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Compiling: Antje Otto-Reiner
The history of the National Museum of Namibia may be divided into four periods.
The first is the German period, dating back to the time before World War I when the museum was known as „Landesmuseum“.
This is followed by a short post-war period during which the collections were largely kept in storage.
From 1926 until 1957, when the South West Africa Scientific Society on behalf of the Administration for South West Africa acted as caretaker of the museum, it was known as the „South West Africa Museum“.
In 1957, the museum was renamed the „State Museum“ and placed under the direct control of the Administration for South West Africa initially, the Departments of Education in Pretoria and Windhoek respectively, and finally, after Namibia’s independence under the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Since 1995 the museum is known as „National Museum of Namibia“ and in 2005 it became part of the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture.
[...] 1912: Professor August Gries of the German „Realschule“ was elected chairman of the museum committee.
During his term of office the museum received numerous donations, among them 33 meteorites from the Gibeon-area, which were at the time regarded as the second largest collection in the world.
In addition, a large number of books and complete series of local newspapers such as the „Keetmanshoper Zeitung“, the „Windhuker Nachrichten“ („Südwestbote“), and the „Windhoeker Anzeiger“ / “Deutsch-Südwestafrikanische Zeitung“ were donated to the museum.
1913: The museum collections were moved to the newly-erected community school („Gemeindeschule“), where they could be viewed by the public.
A report in the local press praised the impressive displays and urged every newcomer to visit the museum. A major collection of ethnographica was received from Schuckmannsburg in the Zambezi region. Several knives and sheaths from this collection were entered under the number 10 in the original list of objects, sent by Police Sergeant Fischer and Oberleutnant von Frankenberg to the Landesmuseum; although the knives are no longer included in the sets, the sheaths are still part of the ethnological study collection and have the numbers SME 114 and SME 115.
1914: With the outbreak of World War I, the chairman and other members of the museum committee were called up for active service. Subsequently, the government chemist, Dr Renz, and a school teacher of the „Realschule“, Mr Meiss, acted as curators of the collections until 1915.
As no effort was made to have the museum collections declared neutral property, the bulk of the collections was stolen by the occupational forces. Soon afterwards, the few remaining collections were taken over by the Administration for South West Africa who handed them to the Municipality of Windhoek. They were packed and stored at the German School Hostel (today day care centre for children in Bismarck Street).
1920: Two of the meteorites, which had been donated to the museum in 1912 were sent to museums in Cape Town and Pretoria by the Town Council, never to be returned.
1924: The few remaining collections were moved from the German School Hostel to a store room at the Town Council’ Chambers.
1926: After the South West Africa Scientific Society had been founded in 1925, the Administration for South West Africa entrusted it with the organization and management of the museum collections „until such time as the financial control thereof had been definitely decided upon“.
The Society and the museum were allocated the mess and two adjoining rooms in the Officers’ Casino, formerly known as the „Kommissariat“ where the museum collections had been housed between 1903 and 1908.
1927-1929: After minor upgrading of the Casino building, the museum collections were transported to the Casino building. The specimens were preliminarily sorted and arranged by Messrs Paul Barth and Mylo. The only assistance, which the Administration for South West Africa could grant towards the museum at this stage was the purchase of large display cases for an amount of £890.
1928: The collection of meteorites was displayed in Zoo Garden in central Windhoek. The original sealing press of the Herero chief Maharero, which was used to seal the official documents and treaties during the 19th century was offered to the museum for sale by Professor Dinter. Since the museum did not have the necessary funds it was instead purchased by Mr Ernst Rusch of the farm Lichtenstein, who then donated the sealing press to the museum during the 1950s.
1929: The director of the King William’s Town Museum, Captain Shortridge, visited the museum collections and urged the appointment of a curator. However, due to the financial stringency this application was turned down by the Administration for South West Africa. Another one of the museum’s meteorites was sent to the British Museum.
1931: With the help of a lay-museologist from Germany, Mr J.H. Wilhelm, the collections were arranged and classified. Mr Wilhelm received a remuneration of £30 for his services.
