.

  12. Linda-Lea Olivier says:

    Hi Sten, Thanks for all the information furnished above. Thanks also to our host for having patience with me. I am so glad to be enabled to know more about O T that I might have forgotten my manners. I will be in contact with you again tomorrow and will then send you the first information on O T’s marriage and descendants. Please understand that my home language is Afrikaans and that the book is also written in Afrikaans — so I need to work on translating what I will be sending you.

    • Sten Norell says:

      Hi Linda, take your time – and it is my plessure to bee abel to give you this information. And do not hesitate to question what more you need. I can add that OT:s parents married 1831.
      Have a good day, Brg Sten

    • Sten Norell says:

      Hi Linda, further information for you – the sister Eva Carolina Augusta b 11 aug 1832 died 21 jan 1904 and she was never married, I have not found any children to he. The brother Gustaf Adolf Lindholm married Johanna Lovisa Johansdotter b 7 oct 1848, at 1876 in Askersunds Lands fs. They got four (4) children – two (2) boys and two (2) girls, Eva Teodora b 24 march 1877, Anna Lovisa b 17 jan 1878 and it is by he I found living descendants in Askersund. The boys Gustaf Herman b 1881 and Carl August b 1885.

    • Sten Norell says:

      Linda, further. The brother Gustaf Adolf Lindholm took over the small farm – Torp – after the father Peter died. Gustaf A died 14 nov 1911 and the wife Johanna Lovisa Johansdotter died 29 may 1912. Their children, Eva Teodora married 1904 and died 1914 and no children born within the marriage. The brothers Gustaf Herman and Carl August never married as well. Doughter Anna Lovisa b 17 january 1878 died 9 october 1947, she was married to Gardener Ernst Oskar Blom born 20 november 1878, and they married 21 november 1905 in Askersunds Landsförsamling. They had two children – Karl Ernst Herman b. 6 october 1906 and Gösta Herman Rudolf b 17 january 1916 he died 1996. Gösta H R married Aina Margareta b. 1925, the marriage was 1949. It is than by Gösta and Aina there is living descendants still in Askersund area. I have as well found Oscar T mensioned in the estate record after the father Peter died – it sayes …”Oscar T living in Damaraland”… (Land in Swedish means Country).

  13. Linda-Lea Olivier says:

    Hi Sten
    Thank you for the further information and explanations posted by you recently.
    You are really taking trouble with this information now. I am so very glad to hear that they did not completely lose Oscar T. Those were hard times to keep contact. I have just recently read that for mail to be delivered in Damaraland could take up to two years. Damaraland is the name of a region in Namibia/formerly Southwest Africa, but Omaruru now resorts in the Erongo Region.
    I have already also compiled the information that you forwarded last week into a familj page. I will also utilize this further information, but may be not in the same manner. Necessarily some of it will only remain in the databank as the descendants may still be alive. My country has strict rules protecting individuals’ personal information. Be rest assured Lindholm has grown here in South Africa.
    I have been trying to send you the information I compiled as part of my completed research but the feedback I get is that your mail server cannot be accessed. Can you please check the email address that you supplied in your earlier response to me. I cannot forward all of it through these pages. If the address is correct I can only try again but will then split the pages because it can also be that the data makes it too large for any of the servers.

    • Sten Norell says:

      Hi Linda, nice to here you can use my information and yes we do hav a rule of 70 years in Sweden for to leave information about living person. You are right my e-mail adress was not correct – an a is missing, sorry. It should bee sten.norell@telia.com

    • Sten Norell says:

      Hi Linda, I discovered one error in my research. Carl August b. 22 april 1885 son of Gustaf Adolf Lindholm and Johanna Lovisa Johansdotter and brother to Anna Lovisa b 17 january 1878 got married 23 november 1938 to Sofia Vilhelmina Almqvist. He moved very northwards in Sweden to Överluleå parish and died 26 march 1954, in the registers he have been recorded as born in Askersund town parish instead of land parish. If they got any children I will search later.

