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Editors: lone & Jalmar Rudner
This is the last of five joint publications by Jalmar (1917-2003) and Ione Rudner on early Swedish travellers and pioneers in nineteenth-century south-western Africa.
The renowned trader and ornithologist Axel Wilhelm Eriksson features prominently in each of them.
Rosenblad’s narrative of events in the last decade of the century included his participation in the strenuous Hartmann Expedition along the coast, other journeys and adventures, encounters with the indigenous peoples, and internecine strife in the territory at the time of the German occupation.
This is a travel log from 1896 by Rosenblad, now translated into English, 111 years later.
Some years ago this writer again met an old friend and relative, Eberhard Rosenblad, and the encounter was the more surprising as our paths had not crossed since his return from a five-year sojourn [1894–1898] in Portuguese Angola and German South West Africa.
Soon enough our conversation centred on his adventures out there in the vast open spaces, and on my questioning him whether he had any notes of his travels, he replied that he had both diary notes as well as a manuscript describing the events.
However, as he could not imagine that the account of his travels would be of any interest to the general public, he had not seen it necessary to complete it in detail. The manuscript had been circulated among his friends and acquaintances.
The adventures that have been presented here with the kind approval of the author are excerpts from this unpublished manuscript and thus all details are factual.
It should be mentioned that the entire manuscript was examined by Professor Einar Lönnberg of the Natural History Museum [Riksmuseet, Stockholm] who commented positively on it.
The journey from Sweden [in the summer of 1894] was in the company of Axel Eriksson, originally from Vänersborg, who had spent many years in south-west Africa and had a sizable business dealing in ostrich feathers, ivory, cattle, etc., and had just paid a visit to his homeland, as well as the latter’s youngest brother Reinhold and two young men, Oskar Nyberg and Efraim Eriksson, the latter not related to the brothers.
The leader of the expedition was Axel Eriksson, at that time a man of about 50 years [48 years]. The aim of the expedition was to penetrate into the interior of south-west Africa and to carry on trading with cattle and local produce.
The voyage went from Gothenburg via England where most of the equipment for the expedition was purchased, and via Lisbon to the little town of Mossamedes [now Namibe] on the west coast of Africa, from where the journey to the interior set off, and it was not long before the adventures commenced.
Chapter 1: Boer wagons. The rivers in Southern Africa. Leader of the ox-team taken by a lion. Something about lion hunting.
From Heigamchab the journey continued to Otjimbingwe, but slowly and carefully so that the oxen could recover, something that was very necessary. There I once again spent a couple of pleasant days with Lieutenant Schwabe. Eriksson now decided to make a detour to Windhoek to discuss certain matters with the German governor,58 and Schwabe, who had service matters to attend to, accompanied him.
I was to continue to Okahandja with all the wagons to await Eriksson’s return there. We broke up simultaneously for our respective destinations. When we outspanned after the first leg of the journey, I noticed to my regret that I had lost my notebook. As this could possibly have been forgotten at Schwabe’s place, I decided to return to Otjimbingwe on foot. After giving orders that the rest of the team were not to wait for me as I could easily catch up with the wagons at the next outspan, I set off and arrived at Schwabe’s residence soon after sunset.
The sergeant-major opened [the house] for me and 1 found my notebook lying on a table as I had expected. The non-commissioned officer told me that a countryman of mine called Tretow59 had just arrived at Otjimbingwe, and as I had often heard about him from Eriksson by whom he had been employed, I quickly wanted to see him before I returned to the wagons.
I met the man just as he was going to bed, but he did not get to that because we talked all night. Towards morning I wanted to get away, but Tretow would not permit that under any circumstances. He insisted that I would easily get an opportunity to travel faster and more comfortably than on foot, and he finally succeeded in persuading me to stay till the evening.
At dusk a native arrived with a horse which had been sent from the wagons to enable me to catch up with them on horseback. When I inspected the saddle, however, I found that the otherwise excellent animal had a terrible wound on its back, so that I could not use the horse.
When a wagon was just about to leave in the direction of Okahandja, Tretow asked the owner to take me along, and I accepted the opportunity with gratitude. The native was ordered to follow and lead the horse. At midnight we outspanned to rest for the night.
This did not fit in with my plans, however, because I would not catch up with the wagons in that way until reaching Okahandja, therefore I decided to continue on foot. I left at 2 o’clock in the night, accompanied by the native who led the horse. The night was dark and cold, and we moved fast until dawn when the native asked that the horse be allowed to graze for a couple of hours.
This was naturally permitted, but I marched on after having forbidden him with terrible threats to mount the poor animal. At about 9 o’clock in the morning a German soldier on horseback caught up with me; he was on his way to Barmen. He told me that there was no watering-place this side of Barmen, and that at best I would get there far into the night.
