Oorlog, Picturesque Old Scoundrel of the Kaokoveld

Posted on May 05, 2015 by Cape Rebel


From No Outspan
by Deneys Reitz

Oorlog knew of our coming long before we rode into his stat, his scouts having watched our movements ever since we had left Gauko-Otawi – so he told us later.

He was a fine figure of a man, tall and straight, although he must have been nearing eighty. Strictly speaking he was not a Herero at all, as his father was the one-time well-known ‘Bechuana Tom’ who acted as gun-bearer to Green, the famous elephant hunter. His mother, however, was a Herero, and he looked upon himself as one.

On our arrival Oorlog and about thirty followers, mostly his sons, were awaiting us. They were clad in European clothes, for the Herero made a point of dressing like the white man as a mark of his superior status over the skin-clad tribes. He spared no pains in acquiring suitable garb, whether by smuggling from Angola or by going nearly three hundred miles east to the missionaries in Ovamboland, to make his purchases.

I spent an interesting time studying old Oorlog and extracting from him something of his past history. It appeared that as a boy he had accompanied Green on elephant hunts into the interior. Then he had joined the Dorstland Trekkers as a guide, through the Kalahari, and he too had witnessed the dreadful sights of that disastrous period, and had gone to Angola with the survivors. He had served in several native campaigns, and the Portuguese, recognising his courage and ability (so said Oorlog), had given him the chieftainship over two fighting tribes.

In command of these he had been engaged, for many years, in various wars. He had gained a great reputation but little else, he said, for in the end most of his warriors had been killed, and he had fallen into disfavour. His version was that in fighting against the Konyama tribe he had been seriously wounded – he showed me the scars – and on his return, before his hurts had mended, he was ordered to march the remnant of his force to Mossamedes, there to be shipped up the coast on yet another campaign at Loando.

He said he had refused to obey, whereupon the Portuguese had put a price on his head, and he had escaped south into the Kaokoveld.

There is, however, another side to the story, for when I was in Angola the following year, the Portuguese told me that while it was quite true that they were going to ship him up the coast, it was not to a war in Loando, but to the Island of St Thomas, where they proposed imprisoning him for life on account of the robberies and murders he had committed. Be that as it may, Oorlog was a most picturesque old scoundrel and, although he had fled from Angola as recently as 1917, he had established himself as paramount chief of all this region. He had gathered around him a band of Hereros who paid him unswerving loyalty. Even Thomas at Gauko-Otawi, and Langman and Herman as far south as Khairos, accepted him as their overlord and stood in fear of him.

He told me he had taken a wife from every tribe within reach on both sides of the Kunene. He said that women were always jealous of each other and that whenever a plot was hatched against him, he was sure to hear of it from one or other of them.

He told me he had about fifty sons alive plus fifty or sixty that he did not know of, and he thought at least thirty more must have died. I asked him how many daughters he had, and he replied scornfully that no one ever bothered to count daughters.

Having spent much of his time with the Angola Boers, he spoke Dutch fluently, as did several of his sons, whom for this reason he referred to with pride as ‘oorlams volk’, meaning ‘enlightened people’.

Posted in English