Hendrik Witbooi, a strategic political fighter

Known by his people as "!Nanseb Gaib Gabemab" (the snake in the grass), Hendrik Witbooi rallied his Nama people to rise up in a guerrilla war against German imperialism in what is today Namibia.

When did Hendrik Witbooi live? Hendrik Witbooi was born around 1830 in Pella, a district which today is part of the Northern Cape of South Africa and borders Namibia. Witbooi came from a long line of chiefs of the Witbooi Nama, a previously nomadic tribe belonging to the Khoikhoi people of southwestern Africa. In 1863, the Witbooi Nama moved to an area that became known as German South West Africa (now Namibia). There, Hendrik Witbooi received formal education by German missionaries. He later resettled to the mountains southwest of Windhoek, establishing and leading a wellordered Nama community. He died on October 29, 1905, in the village of Vaalgras in a battle against German colonizers.

What was Hendrik Witbooi known for? He was known for his sharp mind, his early recognition of the menace of colonialism, and his calls for warring African tribes to unite against the German colonizers. The Nama were few in number and poorly supplied compared to the German troops. But Witbooi's tenacious tactics earned him the title "!Nanseb Gaib Gabemab" or "the snake in the grass." He was respected by the Germans – the colonial administrator of German South West Africa, General Leutwein wrote of Witbooi: "I still see him before me …modest, yet selfpossessed, loyal yet not without political cunning, never deviating from what he considered his duty or his right." Witbooi communicated extensively with other African and European leaders and UNESCO has registered his letters and diary (written in Dutch) as world documentary heritage.
5 Nov 2019 English Germany History · Education

Other recent episodes

Ahmed Baba: Timbuktu's famous scholar

Ahmed Baba was one of the great African intellectuals of the 16th century. A prolific writer and Islamic scholar, his works include a legal opinion on slavery and a number of biographies of famous jurists. When did Ahmed Baba live? Ahmed Baba was born in 1556. Some sources locate his…
5 Nov 2019 4 min

Bayajida: The legend of Hausa land

Historians doubt that Bayajida existed, but the legend of Bayajida remains powerful. It refers to him as the man whose lineage founded the Hausa nation. The legend is re-enacted yearly in Daura, Nigeria. When did Bayajida live? Most of the Bayajida legend was transmitted through oral history. There is no…
5 Nov 2019 3 min

Queen Muhumuza: Fighting colonialism in East Africa

About a hundred years ago in Uganda, Queen Muhumuza stood against patriarchal, colonial and chauvinist forces. She was a spiritual leader, a military leader and a fighter for social justice. When did Muhumuza live? Queen Muhumuza's exact date of birth is not known but her life history spans from the…
5 Nov 2019 4 min

Amilcar Cabral: The collective liberation

Immersed in the pan-African struggle, Amilcar Cabral led Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde toward independence from the Portuguese colonial authorities, but was assassinated short of achieving this goal. When did Cabral live? Amilcar Cabral was born in 1924 in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau, to Cape-Verdean parents. He grew up in Sao Vicente,…
5 Nov 2019 3 min

Haile Selassie - Ethiopia's 'Lion of Judah

His Imperial Highness Emperor Haile Selassie represented a dynastic line which stretched back centuries. He was an absolute ruler and yet a modernizer who introduced the very reforms which eventually proved his downfall. When did Haile Selassie live? Haile Selassie was born Tafari Makonnen on July 23, 1892, near Harar,…
5 Nov 2019 4 min