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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2011

Emory University
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This article examines struggles for masculinity among Herero elders, South African colonial administrators, and the Otruppa, a Herero youth society that appropriated a German military aesthetic, in Namibia between 1915 and 1949. As previous scholars have argued, masculinities are mutually constituted through competitions for authority, though dominance is rarely achieved. Such contestations were integral to processes of Herero societal reconstruction following German rule and during South African colonial state formation, beginning in 1915. Different generational experiences of colonial violence and the destruction of the material resources that undergirded elders' authority led to conflicts between elders and youths over how to define Herero masculinity and negotiate authority in a rapidly changing colonial milieu.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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Thanks to Clifton Crais, Kristin Mann, Jane Hooper, and reviewers for the Journal of African History for comments and suggestions.


1 Although the use of the term ‘genocide’ to refer to these events is contentious and only came into common use in the late 1970s (and thus is applied retrospectively), I find it appropriate for the German policies implemented between 1904 and 1907. See D. Olusoga and C. Erichsen, The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (London, 2010); J.-B. Gewald, Herero Heroes: A Socio-political History of the Herero of Namibia, 1890–1923 (Athens, OH, 1999); H. Bley, Namibia under German Rule (Hamburg, 1996); I. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca, NY, 2005). For debates surrounding the use of the term genocide, see Lau, B., ‘Uncertain certainties’, Mibagus, 2 (1989), 45Google Scholar; Dedering, T., ‘The German–Herero war of 1904: revisionism of genocide or imaginary historiography?Journal of Southern African Studies, 19:1 (1993), 80–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley, 1995).

3 M. Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (New York, 1995).

4 R. Morrell, Changing Men in Southern Africa (New York, 2001), 7.

5 L. Lindsay and S. Miescher (eds.), Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa (Portsmouth, NH, 2003), 6; L. Ouzgane and R. Morrell (eds.), African Masculinities: Men in Africa from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present (New York, 2005).

6 J. McCulloch, Black Peril, White Virtue: Sexual Crime in Southern Rhodesia, 1902–1935 (Bloomington, 2000); J. McCulloch, Colonial Psychiatry and ‘the African Mind’ (New York, 1995); J. Carothers, The African Mind in Health and Disease (New York, 1953).

7 Herero youths participated in the German military from its inception in colonial Namibia, sometimes voluntarily or under orders from chiefs. G. Krüger and D. Henrichsen, ‘“We have been captives long enough. We want to be free”: land, uniforms, and politics in the history of the Herero in the interwar period', in P. Hayes, J. Silvester, M. Wallace, and W. Hartmann (eds.), Namibia under South African Rule: Mobility and Containment, 1915–46 (Athens, OH, 1998), 149–74; Werner, W., ‘Playing soldiers: the Truppenspieler movement among the Herero of Namibia’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 16:3 (1990), 476502CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Prein, P., ‘Guns and top hats: African resistance in German South West Africa, 1907–1915’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 20:1(1994), 99121CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 T. Ranger, Dance and Society in Eastern Africa, 1890–1970: The Beni Ngoma (Berkeley, 1975)'; J. C. Mitchell, The Kalela Dance: Aspects of Social Relationships Among Urban Africans in Northern Rhodesia (Manchester, 1956). For other studies of mimetic organizations, see P. Stoller, Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit Possession, Power, and the Hauka in West Africa (New York, 1995); M. Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (New York, 1993); Bhabha, H., ‘Of mimicry and man: the ambivalence of colonial discourse’, October, 28 (1984), 125–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; P. Stallybrass and A. White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY, 1986).