1932: For the first time since 1915, the collections were opened to the public again. The average attendance for the year was 20 visitors per day. Dr G.P.J. Trümpelmann was elected honorary curator of the collections. […]
MUSEUM DIRECTORS (1957-2007)
MUSEUM CURATORS (1907-2007)
Honorable Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport & Culture
In 2007 Namibia is celebrating various centenaries and milestones in Namibian history. In addition to the commemoration of the ending of the war between the Nama and Herero people against the German colonial government, the proclamation of Etosha National Park and the start of the karakul industry, 2007 also commemorates the 100th birthday of our National Museum.
The Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport & Culture can indeed express its pride for being closely associated with this institution, which can be regarded as the most important custodian of Namibian heritage. Much has been achieved during the 100 years since Namibia’s Landesmuseum was founded under humble circumstances.
Times were not always easy for the museum. There were the years when the South West Africa Scientific Society acted as caretaker of the museum, and it was the dedication, devoted effort and perseverance on the part of a few individuals only, which kept the museum going.
Again, during the 1970s, the museum was controlled by the Department of Education in Pretoria, and decisions for the museum were taken by individuals thousands of kilometers away, which severely hampered work progress. In spite of these obstacles, the museum has experienced development and progress in every respect.
The collections have grown into large heritage banks, which are frequented by many visitors; museum personnel and research expertise has extended and is regularly being consulted. For decades the National Museum has been working in close co-operation with other national and international scientific institutions.
The distribution of the museum’s scientific journal Cimbebasia, which was started in 1962, has largely contributed to make the museum known world-wide. Most foreign scientists and scholars on their way into Namibia pass through the National Museum. Furthermore, the museum’s educational programs have been active on a national level, the museum’s infrastructure has improved by the availability of adequate building facilities, and, most important, the financial management has been put on a solid footing.
In recent years the museum has also been the recipient of special grants allocated by various foreign missions in Namibia. The remarkable accomplishment of the National Museum of Namibia is rooted in the multitude of enthusiastic members of the general public and dedicated museum directors and members of staff, who supported the museum through their invaluable donations, expertise, devotion and hard work.
It is our hope that the tender seedling, which was planted 100 years ago and has since grown into a large tree, will develop further and receive continued support and co-operation from all sections of the Namibian and international communities.
Head & Deputy-Director, National Museum of Namibia
The National Museum of Namibia: Safeguarding our heritage to build our future
The National Museum of Namibia could be described as the cultural and scientific equivalent of the Bank of Namibia. The aim of the museum is to preserve and protect our most precious national treasures.
However, it is far, far more than a very large storage cupboard. Since taking up my post as the Head of the Museum, I have sought to transform the image of the Museum. Whilst we have important collections of objects that reflect Namibia’s rich and diverse heritage, I believe that it is important that our Museum builds stronger connections with our communities, so that Namibians understand better why we spend so much time, energy and resources on building up our collections and cataloguing information about the thousands of objects that they contain.
The displays that are created from some of the objects in our vast collections can render subjects such as Science and History more attractive for learners. The National Museum of Namibia therefore initiated an annual open day to encourage schools to visit the Museum and to give learners the opportunity to see with their own eyes examples of our precious rock art, to learn about the experiences of Namibians who were imprisoned on Robben Island or to see how we marked our independence in 1990.
Our displays show what is unique and special about Namibia and assist to give our young people pride in their country. We are also exploring the possibility of making our displays more accessible by developing mobile exhibitions that can travel around the country.
Our extensive collections are a valuable resource for scientists who wish to conduct research on issues of vital importance to Namibia, such as desertification, the cultural traditions and value systems of different ethnic groups, the medicinal properties of different indigenous plants, etc.
Collections that are housed at the National Museum have been assembled over a number of years and they are well documented and can help us to understand how Namibia has changed over time and they constitute an important tool to plan for the future.
We have developed links with national institutions of research and of higher education, and are determined to develop our role as an important research partner. The displays of the National Museum of Namibia can also be seen as ‘signposts’ that encourage tourists to travel throughout our country and to visit regional museums.
We are one of the first stops for many tourists arriving in Namibia through Hosea Kutako International Airport and provide them with an initial impression of our multi-layered history, the variety of our plants and wildlife, and Namibia’s rich cultural diversity.
The National Museum of Namibia is proud of the role that it is playing in independent Namibia. Our collections (that have been built up over the last 100 years) are the foundation on which we build our educational programmes, research projects and new exhibitions. At the National Museum of Namibia we believe that our heritage is our most important resource and that it must be kept safe for the benefit of future generations.