By Timoteus Mashuna
GENERALLY, the history of mission work in Africa and Namibia in particular has been criticised because on the one hand missionaries operated as agents of Christianity, and on the other hand as supporters of colonial policies against the so-called “uncivilized” indigenous communities.
However, Missionary Gottlieb Viehe is one of the missionaries who stood by the indigenous communities and rejected colonial policies he viewed were not in the best interests of these communities.
Viehe is noted to have been born on the 27th of March 1839. He started his training as a missionary in Barmen, Germany and completed his training in August 1866.
A month later after completing his training, he was ordained a missionary. His exposure to missionary work in Africa was in 1867 after the Rheinicsche Missionsgesellschaft (Rhenish Missionary Society) sent him to Namibia.
Upon arriving in Namibia he settled in Otjimbingwe where he helped Carl Hugo Hahm in the Augustineum and eventually learned the Herero language.
In 1870, he left Otjimbingwe for Omaruru and settled there. At that time, Omaruru had already became a settlement not only for the indigenous Herero-speaking community but also for white settlers, hunters and traders.
Hence to cater for the education of the children in the Omaruru settlement, archival sources cite that Viehe established “a school for the Herero as well as one for the whites and coloured”. He also built a house and a church, which was consecrated in 1874.
In 1889, after taking a two-year sabbatical in Germany, he came back to Namibia and took over Hahn’s Augustineum which he moved to Okahandja.
Even though Viehe is noted to have devoted most of his time in Namibia delivering religious sermons to different language groups and spending most of his evenings studying, he also took keen interest in the tenuous land issue between the indigenous communities and the German colonial authorities.
The history of Viehe’s interaction with indigenous communities in Namibia acclaims that Viehe was one of the early agents of Christianity who from the onset, objected to the colonial takeover of land in Namibia.
In fact, even at times when some of the ancestral leaders saw it lucrative enough to “lease or sell” land to settlers, Viehe was never impressed at all. This is perhaps well captured by a remark in one of the biography collections of Viehe, which reads that “he once crossed words with Theodor Leutwein the commander of the German Schutztruppe over the native reserve policy and at one point he also took on Samuel Maharero after it surfaced that Maharero has sold parts of his land to the whites.
He, for example, wanted the Hereros to live in Okahandja unlike the German reserve policy which wanted to push them to unfavourable settlements on the periphery.
It is perhaps in this context that by 1900, Viehe predicted that “local politics in Namibia was heading toward getting better land into the hands of whites”.
Besides his sympathy toward the indigenous community over the land issue, Viehe has also earned himself a reputation for having translated the New Testament into the Otjiherero language and for constructing the first meteorological station in the country, in 1885. He is noted to have died on the first of January 1901 in Okahandja.