9 Hayes, P., “Cocky' Hahn and the ‘Black Venus': the making of a native commissioner in South West Africa, 1915–46’, Gender & History, 8:3 (1996), 364–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; M. McKittrick, ‘Forsaking their fathers? Colonialism, Christianity, and coming of age in Ovamboland, northern Namibia’, in Lindsay and Miescher, Men and Masculinities, 33–51. See also G. Krüger, Kriegsbewältigung und Geschichtsbewußtsein (Göttingen, 1999); Krüger, G., ‘“The men should marry”: koloniale Herrschaft, Geschlechterkonflikte, und gesellschaftliche Rekonstruktion im Waterberg Reservat, Namibia’, Werkstatt Geschichte, 14:5 (1986), 2236Google Scholar; M. Wallace, ‘“A person is never angry for nothing”: women, VD, and Windhoek’, in Hayes et al., Namibia, 77–94.

10 C. Enloe, Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Berkeley, 1990), 44.

11 National Archives of Namibia, Windhoek (NAN), SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Deputy Commissioner to Commissioner SWA Police’, 10 Feb. 1946.

12 NAN, KSW 2/21, ‘SWA Commission: Okahandja: examination of Dr Heinrich Vedder’, 31 Aug. 1935, 1230–6; H. Vedder, ‘The Herero’, in C. H. L. Hahn, L. Fourie, and H. Vedder (eds.), The Native Tribes of South West Africa (London, 1966), 157–64; National Archives of South Africa (NASA), BAO 5/449/F54/1996/2, ‘Erfopfolging – Huis van Tjamuaha/Maherero – Kommentaar’, c.1970.

13 Vedder, ‘The Herero’.

14 Prein, ‘Guns and top hats’, 99–121.

15 Gewald, Herero Heroes, 193–204.

16 Ibid. 206.

17 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Military movement amongst natives’, 19 May 1917.

18 Ibid.

19 P. Higate, ‘“Soft clerks” and “hard civvies”: pluralizing military masculinities’, in P. Higate, (ed.), Military Masculinities: Identity and the State (Westport, CT, 2003), 33; J. Hockey, ‘No more heroes: masculinity in the infantry’, in ibid. 18.

20 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Statement: Manuel Kanjua’, 29 June 1940.

21 NAN, SWAA A50/59, ‘Minutes: Windhoek Location Advisory Board Meeting’, 26 Nov. 1935.

22 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Report of interview with Fritz Kasutu’, 29 July 1938.

23 Krüger and Henrichsen,‘Captives’. Herero women were undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, as Gesine Krüger and Marion Wallace demonstrate: see Krüger, ‘“The men should marry”’ and Wallace, ‘“a person is never angry”’.

24 NAN, SWAA A50/59, ‘Affidavit: Native Gabrial’, 28 Feb. 1928.

25 NAN, SWAA A50/50, ‘Circular letter – Herero troop movements (Truppenspieler)’, 3 Apr. 1939.

26 NAN, SWAA A50/59, ‘Affidavit: William Bakurupa’, 19 Dec. 1947.

27 NAN, KSW 2/17, ‘SWA Commission interview with Hereros at Waterberg East’, 23 Aug. 1935, 1012; NAN KSW, 2/21, ‘SWA Commission interview with Dr. Heinrich Vedder’, 31 Aug. 1935, 1233; Gewald, Herero Heroes, 191.

28 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Military movement amongst natives’.

29 NAN, SWAA A50/59, ‘Truppenspielers’, Superintendent of Locations, Windhoek, to Additional Native Commissioner, 9 July 1940. Hereros were frequently at war for cattle and grazing land with neighboring Nama and Afrikander groups during the nineteenth century: see H. Vedder, ‘The Herero’.

30 Testimony taken by the SWA Commission attests that the chief native commissioner, F. P. Courtney-Clarke, the superintendent of the Windhoek location, George Bowker, and the superintendents of the Herero reserves Tses, Waterberg East, and Ovitoto were English-speaking South Africans: NAN, KSW ‘South West Africa Commission’, 1935.

31 See R. Morrell, From Boys to Gentlemen: Settler Masculinity in Colonial Natal, 1880–1920 (Pretoria, 2001), for a discussion of important qualities of English South African masculinity.

