Namibia Digital Repository

Anti-Apartheid Sentiment takes Academic Forms

Finland and national liberation in Southern Africa


As anti-apartheid solidarity movements spread throughout Europe, a few Finnish radicals began to revisit the history of Northern Namibia by consulting archival records of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Missionary Society (Suomen Lähetysseuran). In addition, diaries and journals of individual missionaries, such as Martti Rautanen and Emil Liljeblad were consulted as well. Because Finnish is such a isolate language, only related to a few others in Eurasia, these Finnish graduate students found themselves in a unique place. They could write the history of Northern Namibia, primarily Ovamboland, without having to access the Windhoek State Archives, which because of colonialism were off-limits except to individuals with impeccable apartheid credentials. Furthermore, Finnish missionaries such as the Helsinki-trained anthropologist Maija Hiltunen (née Tuupainen) had completed significant oral research during here thirty year mission service in Ovamboland; she spoke fluent Oshikwanyama as well.5

The Cultural and Social Change in Ovamboland, 1870-1915

The Cultural and Social Change in Ovamboland, 1870-1915, the pilot report from 1985 documenting the efforts of the first cohort of Finnish Namibianists. It sought to both analyze Namibian history in Finnish sources, but also to make these sources available to Namibians. A large portion on the project budget was dedicated to microfilming the resources and depositing them in the United Nations Institute for Namibia, in Lusaka.

Prior studies of Ovamboland, especially those of the nationalist sort, relied heavily on SWAPO documents and research from the United Nations Institute for Namibia in Lusaka (in addition to oral research among Ovambo in SWAPO refugee camps). Harri Siiskonen, Veijo Notkola, Märta Salokoski, Martti Eirola, and Seppo Rytkönen departed from nationalist frameworks and managed to create in-depth historical studies of everyday life under colonialism; the documents they consulted emphasized this “everyday nature”. Some, like Siiskonen, emphasized labor a great deal, showing the intricate patterns of trading parties and work groups in Ovamboland, noting also socio-economic connections to other regions, especially the Cape.6 Siiskonen's study of long-distance trade during the late pre-colonial period revolutionized the study of Ovamboland. His data and analysis eventually contributed to his and Notkola's text Fertility, Mortality and Migration in SubSaharan Africa: The Case of Ovamboland in North Namibia, 1925-1990.7 Many of these scholars were part of the Finnish government funded research project “Cultural and Social Change in Ovamboland, 1870-1915.” This eventually culminated in a conference at Tvärminne, which laid down conceptual and methodological foundations for studying Ovamboland, as well as confronting existing debates over sources, resistance to colonial rule, and the politics of oral history in Ovamboland.8




5 Maija Hiltunen, Witchcraft and Sorcery in Ovambo (Jyväskylä: Suomen Antropologinen Seura, 1986). [LINK]

6 Harri Siiskonen, Trade and Socioeconomic Change in Ovamboland, 1850-1906 (Helsinki: Soumen Histoiallinen Seura, 1990). [LINK]

7 Veijo Notkola & Harri Siiskonen, Fertility, Mortality and Migration in SubSaharan Africa: The Case of Ovamboland in North Namibia, 1925-1990 (London: Palgrave, 2000). [LINK]

8 See Harri Siiskonen (ed.), Studying the Northern Namibian Past, research seminar in Tvärminne, 2-4 December 1985 (Joensuu: Joensuun Yliopisto, Humanistinen Tiedekunta, 1986). Particularly Siiskonen's summary of the panels, pp. 107-119. [LINK]

Anti-Apartheid Sentiment takes Academic Forms