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Hornkranz - biography of a place

Avatar of inke inke - 12. avril 2019 - Discover Namibia

The legendary Nama leader Hendrik Witbooi and his people settled near this spring called “Hornkranz” around 1887. (Photo: Brigitte Weidlich)

Brigitte Weidlich

The farm Hornkranz is situated in the Khomas Hochland south-west of Windhoek and has an interesting history. An inglorious surprise attack by the German Schutztruppe on the clan of the legendary Nama "Captain" Hendrik Witbooi on 12 April 1893 - exactly 126 years ago today - brought Hornkranz a firm place in the history books. Two memorial stones and the graves of two German colonial soldiers at the house remind visitors of a most tragic event.

The legendary Nama leader and his people settled near the spring called “Hornkranz” around 1887. Since ancient times, the first people used the natural spring in the Goab River. This small river leads to the Kuiseb River. During German colonial times a police station was constructed on the nearby plain. The area was later divided into farms; the police station building today serves as the family home for the current farm owner.

The farm saw many owners come and go. Several graves bear silent witness to that. The current farm owners use the horse stables that serviced the German police station as a kraal for their livestock.

Early Days

The Khomas Hochland mountain range and its steep gorges expand to the Kuiseb River, which winds its way through the Namib Desert to the Atlantic Ocean. In the centre of the Hochland is the high, level plateau of the Gamsberg Mountain. The Hochland mountains have for thousands of years provided shelter for hunters and gatherers as well as wild animals. Proof of this are ancient rock paintings recently discovered by university lecturers Pieter van Rooyen and André du Pisani on the farms Hornkranz and Hornkranz-Süd.

During the 1800s many Nama and Herero communities used the gorges and valleys of the Khomas Hochland as travel routes, where water could also be found.

Origin of the Name

The name of the spring “Hornkranz” in the Goab River is German and means “ring of animal horns”. The spring is situated deep in the rocks of the river bend. Apparently large groups of antelopes would drink there. Animals pushing forward from behind would trample the antelopes at the water to death or push them over the edge so they fell into the rocks, where they died. This information is contained in the book “Encyclopedia of place names in Namibia” written by A.P.J. Albertyn. Older Nama-speaking Namibians have similar memories, but add that later cattle, sheep and goats would also plunge down the rocks and die due to thirst and pushing by the herds.

The spelling of Hornkranz sometimes deviated over the years due to Dutch and Afrikaans influence to “Hoornkrans”. The Nama people call it “natas” in their language, with a click sound on the “n”. It means “sweat”. The explanation given is as follows: at Hornkranz the spring water that seeps out of the rocks runs down in thin trickles, which look like sweat running down the faces of human beings.

The Heitsi-Eibeb

After a 120-kilometre trip one reaches the turnoff to Hornkranz. Just a few metres behind the farm gate a large heap of stones under a tree becomes visible. The indigenous people say this is a “heitsi-eibeb”, a resting place for the demigod Heitsi.

The Heitsi (sometimes called “Heiseb” by early historians) was half human, half god according to the indigenous mythology. In his book “South West Africa in Early Times” the historian and missionary Heinrich Vedder writes that Heitsi was born human, but had exceptional capabilities. Heitsi means “like a tree” according to Vedder, who gathered this information from the locals. Soon after Heitsi died, Heitsi rose again and again and is said to live in tree tops.

The Heitsi-Eibeb at farm Hornkranz. (Photo: Brigitte Weidlich)

A “beb”, being a heap of stones, is thus the place where the Heitsi takes a rest, writes Andreas Vogt. In his book “National monuments in Namibia” Vogt notes that people passing a Heitsi-Eibeb, a symbolic resting place of Heitsi, add a stone and pray for a good journey or a favourable outcome - still today!

Now back to the Heitsi-Eibeb at Hornkranz. The elders say that Nama-leader Hendrik Witbooi and his men used to stop at this stone heap to ask for a positive outcome. Standing today at this spot one can visualise Witbooi and his warriors riding past.