    • Sten Norell says:

      The fellow who travel together with Oscar Theodor Lindholm from Sweden Carl Johan Brolin were born 25 august 1835, but probably he stayed in Cape Town.

  14. Naomi says:

    Your page is out dated and new a renewal. It is a good page but much has change in Omaruru

    • Anders says:

      My page and its posts reflects things I did at a certain time. I am no longer permanently in Namibia but if I should return and visit Omaruru again I would love to write another post of it.

      • Jossel says:

        Thank you Anders for the historical information you have provided the world. Me as a descendant of Zeraeua am very much humbled by your generosity for providing such an outstanding accord to my ancestor.

  15. Håkan Wasén says:

    Hallå–Det verkar som om jag fortfarande har släktingar i Omaruru. Har haft kontakt med bl a Peter Johansson som träffat dem men de tror tydligen att de är tyskättlingar.

    Här är lite info om Omaruru.
    Min morfars pappa, Ernst Tretow, hade en tvillingbror son åkte till Afrika 1875 och dog i Omaruru 1926.
    Tvillingbrodern hette Emil H(Herman) och är begravd på den ”vita kyrkogården ” Omaruru municipal cemetary.
    Där ligger också Emils svärfar Jacobus Jansen 1848-1928 begravd. Jacobus hade gift sig med en kvinna ur hereofolket och sålunda blev parets barn klassade som färgade och begravdes därför på de svartas kyrkogård S I Gobs.
    Även Emil Tretow gifte sig med en färgad kvinna som vi inte vet namnet på-Det står bara ”ohelig” om henne.
    Emil och hans fru fick en son Edward Willems Tretow f 1885 d 1945.
    Edward Willems gifte sig med en dotter till ovan nämnde Jacobus. Eftersom både Willem och Katharina var ”blandras” blev de klassade som färgade och begravdes på den svarta kyrkogården S I Gobs. 1945 (Willem)respektive 1946.
    Edward Willem och Katarina fick två döttrar Charlotte f 1914 d,1935 och Emelie (vår anmoders släktnamn) Jacoba Ngunovandu f 1925. båda begravda på kyrkogården i Ozondje
    Det finns också en Edward Tretow f.1930 död 1995 som jag inte kan få in i scemat.
    Emelie har en dotter som lever Marghet Ngunovandu-Tretow.
    Litet släktträd
    Emil Tretow –okänd hererokvinna.
    Barn:
    Willem-(gift med Katarina Jansen)
    Barn: Charlotte,Emelia Jacoba
    Emilia Jacoba gift med okänd
    Edward Tretow
    Barn :
    Margeth Ngunovandu
    Vet någon vem Jacobus Janssen kan ha fått sina barn med och även Emil? Hustrurna nämns bara som oheliga.

    • Anders says:

      Så intressant!

      Jag har en vän (herero) som bor strax utanför Omaruru. Han visade en bild på sin farfars far eller liknande som var en stor man med tydligt “blandat” utseende och i släkten pratade man om en skotsk smed som varit “inblandad”. Jag tror absolut att släktberättelser lätt kan blanda ihop nationaliteter osv.

  16. Håkan Wasén says:

    Hejsan..Nu planerar jag att åka till Omaruru i början av december för att få kontakt med “släkten”. Har du några resetips? Jag har tyvärr ingen reskamrat på färden från Windhoek till Omaruru.Kan man köra ensam?

    • Anders says:

      Hej, att köra från Windhoek till Omaruru ska inte innebära några problem.

      Lämnar du stora vägen vid Wilhelmstal och kör C36 så är det bra grusväg resten. I december kan det ju ha kommit regn så har du möjlighet att köra 4WD så är det en fördel.

      Fortsätter du till Karibib och kör C33 är det lite längre men jag tror det är asfalt hela vägen så har du en enklare bil kan den vara att föredra.

      Återkom gärna med berättelser från ditt besök!

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