A History Of Their Psychosocial Disintegration And Survival

By Karla Poewe

The Edwin Mellen Press, Toronto, 1985


ERRATA: Blood pressure figures are given in reverse, for example, as 180/200 when it should be 200/180. This error is found with all blood pressure figures.


About the book or what the critics missed about my fieldwork and archival methods:

This book is an experimental ethnography written in a narrative style against the background of revitalization theory. It is based on fourteen months fieldwork among the Herero of Katutura and in other parts of Namibia. Fieldwork consisted of participant observation, numerous life history interviews, and interviews with children, students, and specialists. The latter included physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, and teachers. A large segment of the data comes from unpublished primary sources of the Windhoek Archive. Finally, a few letters were found in the United Nations Archive, New York.

Because this book is written in a narrative style, I turned the unpublished primary source material into conversations. The material lent itself to this treatment because commissioner reports, sometimes even medical reports, recorded issues in terms of questions and answers so that the Herero voice was also heard (but through translation and a recorder). To maintain the narrative style, I placed the references inconspicuously at the end of a paragraph or within a footnote. This has meant, however, that the substantial unpublished primary source materials have been missed by reviewers who, consequently, misread the book.

On the following pages you can find references to unpublished primary sources:

P. 90, Jahresmedizinalbericht (Annual Medical Report), Windhoek Archive, end of third paragraph. P.93 end of first paragraph. P. 102 end of second paragraph.

See unpublished letter, August 1907, translated by me from the German. See also references to mission reports, usually given as RMG for Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft, for example, p.104, fourth paragraph.

The whole section from p. 147 to p. 212 is almost verbatim reconstruction of unpublished primary source material from the Windhoek Archive. For example:

File No. A 50/59, Windhoek Archive. P. 151, third paragraph.

Letter and File No. A50/51, A50/59. P. 156, third paragraph.

File No. A 50/59. P. 157, third paragraph.

File No. 9/5/1938, File No. A 50/59, Vol. 1. P. 158, first and second paragraphs.

File No. A 50/223/1, A 158/176. P. 168, first paragraph.

File No. A 158/23/2. P. 184, first paragraph, P. 185, third and fourth paragraph.

File A 158/23/2. P. 190, first paragraph.

File A 50/119. P. 200, first paragraph.

Minutes in footnote 37. P. 203.

Record in footnote 38. P. 208

Letter P. 211, third paragraph.

Note references to files on: p. 312 - 314, 317, 320, 321, 322 (footnote 53), 323 (letter and file), 324, 325, 327, and so on.

Also used were primary published sources like the Rheinische Missionsberichte (Rhenish Mission Reports). It was the policy of the Rhenish mission, as also the Berlin mission, to take material from letters and journals of their missionaries in the field and publish them in their reports verbatim. Berichte are highly valued by English scholars who can read some German but cannot read the Sutterlin and other variations of old German script. As well, Berichte took parts of letters and journals without changing them except, of course, the context. Usually, you will find at the end or in paragraphs references to the Berichte from 1904 to 1923. Also included are references to primary published sources of missionaries like Irle, Hahn, Rohrbach, Rust, Vedder, and so on.

In my research since that time, for example, the paper published in the South African Historical Journal, May 1999, No. 40, pp. 21-50, I use extensive unpublished primary sources from the Berliner Missionswerk (the Berlin Mission Society) archive. There too I translate from the Sutterlin script which younger German colleagues no longer know. It is part of my research and pedagogy to work with the dynamic between unpublished and published primary sources. The published primary sources in German are particularly important when read in conjunction with letters and journals.

In the Herero book I also looked at current Windhoek Government Department records, including school records. Further, I was shown records at the psychiatric hospital. I interviewed white, black, and so-called colored physicians, including a psychiatrist, and other medical personnel. As mentioned above, I also interviewed numerous students, workers, prophets, politicians, but all of this is mentioned inconspicuously in footnotes or in the text. This was done deliberately to maintain a narrative style, although interspersed here and there with analysis.

It was my mistake not to have written a separate chapter describing my fieldwork which consisted of participant-observation (I lived in the black township of Katutura), life history interviews, interviews (as said) with students, teachers, medical personnel, and so on. Archival work was done in Schlettwein's Archive in Basel, Switzerland, in Windhoek, and at the UN in New York where I had to check certain letters.

The novelty of the book is not only its narrative style achieved by weaving together a distinctive theory with interview data, participant-observation data, archival data, and weaving into it the analyses having to do with physical and mental health issues. The novelty of the book is also the sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, comparison with Germany and things German. This also is woven into the web of the text or in footnotes.

Did you know that Bronislaw Malinowski used the web metaphor for culture? I am, therefore, in good company. Look at Malinowski's Argonauts where he wove together told stories, narration, poetry and analysis.

Finally, and as noted above, in the Herero book I experimented with writing in a narrative style. Those who know my work will remember that I also experimented with writing style before, in the Cesara book (1982). That book was prepared 1980/1981. It came out while I was doing fieldwork in Namibia. The Namibian Herero book was published 1985. Thus I experimented with alternative writing before Marcus, Fischer, and Clifford published their books about experimental writing in 1986. Some American and German anthropologists, for example, Paul Bohannan, Harry Wolcott, and Karl-Heinz Kohl recognize this and know me as a pioneer. And as pioneers make mistakes, so have I. Nevertheless, Paul Bohannan actually thanked me for having written the Cesara book, and not just he.

The Theme Of The Namibian Herero Book

The theme is surviving extreme conditions. By extreme conditions I do not only mean life following major wars or in concentration camps but also life in the world's ghettos and reservations. The book shows some of the social and psychological consequences for survivors of such existence.