Witbooi, Hendrik

1830–1905
Nama leader

Hendrik Witbooi, chief of the Nama people, was a religious leader who fought against German rule in southern Africa. Trained as a carpenter, he became a deacon, an official of the Christian church. Witbooi was born in Pella, a region south of the Orange River, between the nations of NAMIBIA and SOUTH AFRICA. After nearly dying in 1880 in a confrontation with the HERERO people, he came to believe he had a divine mission to lead his Christian Nama followers north to a new homeland.

About 600 Nama set off with Witbooi in 1885. He was promised safe passage by the Herero and hoped to unite his people with them against the Germans. But the Herero, led by Samuel MAHERERO, attacked the Nama. Witbooi lost two of his sons, several dozen followers, and most of his property in the battle. Witbooi led the surviving Nama to safety in the nearby mountains. From there he waged a successful guerrilla war against the Herero, who had signed a treaty with the Germans. The Germans responded to the attack and defeated Witbooi’s forces in 1894. For ten years he cooperated with German colonial forces in southwest Africa, but in 1904 he led his people against Germany again. He was mortally wounded in an attack on the Germans in southern Namibia. (See also Colonialism in Africa.)

Witbooi, Hendrik