The Rehobother Baster Nation of Namibia (Maximilian Bayer)

Maximilian Bayer's, a Schutztruppe Officer, essay from 1906 translated from the german original and edited with an instruction
Bayer, Maximilian; Carstens, Peter
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The Rehobother Baster Nation of Namibia (Maximillian Bayer)

Author: Maximilian Bayer
Translation: Peter Carstens
Series: Beiträge zur Afrikakunde, Band 6
Publisher: Basler Afrika-Bibliographien
Basel, 1984
ISBN: 3-905141-38-8
Softcover, 15x21 cm, 54 pages, 2 maps, 1 bw photo

Editor's introduction:

Maximilian Bayer's essay on the Rehoboth Basters first appeared in print in September 1906 when it was published in Zeitschrift fur Kolonialpolitik, Kolonialrecht und Kolonialwirtschaft under the title of "Die Nation der Bastards".

Later that year Wilhelm Susserott published the essay separately, although it is possible that the off-print was not in circulation until 1907.

In some ways the essay is a German officer's eulogy of the Basters for their "outstanding military service" to the German colonial establishment between the years 1894 and 1904.

It also provides a short social history of the Basters from the perspective of a writer quite sympathetic to the Baster cause. Bayer's attitudes were in fact very different from those of Eugen Fischer whose anthropological work on the Basters is so well known (e.g. Fischer 1913).

Nor did Bayer seem to share Fischer's extreme views regarding biological determinism and racial psychology with which the latter identified himself (Baur, Fischer and Lenz 1931).

I do not know how the Basters regarded Bayer's work when it was first published, but many years later when I was carrying out fieldwork in Rehoboth several Basters insisted that only Bayer conveyed the true history of the Baster nation.

However, it should be pointed out that my work among the Rehobothers was in the early 1960s when much of the population was trying to regain its political independence, and many people were cultivating old nationalistic sentiments to express their attitudes towards external interference in their affairs.

The purpose of this English translation is to add another accessible work to the literature on the Basters, and also to illustrate the special position that the Rehoboth Nation occupied under German rule.

The Basters were really the only people in the whole territory of South West Africa who, through historical circumstances, were able to ingratiate themselves with the German administration and military. The cost of accepting German protection, however, involved amongst other things providing troops to fight alongside the colonial rulers in a variety of wars and uprisings.

Their main reward for their loyalty was the right to increase their livestock without res-triction—a right that was denied to other native peoples after the Germans had defeated both the Herero and the Nama (Bley 1971:170-3). Once the Germans had gained military control of the territory, interest in the Basters as allies waned rapidly, and in 1906, after the death of Captain (Kaptein) Hermanus Van Wyk, the office of Captain ceased to be recognised by the Germans.

Van Wyk's son and successor, Cornelius, was styled Gemeindevorsteher. In this regard it is interesting to note that there was no uniform opposition to the Germans' action among the Basters. Members of one family, for example, are alleged to have requested that the captaincy be ended (Fischer 1913:234; South Africa 1926; Marais 1939:100; Carstens 1970; Pearson 1981). It is interesting to read how Bayer glosses over the reality of this action.

In 1915 during World War I it was the Germans who repudiated their 1885 Treaty with the Basters because they refused to fight against troops from the Union of South Africa. The Baster soldiers were also required to guard South African P.O.W.s. Later the Germans declared war on the Basters because certain allegations of violence against Whites had been received.

Fortunately for the Basters no pitched battle took place and they were saved by the timely arrival of the Union troops in their territory. Although the Basters had been trained in the art of war according to German fashion, they had never conducted their own full-scale campaign. This fact, together with the shortage of arms and ammunition, would have led to certain defeat, especially as the German military force had had more than twenty years to learn the strategies of local warfare. [...]


Editor's introduction
Biographical note on Maximilian Bayer
Provisional bibliography of Maximilian
Bayer's published works
The Baster Nation
Editor's notes to Bayer's text


"I feel safe on patrol with my Baster soldiers," Captain Böttlin told me at Okosundusu military camp. "They have excellent eyesight and are remarkably skilled at tracking. They are good shots and fight well in the bush. They are people on whom I can rely."

