This caravel is the replica constructed to re-enact Bartolomeu Dias’s 1488 AD voyage from Portugal to find a sea route to the East around the southern tip of Africa. Dias put into a sheltered bay at 26 37’ on the south west African coast. His stonemasons chiselled out a padrão from the limestone pillars carried in the hold for ballast and erected it on a headland in the bay The padrão claimed the coast for the King of Portugal, the first in a line of colonial claimants to a territory home to indigenous people for millennia before.
Dias christened the bay Golfo de São Cristovão – it being St Christopher’s Bay when he entered it – but changed the name to Angra das Voltas with reference to the need for tacking back and forth to sail out of the bay into the prevailing south westerly wind. It also appears on Portuguese maps as Angra dos Ilheos (Bay of the Islets, referring to the three islands within the bay).
Less than 200 years later, the entrepreneurial Dutch dominated trade in the East Indies, only to be challenged by the English at the end of the 18th Century. At this time, the bay was known as Angra Pequena (Little Bay), the Portuguese name used by sailors around the globe and featured on many maps of the time.
From about this time, the people indigenous to the coast were drawn into trading with seamen from many nations, including from America who hunted whales for their oil and seals for their pelts. The whalers traded guns, gun-powder, iron and Virginian tobacco for cattle, small stock and hides for their shoe industry. At times, the coastal people refused to trade. In 1821, the English captain of a Royal Navy ship ordered the local people to show him the route from Angra Pequena to the mission station at Bethanie, about 100 km inland from Angra Pequena. The people refused, claiming they knew little about the interior, that there was no water and that it was too hot at that time of year. Part of the difficulty might have been the conflicts and disruption caused by Oorlam people moving away from the Cape Colony into southern Namibia, and the preceding drought years. However, the historical incident shows that the link between people at Angra Pequena and Bethanie was known; indeed, in 1883 Heinrich Vogelsang, agent for Adolf Lüderitz, opened negotiations with Joseph Fredericks, chief of the !Ama at Bethanie, and tricked him into selling most of his people’s land, from Angra Pequena almost to the Orange River. Lüderitz became known as “Lügenfritz” in the empire for his trickery.
The little bay of islets was re-christened Lüderitzbucht, and the Bethanie people lost their land. A number of British and Cape merchants who had profitable guano and fishing interests in the bay, also gradually lost these privileges, in spite of a Joint Commission of Enquiry to investigate who had priority.
Diamonds were discovered in 1904, and in April 1905, General Lothar von Trotha issued his chilling proclamation to the Nama, warning them that the war of annihilation waged against the Ovaherero awaited them too, should they also defy the might of the German Colonial Empire. Shark Island in Lüderitzbucht was turned into a concentration camp for prisoners who suffered forced labour, malnutrition, sickness and appalling misery in the biting winds and cold of the bay, including witnessing body parts of their people collected for racial studies. Tobias Zick, Africa Correspondent for the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung recently interviewed Barbara Frederick whose great granduncle was Chief Cornelius Frederick, one of the thousands of !Ama who died on Shark Island. Only after the end of colonial rule by South Africa were the !Ama able to commemorate the sacrifice of their people in resisting colonial dispossession and destruction of their communities and subsistence. Since 2007, the !Ama have held an annual festival to commemorate Shark Island and their struggle; this tragic time also informs their Traditional Authority coat of arms and colours. Their motto is “Trust in God – Love each other”; their colours blue for the sea and heaven, and pink for tenderness.
Re-naming Lüderitzbucht “!Nami-ǂnus”, is a small courtesy to the long line of Frederick chiefs and their people at Bethanie, whose area of jurisdiction extended to the coast a century before Lügenfritz, the forerunner of fraud, empire and colonial atrocities sailed into the Little Bay.
Hinz, M.O. in press. Customary Law Ascertained. Windhoek: UNAM Press.
Kinahan, Jill. 1988. The Pillar in the Mist: a history of the Dias Padrão at Lüderitz. Windhoek: National Monuments Council.
Kinahan, Jill. 1991. By Command of their Lordships: The Exploration of the Namibian Coast by the Royal Navy, 1795–1895.
Proceedings of the Angra Pequena and West Coast Claims Joint Commission. 1885. Cape Town: Saul Solomon & Co.
Zick, Tobias. Das schwieriger Klang von Namen. Süddeutsche Zeitung, 14 April 2015.