Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Namibia: God's Own Country?

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Namibia: God's Own Country?

Article excerpt

NAMIBIA: GOD'S OWN COUNTRY? Le Malentendu Colonial (Colonial Misunderstanding). A film produced and directed by Jean-Marie Teno. Distributed by California Newsreel. 73 minutes. French, English, and German with English subtitles, 2004.

On the Way to Whiteness: Christianization, Conflict and Change in Colonial Ovamboland, 1910-1965. By Kari Miettinen. Bibliotheca Historica 92. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2005. Pp 370; 13 illustrations, 8 tables, 2 figures. euro 29.00 paper.

Hues between Black and White: Historical Photography from Colonial Namibia 1860s to 1915. Edited by Wolfram Hartmann. Windhoek: Out of Africa, 2004. Pp vii, 236; numerous photographs. N$370.00.

Histories of Namibia: Living through the Liberation Struggle. Collected by Colin Leys and Susan Brown. London: Merlin Press, 2005. Pp.vii, 165. £14.95.

There are many things that are unique about Namibia, one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, yet displaying striking cultural diversity. Perhaps one of its most fascinating features is that it is statistically the most Christian country in Africa and the heavily populated north has the highest density of Lutherans in the world. Another conspicuous fact that begs to be explained is that while most of Africa, and especially South Africa, has historically seen numerous "Independent" churches, Namibia has seen comparatively few such churches (e.g., the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Herero-speaking Oruano Church). Of course nowadays Pentecostals and Evangelicals are, as in most of Africa, impressing with their recent inroads.

Intrigued by a claim for restitution made in a sermon at the headquarters of the former Rhenish Mission Society in Germany by Namibian Bishop Zephania Kameeta at an event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the most brutal colonial war in Namibia, Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno set out to examine colonialism as filtered through Christian evangelization. Teno's Le Malentendu colonial is the latest of a long line of films Teno has made including the 1992 classic "L'Afrique, je te plumerais" ("Africa, I'm going to fleece you"). Namibia is an obvious site for such an investigation.

The film is Afropolitanism at its best. The Namibian informal settlement he films is called "DRC." Not only has Teno been based in France since 1977 but he interviews Camaroonians and Togolese academics both in Africa and in Europe as well as the standard gang of Whites-retired missionaries, some clearly past their "sell by" date, and researchers. One does wonder though why there were no Namibian critics of missionization. Perhaps this lack is a political statement? With brief brush strokes, perhaps to the point of oversimplification, he traces the collaboration between missionaries and colonial powers but continually makes provocative points, such as the argument that Africans gave Europeans rights to land because they knew that if they left they could not take it with them. He also quotes a Prof. Ewane (a Cameroonian) "I can forgive the Westerners for taking away my land ... but not for taking away my mind and soul." And his provocative concluding statement: Are NGOs, so common on the scene, simply a form of missionization bolstering ties of dependency? All stirring stuff, but perhaps with a touch of irony since they are debating in terms historically set by the missionaries.

Kari Miettinen on the other hand shows how complex and messy the process of missionization can be with his fine study on the Finnish (Lutheran) Missionary Society in Owambo. Largely a closed area during the South African era, the northern and most populous region of the country, Owambo has seen a spate of good studies completed since independence. This includes work by Hayes, Kreike, and McKittrick1 (who generously allowed Miettinen access to their field transcripts), and now increasingly local scholars as well. A potential treasure trove still waiting to be explored is the archives of the Finnish Missionary Society, whose members have been in Owambo for over 150 years. …

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