Warmbad Namibia – more than just a forgotten settlement

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warmbad

Photo © Peter Cunningham

Text and photographs Peter Cunningham

When one thinks of aerial bombing campaigns, the horrors of the Blitz on London and the firestorms consuming Dresden during WWII come to mind, but few would associate the forgotten village of Warmbad in southern Namibia with such calamity.

warmbad

Photo © Peter Cunningham

 

This occurred during 1922 when the Bondelswarts people – a Nama tribe – resisted a hunting-dog tax or alternatively changes to the borders of their reserve (depending on references used), and were consequently bombed and strafed for their pains by the South African Air Force, resulting in the loss of 115 souls.

The bombing of the Warmbad environs was one of the first operations by the South African Air Force. It included the bombing of striking white miners during the Rand Revolt around Johannesburg in the same year. Other early bombing operations conducted in Namibia (then South West Africa) included the Rehoboth rebellion in 1925 and Ovamboland in 1939 when a chief refused to surrender alleged murderers to the police.

Warmbad (Afrikaans for hot bath) originates from the direct translation of the Nama name /Aixa-aibes. The town was also referred to by certain missionaries as Nisbett Bath, and has an interesting if not chequered history. The settlement was the headquarters of the /Gami-Inûn, a Nama tribe commonly referred to as the Bondelswarts (translated from Afrikaans as black bundle), who traded with the Cape Colony following their arrival in the area during the late 18th century.

warmbad

Photo © Peter Cunningham

Jacobus Coetzee is acknowledged as the first documented European to cross the Orange River, and returned with the name Warmbad in 1760. Warmbad initially served as a stopover for traders, adventurers and large-game hunters from the Cape Colony, with divine intervention overhauling it in 1805 when two missionaries from the London Missionary Society, Abraham and Christian Albrecht, erected a church and a pastor’s house, thereby establishing the first mission station in Namibia in 1806.

These two buildings were the first European-style buildings on Namibian soil, although both buildings were destroyed during 1811 by the local community under leadership of Jager Afrikaner (father of the famous Jan Jonker Afrikaner), who detested the European influence. The Wesleyan missionary Edward Cook erected a new missionary building on the foundations of the destroyed buildings in 1834, baptising 437 converts before being buried in a grave that has since been proclaimed a national monument on the outskirts of town. The faith of the community was later taken up by the Rhenish Missionary Society, which built a school in 1868 and a church in 1877.

Today the visionless will behold a forlorn excuse of a town sprawling in the dust, but know this: in its heyday Warmbad contributed to the saga that shaped modern Namibia.

warmbad

Photo © Peter Cunningham

This was followed by a hiatus, but the settlement livened up again during the German colonial period when Imperial Germany declared its territorial rights over South West Africa, built a fort in 1905 and stationed Schutztruppe (German colonial troops) to counter the Herero and Nama uprising during the German Nama War that waged from 1903 to 1913.

On 25 October 1903 a dispute about judicial power and the right to possess weapons arose between the Bondelswarts Nama and the Germans. The then Bondelswarts Chief, Jan Abraham Christian, and German District Chief, Lieutenant Walter Jobst, were killed during a violent clash in Warmbad, after which the Bondelswarts rose up against the Germans. Another colourful player during this guerrilla war was the renowned Jakob Marengo, virtual nemesis of the Schutztruppe, who even had the audacity to attack Warmbad in 1904. At his side was his second-in-command, Abraham Morris, who had a Scottish father and a !Gami-#nun mother.

Marengo and Morris continued the war in the Great Karas Mountains where, as reported, Marengo exercised an ‘unusual human war style’, even taking some captured wounded German soldiers over the border to Pella for medical treatment – a chivalrous deed in a dirty war of extermination as pursued by the Schutztruppe. After his release from Tokai prison in Cape Town, Jakob Marengo returned to fight the Germans, but his luck ran out and he was eventually killed in action by a South African patrol in the Cape Colony during 1907.

warmbad

Photo © Peter Cunningham

A plaque commemorating his resistance lies north of Warmbad close to the graves of Edward Cook and various other forgotten warriors of the German Nama War and WWI. After serving as a scout to British forces in Namibia during WWI, Abraham Morris was killed during 1922 near the Orange River. This gave rise to a famous South African novel, James Ambrose Brown’s The return, which was modelled on Morris’s life story.

In 1908 the first swimming pool was built at the |Aixa-aibes Hot Springs, and the settlement gained district status in 1910. However, Warmbad lost its original importance as a stopover during this time and became bypassed by railway and road connections with decay becoming de rigueur. Although some development is evident, including a new spa-like building mantling the hot-water spring, this decay characterises Warmbad, adding to the overall melancholic atmosphere shrouding the town.

warmbad

Edward Cook grave. Photo © Peter Cunningham

Today the visionless will behold a forlorn excuse of a town sprawling in the dust, but know this: in its heyday Warmbad contributed to the saga that shaped modern Namibia.

This article was originally published in the Flamingo April 2012 print publication. 

 

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Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

3 Comments

  1. As a grandchild of a family who lived in Warmbad from the 1920’s it is important to comment on one specific piece of history, which I believe is incorrect. The Nama differences with the Germans who led to the war between them was not about authority. My version, as told by my grandfather was as follows: The German soldiers built a fort, sleeping courters and also develop a veggie garden in Warmbad. The Namas, as farmes, had a herd of goats. these goats repeatedly demolished the German soldier’s veggie garden. the Germans captured the goats and detained it in the fort. The Namas “stole” the goats and the German soldiers try to take it back with force. A serious clash followed with a German soldier killed a Nama. this was the start of the Nama/German war in Warmbad, Namibia.

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