Witbooi settles at Hornkranz

Around 1860 several Nama-speaking groups under Kido Witbooi arrived from South Africa’s northern Cape Province in then South West Africa after crossing the Orange (Gariep) River. In 1863 they settled at the Kachatsus water spring along the Fish River. Kido Witbooi renamed it Gibeon. His grandson Hendrik was about 36 years old. The Witboois lived from cattle raids they launched against other Nama clans and the nomadic Hereros.

By 1880 serious warfare against the Hereros started. Around 1884 Hendrik moved northwards with about 300 followers. He reportedly did not get on too well with his father Moses Witbooi, who had in the meantime succeeded Kido. Around March 1888 Hendrik and his people settled at Hornkranz. Some sources noted it was 1887.

Within a short time, Hendrik established himself as leader or “Captain” (Kaptein). Hornkranz expanded and became a big village with hundreds of huts. Hornkranz was surrounded by a one-metre high wall built from loose stones.

The legendary Nama "Captain" Hendrik Witbooi. (National Archive of Namibia)

In the meantime, the German colonial government established itself and concluded so-called “protection treaties” with various traditional leaders. Witbooi was against this practice. In order to set an example and to break Witbooi’s power, the imperial governor at that time, Major Curt von Francois with 200 soldiers launched a surprise attack against Hornkranz on 12 April 1893, killing 80 people, many of them women and children (see Attack against Hornkranz). Witbooi himself was able to flee with almost all the men who were fit to bear arms. Two German soldiers lost their lives. Historic sources disagree as to whether von Francois went against a general order from the foreign office in Berlin to refrain from military action or whether the instruction had been changed. Shortly after the attack von Francois was demoted and in 1894 called back to Berlin.

Various owners of Hornkranz

Witbooi and other local groups never settled permanently again at Hornkranz after 1893. The area was declared crown land under German rule as shown on an official map from 1902. German settlers could apply for farmland. The first owner of farm Hornkranz was Curt Bieder, an engineer from Berlin, who arrived in the country in 1906. In 1907 both Bieder and Eduard Zachau applied to purchase the farm of over 10 000 hectares. Zachau was successful, but in 1908, he lost ownership, after it was discovered he had falsely declared the size of his cattle herd to receive the 4000 Mark startup capital from the colonial government for farmers. Bieder could thus buy the farm.

In 1910 the authorities planned the construction of a police station with horse stables on the farm. Construction was completed in 1911. Since the end of German colonial rule, the police station has been used as the family home by the various farm owners.

In 1927 Bieder sold 320 hectares to Arwed Scholl and in 1928 he sold the remaining 10 670 ha to Barend Smit. From then on Hornkranz saw many owners and it was divided into Hornkranz and Hornkranz-Süd. In 1949 the main farm of now 9661 hectares was auctioned off. Just six weeks later two members of a family of Huguenot descent bought it. A descendent remained there until his death in 2006. He had sold the farm in 1999 to the current owners but had the right to continue living there.

This man fell in love with a young indigenous woman, but his family did not approve of the liaison. The two lovers stayed in a container dwelling on Hornkranz. The love did not last long and soon the young woman deserted him. He stayed in the containers until his death in 2006. A plaque was mounted there on a rock in remembrance of him.

The Curse

There are many stories about some neighbouring farms surrounding Hornkranz. There are tales of deadly fires and fatal car accidents. At least one farmhouse is said to be haunted to this day. The once good rangeland for cattle farming with strong grass growth after good rains has become drier since the end of the seventies. Poorer rainfalls are being recorded currently.

The one or the other retired Nama-speaking farm worker would upon some gentle prodding lower his voice and speak about an alleged curse of the legendary Hendrik Witbooi, who by the way was a staunch Christian. Since the deadly attack by German colonial troops on Hornkranz in 1893, the souls of those who perished cannot find peace, it is said.

Only the Heitsi-Eibeb might know if the area was cursed or not.

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