This prospect was not the most pleasant as the sun was already burning terribly, and the fine dust dried my throat still more. The soldier who could not walk his horse all the way, of course, rode on. I had taken along neither water nor provisions. I rested for a short while in the shade of a tree only at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, after a strenuous march of 12 hours.
Then I continued the journey. Not a living being was to be seen. My thirst became more and more excruciating, and I deeply regretted not having left the damned notebook to its fate. Neither did I call down any blessings on Tretow. After sunset it at least became cooler, but now also sore feet and blisters had been added to my misery, and I was seriously considering lying down next to the road to rest until the next morning.
As it was the end of June or the actual time of winter, however, the night was so cold that I shivered with cold despite the physical exertion; apart from that, the prospect of slaking my thirst drove me on. I could hear the howling of hyenas and jackals around me but, although un-armed, this was a matter of indifference to me.
Even had I heard a lion in the vicinity, it would not have made any impression on me. The night was so dark that I could not see my hand in front of me. I lit a match to look at my watch. It showed 10 o’clock. At that moment I heard a voice close to me and I thought I recognized the word ‘baas’.
To my great delight and surprise the voice was that of our servant Adonis who had been sent with a water-bag to meet me. I was so excited that I almost embraced the ugly chap, but restrained myself and grabbed the water-bag instead and drank, only drank. I was so tired and sick, however, that I threw up the water.
In any case, the unexpected company cheered me up, not least because I was now certain that I had not lost my way, something that I had feared deeply during the past hours. At last, towards midnight, we saw a light and Adonis whispered, ‘Kleen Barmen’ [Klein Barmen].
Now I forgot both sores and fatigue and ran as fast as I could towards the inviting light that came from a temporary hut erected for some German soldiers. Early the next morning Adonis and I continued walking, and after a short stay at Gross Barmen we reached our wagons, the distance of a march from Okahandja, and now I no longer regretted that I had fetched my precious notebook but looked back on my privations with a certain amount of pleasure.
From Okahandja, where Eriksson joined us, the journey continued to Grootfontein60 where we met a German called Hartmann, who was a director for the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft fur Südwestafrika [DKG].61 This man, with whom I was later to have further contact, was a doctor in mathematics and a lieutenant in the Saxon army, a lively and talented man.
He worked hard, mapped large areas, and equipped several expeditions to explore the unknown areas within the Concession, but I believe that eventually he be-came rather expensive for the company. Hartmann said that we had arrived at a very opportune time, because on the following day a couple of new buildings were to be inaugurated at a dinner and a dance to which the most important Boer families had been invited, and he also invited us to the celebrations.
At the appointed time we arrived at the party where about forty people were gathered. Hartmann acted the host with the assistance of a couple of German non-commissioned officers who were employed in the service of the Company. In spite of the doctor being an entertaining and excellent host who did all he could to raise the humour of the guests, the atmosphere was oppressed and dinner was eaten in silence.
When the tedious meal had finally come to an end, the dinner tables were carried out, the room was cleared for dancing, and a large battery of bottles of beer was placed on a small table in a corner. The music was provided by means of a giant music-box, and soon the mood was more cheerful.
German waltzes, polkas, and schottisches were danced. The ladies had never taken part in anything but ‘Boeredans’ [Boer dancing], and therefore toes were frequently stepped upon, a discomfort that did not produce any sour faces. The main objective seemed to be that everything had to move fast. Eventually the old Boers, who had faithfully remained in the beer corner were in a better mood, and they also took part in the dancing.
There was general applause when old Eriksson, who had sat silently looking on all the time, quite suddenly grabbed an elderly fat Boer wife round the waist and joined in a polka. The rafters rang with mirth and the dancing continued until after midnight.
But then the gallants stayed on with their glasses of beer right until the dawn. There was almost a little disharmony late in the night when Eriksson gave some old Boers a lecture on Darwinism and told them that all of us were descended from apes. This the old Boers regarded as an insult to their dignity, and I almost believe that for a while they thought of restoring their wounded pride with a quiet fight.
After a while, however, they calmed down and all ended peacefully. Afterwards and unnoticed, I happened to hear a discussion between the old Boers Joubert and Smith62 in which the former stated that it was quite possible that the damned foreigners had baboons as ancestors, but to suggest something like that about the honourable Boers was a bit too much.
Naturally old Smith was in full agreement with this. As soon as the sun had risen, we said farewell and departed from the first and only dance we had attended in the hunting-veld. The oxen were inspanned and before midday we arrived happy and satisfied at our dear Aukas, where our friends, who had been left there, had very impatiently been expecting us. [..]