32 Loyalty, work ethic, and improved conditions were frequent themes in government speeches and discussions. See NAN, KSW 2/17, ‘SWA Commission: Waterberg: testimony of F. Wood’, 23 Aug. 1935, 992; NAN, SWAA 1148 A158/ 23, vol. 4, ‘Tribal meeting held in Waterberg East Native Reserve on Wednesday August 7th, 1935’; NAN, A/200, ‘Report: burial of the late Chief Samuel Maherero’, 27 Aug. 1923, 6–7.

33 J. Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (New York, 1979); E. Odhiambo and J. Lonsdale (eds.), Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority, and Narration (Athens, OH, 2003); T. Kanogo, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau 1905–63 (Athens, OH, 1987).

34 Gewald, Herero Heroes, 141–67.

35 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Military movement amongst natives’.

36 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Herero organizations: NC Keetmanshoop to NC Windhoek’, 28 Feb. 1928.

37 SWAA, 432 A50/59, ‘RE: Confidential circular: Herero organizations’, 28 Feb. 1928. A number of Hereros were involved in the 1925 Baster Revolt in Rehoboth, although this was not clearly linked to the Otruppa.

38 Ibid.

39 S. Dudink and K. Hagemann, ‘Masculinity in politics and war in the age of the democratic revolution’, in S. Dudink, K. Hagemann, and J. Tosh (eds.), Politics and War: Gendering Modern History (Manchester, 2004), 6; M. Kovitz, ‘The roots of military masculinity’, in Higate, Military Masculinities, 6–18.

40 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘NC Office of the Magistrate Windhoek’, 17 June 1938; NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Statement: George Bowker’, 31 Dec. 1946.

41 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Drilling of natives – confidential circular’, June 1917.

42 See Gewald, Herero Heroes, for an excellent account of Samuel and his relations with the Germans during his tenure as paramount chief.

43 SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Truppenspieler circular’, 22 Mar. 1939.

44 NAN A/200, ‘Report: burial of the late Chief Samuel Maherero’.

45 Ibid.

46 Henrichsen and Krüger, ‘Captives’; J. Zimmerer and J. Zeller (eds.), Genocide in German South-west Africa: The Colonial War of 1904–1908 in Namibia and its Aftermath (Monmouth, 2008).

47 South Africa tried unsuccessfully to annex SWA twice, in 1935 and 1945.

48 Krüger and Henrichsen, ‘Captives’, 156.

49 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Herero ceremonies – Omaruru’, 24 Nov. 1937.

50 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Notes of interview’, 9 May 1938.

51 Ibid.

53 Ibid. Kutako griped, ‘now the Herero nation have got their freedom (from the Germans) and have got fat’.

54 NAN, KSW 2/17, ‘SWA Commission: testimony of Mr. Frank Wood,’ 23 Aug. 1935, 997. Mr. Wood complained that Herero youths owned sufficient cattle and so could not be compelled to seek employment outside of the reserve. NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Notes of interview’, 9 May 1938. See also W. Werner, ‘No One Will Become Rich’: Economy and Society in the Herero Reserves in Namibia, 1915–46 (Basel, 1998), on the process of ‘self-peasantization’.

55 NAN, SWAA 1148 A158/ 23, vol. 4, ‘Tribal Meeting’.

56 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Affidavit: Samuel Tjiho’, 19 Dec. 1947.

57 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Advisory Board Minutes, Windhoek’, 26 Nov. 1935.

58 Prein, ‘Guns and top hats’.

59 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Statement – Superintendent of Locations, Windhoek’, 26 Nov. 1935.

60 J. Crush and C. Ambler (eds.), Liquor and Labor in Southern Africa (Athens, OH, 1992), 22–4.

61 NAN, SWAA 466/29, vol. 2, ‘Native beer’, 23 Nov. 1934. Residents were unhappy with the beer hall's higher prices and surveillance capacities. Boardmen petitioned for higher alcohol content and a weekly brandy ration. Lieut. Bowker, the Windhoek superintendent and driving force behind the beer venture, estimated the alcohol content of Herero moonshine, kari, to be 10–15 per cent ABV compared to the 3 per cent of state-brewed native beer.

