The Paramount Chief in Exile
Samuel Maharero was born in 1856. It was the beginning of a time of massive upheaval in South West Africa.
His father, paramount chief of the Herero, had consolidated Herero rule in the area over the Nama and Orlam people by 1861. The latter stages of that struggle was marked by the usage of much higher fire power brought over by European settlers and explorers.
That rule was short lived, however. European missionaries, soldiers, and settlers were coming in ever-increasing numbers. By 1881 the Scramble for Africa was proceeding full steam ahead, and the German government had its sights set on the Herero area of South West Africa.
In 1885, Samuel Maharero’s father (Maharero) signed a protection treaty with Germany, whose representative was no other than Ernst Goering, the father of future Nazi bigwig Hermann Goering. The treaty wasn’t actually worth the paper it was written upon, as the Germans weren’t in any position to help defend the Herero against the retaliatory attacks of the Nama. In any case, Maharero soon died, and his son, the Lutheran educated Samuel, succeeded him after executing his rival uncles.
Events quickly deteriorated from there, and by January 1904 the Herero Wars, and the genocidal response to the uprising, began. The number of Herero in South West Africa would go from 80,000 to 15,000. The Nama went from 19,000 to less than 10,000, and neither nation has managed to reach pre-genocide population levels in the 115 years since.
By 1923, South Africa had control of South West Africa, and the body of Samuel Maharero was brought home to be buried amongst his ancestors. Although a 1985 report by the UN classified what happened to the Herero as a genocide, the German government didn’t refer to it as such until 2015.
For a more in-depth look at the Herero Genocide, see The Genocide that Began the Twentieth Century.