Two early maps of Southern Africa

A background to the first map ever produced on the northern part of Namibia
Blomstrand, Christer
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Two early maps of Southern Africa

Author: Christer Blomstrand, 2008
Research: Gunter von Schumann; Christer Blomstrand
Publisher: Macmillan Namibia
Windhoek, 2008
ISBN: 9789991608907
Soft cover, 21x30 cm, 47 pages, throughout bw-photos, 1 fold-up map

About this book:

This book aims to give a background to the first map ever produced on the northern part of Namibia:

Charles John Andersson’s hand-drawn - and to date unpublished - map of 1852.

Foreign explorers travelled and made charts of the African countries they visited, drawing from information supplied by the people they met.

These people made sketches in the sand to illustrate what they knew, they worked as guides, and they directed the explorers’ way around Africa - but were hardly ever mentioned when the explorers returned home with their discoveries.

Indeed, the Africans had, after all, discovered their own continent long before any explorers arrived. To bring this aspect to the fore is an important second aim of this publication.


A discovery in Stockholm
European explorers did not „discover“ Africa: it had already been „discovered“ by the Africans who lived there
Andersson’s first two years in Namibia
The man behind the scenes: Jacob Letterstedt, a Swede in Cape Town
An overview of European map-making
The unknown Swedish emigration to southern Africa
Carl Johan Andersson in Sweden
At long last Lake Ngami
The Okavango River - by mistake
Andersson’s contribution to Namibia
The Avi-Fauna project
The battle at Otjimbingwe
The Kunene River at last: Charles John Andersson’s last journey
Charles John Andersson buried in Angola
Andersson’s astronomical observations
Andersson and Axel Eriksson at the Vanersborg Museum, Sweden
Drawings by Charles John Andersson
Alphabetical listing: Provisional record of Scandinavians in Namibia

A discovery in Stockholm:

A few years ago I was commissioned by the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, to look for ancient maps of Africa in Sweden. The Speaker of Parliament in Cape Town was planning an exhibition on maps, showing how people on other continents had perceived Africa through the centuries, based on the maps that they had drawn.

I managed to find quite a few early world maps in the various archives in Sweden. The research continued at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, even though I knew they only collected manuscripts and hand-made maps rather than printed material.

And interesting it was, but not in the way I had expected. I spoke to Karl Grandin, Head of the Archives at the Academy, and asked for possible early maps of Africa. After some time, having given the matter some deep thought, he said, „There is an old box here with some documents that were sent from Africa a long time ago. Let’s take a look.“

And then he disappeared into the well-guarded archive. The members of the Academy, which was founded in 1739, nominate the Nobel Prizes in both Physics and Chemistry, and their archive contains many secret and valuable documents. Karl Grandin came out with an old cardboard box bound with string. We opened the box together. Inside it we found two folded maps and a handwritten letter of some 30 pages.

I unfolded the first map on a large table. The hand-drawn map measured 900 x 700 mm, and various details had been inscribed on it by hand. It comprised pieces of cardboard pasted onto canvas, making it easy to fold without creasing.

On the left of the map was the Namibian coast, with Walvis Bay prominently indicated; on the eastern side was Lake Ngami’, outlined on a rather large scale. In the bottom right-hand corner the following had been written:

To the Kongliga Vetenskapsakademien [Royal Academy of Sciences] with Charles John Andersson ‘s compliments, Cape Town, November 1852
[Signed] Charles John Andersson

There were also several groups of text all over the map. They had large headlines like „OVAPANYAMA“, „OVAPANGARI“, „JONKER“, „OVAHERERO“, „OVAPANTIERU“ and „AMRAL“, which indicated where various groups lived at the time. Underneath these names, Andersson had added a few lines in which he offered a short description of each group. Where he had marked the course of the Kunene River in the upper left comer of the map, he had added a longer note, which read as follows:

The Nauros or Cunene2 River was discovered by a French Frigate many years ago and then reported as a very fine river. Shortly afterwards several other vessels were sent out to explore it further but strange to say [it] could never be found again. This was a great puzzle and all travellers were requested to make inquires about it.

During our stay in Ovamboland3 we met a man who had been [a] slave with the Portuguese but had succeeded in making his escape. He informed us that the Cunene, just before coming to the Sea is shut up by sand-downs4 [sic] and thus looses5 [sic] itself in the sand. But it frequently brakes6 [sic] through the barriers of sand that obstruct its passage when it finds its way to the Sea as a magnificent stream.

Large rivers that emptied themselves into the ocean were of great interest to the European explorers. If the river was navigable for larger or smaller vessels, it could facilitate the transport of goods and cattle and trading could flourish. This would also make mining much more profitable.

Andersson was fascinated by the Kunene and its possibilities throughout his life in Namibia. Later, when I compared his map with their modern equivalents, I understood that Andersson had listened to the names as the local people had explained them to him, and had written them down phonetically.

It is not too difficult to make out what he wrote, even if some of the names were spelt rather strangely. Many village names have since changed, but by speaking to the village elders and to historians the modern names can be traced back and matched up. I must admit that, standing at the table in the Academy’s archive at the time, I did not really understand the importance this map would have to the history of Namibia.

It was only when I arrived in Windhoek and spoke to Gunter von Schumann at the Namibia Scientific Society and other knowledgeable Namibians that I understood that this could be one of the oldest maps of Namibia in existence. The map was indeed fascinating, with all its geographical notes and descriptions of groups of peoples that Andersson had met and was told about.

It was made in Cape Town in 1852, after Andersson and Francis Gallon had made their first exploratory journey, one which had taken them from Walvis Bay up to Ondangwa in northern Namibia. Then I unfolded the second map on the table. This one was square, measuring about 400 x 400 mm. Like the first map, it was made by hand and well drawn, and included many small pieces of text. The map also had the identical dedication to the Academy at the bottom right-hand corner.

As regards its contents, the map showed northern Botswana, southern Zimbabwe and, meandering diagonally across the map, the Zambezi River. It was there, in the middle of the map, along the Zambezi, that I noticed the following text:

Mosi-oa-tunya, Waterfall, Resounding Water

„This is of course Victoria Falls,“ I thought. Then I looked at the dedication again, specifically at the bottom line, which read:

Cape Town, November 1852

I was suddenly overwhelmed by a strange feeling and walked out into the corridor to ask for an encyclopaedia. With trembling hands I looked up Livingstone. And there it said:

David Livingstone, as the first European, had visited and named the Victoria Falls in 1855.

And in 1856, he had described the Falls in a lecture to the Royal Geographical Society in London. But on this map that Andersson had sent to the Academy in Stockholm, the „Mosi-oa-tunya“, the „Waterfall“, was clearly marked as having been recorded in 1852. How was this possible? [...]