He ought to have added: "I can rely on them, and they trust me because they saw me in battle, have lived through difficult times with me, and because it is characteristic of these people that their trust is hard to win but that they firmly believe in a man once he has proven himself in their eyes." However, Böttlin, who has really accomplished something, could be accused of boastfulness, so I have recorded what he modestly withheld.

The Basters are unique people. They are a mixture of Boers and Hottentots. We are not dealing here with a single race, or even a specific type; depending on ancestry, the Basters resemble either the Aryan or the Hottentot race. All skin colours are represented, ranging from the white of the European to the deep dark brown of the Bantu, yet the people we have categorized as "Basters" form a definite class of mankind.

First of all a few remarks about the early history of the people. The Basters came across the Orange River during the 1870s, guided by their missionary, the Reverend F. Heidmann. They were fleeing from Korana-Hottentots and Bushmen against whom they were unable to defend themselves due to their small numbers. They moved northward until they reached the Rehoboth region.

The site was well chosen. There was plenty of water, and the grazing land for their herds was very rich and good. That was, and still is, essential, since cattle and "Bokkies" (sheep and goats) are the only valuable property these people possess. The Baster nation owes its rise and current prosperity to stock raising. Hence all their thoughts are concentrated on this one occupation.

Such an achievement, from the raising of livestock alone, would have been utterly impossible had each Baster not had a passion for it and a boundless love in his blood for all his animals. He knows all his cattle and sheep well, calls each one by name, observes their idiosyncracies, and can recount individual characteristics in almost overwhelming detail. A Baster knows no greater joy than when he succeeds in adding some fine animals to his herd.

On the other hand, loss affects him severely, and this was often rather difficult to prevent. The land of the Basters lay between Hottentot and Herero territories. These two tribes were significantly stronger and with the innate ruthlessness of most native peoples they sought to make use of their superior power.

As a natural consequence, the Basters turned to us for an alliance so as not to be worn down and then conquered by their aggressive neighbours. Fortunately there is a long-standing enmity between the Hottentots and Hereros. History reveals that many a small state owes its survival to the fact that it has powerful neighbours who are locked in bitter enmity and begrudge each other everything while each seeks to win the friendship of the smaller state.

The tribal council of the Basters managed, with remarkable diplomatic skill either to remain neutral in their negotiations with neighbouring people, or to lean towards the stronger party. But the Basters also chose us as allies for reasons of racial affinity.

They continue to pride themselves on the white blood in their veins and consider themselves superior to other native peoples, preferring to be considered white. As early as 18 94, in the Naukloof War,3 the Basters rendered us outstanding services. Without their help the campaign would never have taken a relatively rapid and successful course. Their losses in battle demonstrate how vigorously they fought for us at that time. Among the casualties was the brave and versatile undercaptain, Hans Diergard.

It was a good idea to form an auxiliary corps of Basters. In 1894 their weapons, equipment, and way of fighting were still so different from those of our colonial army that the lack of uniformity was often quite disturbing. Hence a plan to train the young Baster soldiers according to our standards was devised.

In 1895, Schwabe made the first practical attempts, which worked out so well that from then on the Baster recruits were drilled in the basics of German military principles through annual exercises as militia and army reserves. There were naturally many difficulties at the start, and it is amusing to read in Schwabe 's book how difficult it was to instil discipline in people who enjoyed a carefree existence.

There were other difficulties also, especially those relating to language. The Basters speak the so-called "Cape Dutch," a difficult dialect, mostly Dutch mixed with many English and German words. Since little appropriate vocabulary for weapon training concepts like "vertical" and "horizontal" existed, an extensive explanation was necessary. Furthermore, only very few could read or write German so that it was necessary to give them instruction in this area as well.

Incidentally, I should like to remark that, unfortunately, even now too little is done for the intellectual advancement of the Basters. The Baster nation probably consists of about 2,000 people today, but before the insurrection only 150 Marks per annum were set aside for the Rehoboth school. (...)