Oorlam migration

The emergence of industrial capitalism in England during the second half of the 18th century drastically changed the economy of the satellite Cape Colony. Urban centres grew and
farmers moved progressively inland, claiming land and resources further and further away from the reach of the English authorities in the Cape Colony. The Boer farmers' freedoms were won largely at the expense of the local Khoisan population who lost their land, their hunting grounds and livestock, and even their liberty, as many became servants or even slaves of these European farmers.

In the wake of these developments a new group of frontiers people emerged. These were the Oorlams, a mixed bunch of Khoi-khoi, runaway slaves, and people of mixed race descent who worked for the Boer farmers and traders as hunters and guides. They were baptized, had access to guns and horses and had shed the traditional lifestyles of other Nama groups. Some of these formed themselves into commandos, autonomous groups living separate from the European farmers and traders, surviving by hunting, trading and raiding the cattle of the Nama tribes living over the Orange River into southern Namibia.

Early missionary reports at the time described the Nama tribes of southern Namibia to be living in highly organized communities numbering in some cases more than 1000 individuals. They had large herds of cattle, sheep and goats, and were completely self- sufficient, producing all their own food and manufacturing the reed mats for their huts, as well as growing tobacco and
. The different Nama tribes co-existed peacefully, sharing and respecting each other's water and grazing rights.

Initial contact between the first Oorlam groups to cross the Orange River and the local Nama tribes was relatively peaceful, but as more and more Oorlams poured over the river, demanding watering and grazing rights, the level of conflict increased to open warfare. Although the Nama were superior in numbers to the Oorlams, they had far fewer guns and horses and with their large herds of livestock were less mobile than the Oorlams. Consequently the Oorlams were soon able to establish footholds in the region from where they continued to harry and raid the Nama tribes.

During a 40-year period up until the 1840s, southern Namibia - or Namaland as it became to be known - was in a virtually constant state of turmoil. Traditional patterns of living were disrupted, a new economy emerged and previously pastoral people started to settle in more permanent settlements.

In the 1840s Chief Oaseb, a paramount Nama chief, and
Jonker Afrikaner
, the foremost Oorlam leader, struck a deal that allowed Nama and Oorlam groups to live in peace. This deal was struck against the increasing realization that there was now little difference between the Oorlam and the Nama. The intense struggle for land and water had brought the two groups close together and intermarriage had become commonplace, so that making distinctions between the two groups was increasingly difficult. Furthermore, Herero-speaking groups who had been migrating southwards for almost 100 years were threatening the common interests of both Oorlam and Nama.

Oaseb and Afrikaner divided the land south of Windhoek amongst themselves and Afrikaner was declared overlord of the Herero lands north of the Swakop River up as far as the Waterberg Plateau. By force of arms, Afrikaner was able to maintain his hegemony over these Herero groups with their large herds of cattle, and in so doing was able to control loosely most of central and southern Namibia. Until his death in 1861, Jonker Afrikaner was probably the single most influential leader in this part of Namibia.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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