Travels with V

Namibia

The town that Axel founded

Omaruru, Damaraland

In the year 1869 a Swedish adventurer, trader, big game hunter and ornithologist arrived with three countrymen to a Herero village by a river in Damaraland. His name was Axel Eriksson and he got permission from the Herero chief to build a settement on the other side of the river, where he opened a trading post. This place later grew into the town of Omaruru.

OMARURU RIVER AS IT USUALLY LOOKS, DRIED OUT
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN OMARURU

We can’t find many traces of Axel and the other Swedes in Omaruru today, only some old photos in a run down little museum. One photo shows Axel in a typical pose – untamed beard and with a rifle in his hand, staring wildly at the horizon. Eriksson became a very successful merchant in Namibia, in the beginning sadly by shooting a lot of elephants and selling their tusks. Later, when the wildlife was almost extinct, he turned to trading with cattle. But troublesome times had come, war broke out between hereros and namas, a disease killed most of the cattle and the German ockupation got a more firm grip of the trade. Axel lost most of his fortune and is by most forgotten in Omaruru today.

AXEL, BIG GAME HUNTER
A BOOK ABOUT AXEL, A NAMIBIAN EDITION

And yet we find a kindergarten in Omaruru that carries Axels name. It’s in Ozondje which is almost like a township on the outskirts of the town. Poor black people live here so few parents can afford to pay full fee for their children’s daycare. The two women who run the centre have received financial support from a group in Vänersborg in Sweden, where Axel Eriksson grew up. But lately they are getting signals that there will be less support in the future. The ladies hope that things will work out anyway, and we do too, since they are not getting any money at all from the town or the state.

We are guided around Ozondje by Dirck, an Omaruru journalist who seems to know everybody here. He takes us to areas with small houses built by concrete bricks, a stable and good construction that surprisingly was introduced by the South African occupation. The apartheid laws demanded that blacks move out of the city, and these houses were built for them. But as the population grows the newer buildings are just built with junk or corrugated steel sheets. 

As often in townships, the most common business is selling beer. The bars are extremely simple but beer is sold in large quantities. As can be expected, because Namibian beer is excellent. The first breweries in the country were set up by German colonists who knew how to make beer, and this knowledge was passed on to the Namibians. Here are some examples of beer shacks we saw along the roads:

BAR MAID SECURE BEHIND BARS

Our hotel is in central Omaruru, and it looks like it’s been around for some time. It has a lush garden with a swimming pool area where it’s great to sit with a relaxing cold beer in the hot afternoon. It’s peaceful and quiet, but all of a sudden a hellish noise breaks out. There’s a small pond nearby and in it there are some African bullfrogs, one of the loudest frogs on the planet.

Here are som more photos from Omaruru:

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