62 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Truppenspielers – ANC (Trollope) to CNC’, 13 Dec. 1935.

63 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Festus Kaatura’, 20 Feb. 1936.

64 Ibid. Evidence suggests that the troops also used coercive and illicit measures, including inebriating voters.

65 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Advisory Board Minutes, Windhoek’, 26 Nov. 1935.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Message to Hereros’, 29 July 1938.

71 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Superintendent of Locations to ANC’, 9 July 1940.

72 Ibid.

73 Appointed by the South Africans in 1917 and by Samuel Maherero in 1921, Kutako's power was legitimated by both Herero leadership and the government. NASA, BAO 5/449/F54/1996/2, ‘Erfopfolging – Huis van Tjamuaha/Maherero – Kommentaar’, c.1970. See also Gewald, Herero Heroes, 263.

74 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Superintendent of Locations to ANC’.

75 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Minutes of interview with Hosea Kutako’, 9 May 1938.

76 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59 ‘Administrator, Windhoek to Secretary of the Prime Minister’, c.1938.

77 Krüger and Henrichsen, ‘Captives’, 174.

78 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Minutes of interview with Hosea Kutako’.

79 Lindsay and Miescher, Men and Masculinities, 5.

80 See T. Emmett, Popular Resistance and the Roots of Nationalism in Namibia, 1915–1996 (Basel, 1999); NASA, BLO 112 PS 4/11/1/1 a–b, ‘South West Africa: newspaper clippings from European sources – German colonial aspirations’ and ‘Nazi activities in South West Africa’, c.1937.

81 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Untitled letter from Administrator SWA to the Secretary of the Prime Minister, Pretoria’, 24 Sept. 1938.

82 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Advisory Board Meeting Minutes’, 26 Nov. 1935.

83 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Herero troop movement’, 13 Oct. 1936; NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Herero ceremonies Omaruru’, c.1936.

84 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Truppenspielers – letter from Trollope to CNC’, 3 Dec. 1935.

85 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Untitled – conversation between Trollope and Festus Kaatura’, 3 Dec. 1935.

86 Ibid.

87 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Message to Hereros at Herero Day’, 29 July 1938.

88 Ibid.

89 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Report of interview with Fritz Kasutu’, 29 July 1938.

90 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Resignation – Fritz Kasutu’, 23 Sept. 1938. In Fritz's letter to the CNC of 17 June 1938 explaining the troops' purpose, innocence, and loyalty, Courtney-Clarke penciled, ‘Fritz is very disciplined but his protestations do not square with my experience or with Hosea's statements’. NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘RE: Truppenspielers’, 17 June 1938.

91 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Statement Hesekiel Kaundje’, 18 June 1938.

92 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Offence: No. 22559 N/CPL H. Kokati’, 24 Nov. 1942.

93 Krüger and Henrichsen, ‘Captives’, 173.

94 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Deputy Commissioner to Commissioner SWA Police’, 10 Feb. 1946.

95 Chief Hosea Kutako is a notable exception. At 100 years old, he remained the driving force in Herero politics until his death in 1970.

96 NAN, SWAA 432 A50/59, ‘Deputy Commissioner to Commissioner SWA Police’, 10 Feb. 1946.

97 See Zimmerer and Zeller, Genocide. See also R. Kößler, ‘Genocide, apologies, and reparation: the linkage between images of the past in Namibia and Germany’, paper presented at AEGIS Conference, Leiden, 11–14 July 2007, available at (consulted 10 February 2011). Current Herero nationalism and reparations are not without serious debates within Herero and Namibian society; however, these issues fall outside the scope of this paper.