Ernst Wilhelm Mattenklodt (1886-1931)

Ernst Wilhelm Mattenklodt (1886-1931)The ASC library has recently acquired two well-known – and still very popular – books about Namibia by the German colonial farmer, hunter, soldier, fugitive and ethnographer Wilhelm Mattenklodt: Verlorene Heimat (Lost homeland) and Afrikanische Jagden und Abenteuer (African hunt and adventure). Other volumes on German colonial literature available in the library’s collection provide background information on the author and his times.

Ernst Wilhelm Mattenklodt was born in Lippstadt (Germany) on 20 May 1886, the son of Marie Zimmermann and Heinrich Mattenklodt. His parents were ordinary peasants but one of his grandparents, Christiane Kähler, worked as a missionary in South Africa:
After finishing high school Wilhelm started as a farmer’s apprentice although he yearned for the wider world. He served as a volunteer guard in Berlin-Lichterfelde for a year but an elderly South Westerner convinced the young Wilhelm to try one of the German colonies and, at the age of 22, he arrived in Namibia in 1908 for the first time. He participated in two military exercises organized by the mounted colonial military forces (berittenen Schutztruppe) and then bought Leipzig Farm with its 5000 hectares of farmland. He went back to Germany in 1912 for a few months and on returning to Namibia he built his own house. When World War I broke out in 1914 he owned a herd of some 500 sheep and 60 cattle.                   

One of the war’s first military operations took place just across the Namibia-Angola border in October 1914 when Dr Schultze-Jena, the Bezirksambtmann (Districtsofficer) of Outjo, crossed the border in search of a food convoy (Lenssen 1994: 222). A Portuguese officer invited them to Fort Naulila where the Germans Schultze-Jena, Röder and Lösch were killed as well as the servants Andreas and Hugo (the latter are not usually mentioned as casualties in the reports). A popular German version of this incident which Mattenklodt calls a Meuchelmord (assassination) is to be found in Tanz (1938); and for a more elaborate eyewitness account, see Baericke (1981). German retaliation came on 18 December 1914 under the command of Major Franke with the capture and destruction of Fort Naulila. Finally, in July 1915, the Germans had to capitulate when faced with an overwhelming majority of British and South African soldiers near the town of Otavi.

The German colonial militia (Schutztruppler) were allowed to return to their farms but every minor transgression against their autochthonous servants (mainly Ovambo and Herero) was heavily punished by the English. The German literature under review here presents these cases as an attempt by das perfide Albion to show that Germans were unworthy and incapable of administering colonies. Mattenklodt and four others were captured when they tried to move to East Africa. Wilhelm managed to escape his followers and, in 1918, was joined by Georg Voswinckel and Alfred Feuerstein.They lived as outlaws in the north of Namibia and Angola and after many adventures and narrow escapes from the English (‘lieber elend im Busch verrecken, als sich diesen Höllenhunden ergeben’) they arrived back in Germany in the middle of 1920. Not only Mattenklodt but also his two companions published brief accounts of their adventures (see Tabel 2007).

After the war, Mattenklodt returned to Africa four times and organized regular hunting and filming expeditions as a living. His experiences with wildlife and to a lesser extent with the Eingeborene (natives) during these journeys were used in a manuscript which his father forwarded to Julius Steinhardt and was published as Afrikanische Jagden und Abenteuer. Less well-known is Mattenklodt’s work as an anthropologist for the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde. (He also had close contacts with the Berlin Zoo). Although Mattenklodt had no training as an ethnographer, his work on Angola’s Kisama ethnic group contains fascinating details and one of his manuscripts was edited and published posthumously by Baumann (1944). Although there is no, or at least very little, analysis of social and cultural phenomena, Mattenklodt’s description of material culture, including sketches of household utensils, musical instruments and architecture, is very rich. He probably worked with a kind of checklist, because many paragraphs start with negative statements like: “The Kisama don’t know where souls are going after death” or “Totemism is alien to the Kisama.”

On one of his expeditions, the then 45-year-old adventurer had a severe attack of sleeping sickness and died several months later in 1931. The epitaph on his grave reads: hier ruht ein aufrechter Deutscher (here lies an honest German).

Book history
Between the wars and also afterwards, his published adventures proved quite lucrative with three different editions of Verlorene Heimat appearing in the 1920s and 1930s (Berlin: Paul Parey 1928, 1936/37 and 1939). According to Laumanns (1942), more than 12,000 copies were sold but Dr Ulrich Schürman mentions that his personal copy was part of a print run of 18,000 to 29,000 copies which suggests an even higher volume of sales.

Two 1931 hardcover editions were translated into English by Oakley Williams. The London version was published under the title A Fugitive in South-West Africa, 1908-1920 (Thornton Butterworth) while the American edition appeared in Boston as A Fugitive in the Jungle (Little, Brown & Company) in the same year.
Afrikanische Jagden came out in 1936 introduced and edited by Julius Steinhardt, the author of similar colonial adventure books. Six years later (1942) F.C. Mayer in Munchen reprinted the title. In 2002 the hunt and culture specialist Jagd- und Kulturverlag in Vaduz republished both Verlorene Heimat and Afrikanische Jagden and a year later even a paperback edition of the first title appeared.

Verlorene Heimat was illustrated by Hans Anton Aschenborn, a Namibian settler and writer whose drawings frequently appear in books on Namibia. According to Dr Klaus Dierks in his Database of Namibian biographies, “the linocut camel-thorn tree, which was used for the cover of the annual Afrikanischer Heimatkalender from 1931-1962 and again since 1979, developed iconographic significance for the identity of German-speaking Namibians”.
The 100 photographs in Aschenborns work Die Farm im Steppenlande offer a good impression of farm life in Namibia in the period Mattenklodt describes in his books. The best introduction to Aschenborn and his work is by Tabel (2007:402-419).                   

Social context
Mattenklodt’s books did not appear in a social vacuum and most of them reflect the ideas of the German colonial revisionism movement with the wish to recolonize lost possessions overseas (Schwarz 2002). Tanz conludes his short booklet with the words: ‘Und diese Rufe dringen ein in unsere Herzen. Ein ganzes Volk hört sie und stimmt mit ein: Gebt uns unsere Kolonien wieder!’ (And these calls [of the German martyrs, GCvdB] enter our hearts. An entire nation listens and falls in with them: give us our colonies back!) Even Afrikanische Jagden, which is primarily about African wildlife, is permeated by a craving for the glorious German past: ‘Damals war Deutschland gross, hielt im grimmigen Kampf die Völker der halben Erde siegreich im Schach…’ (Then Germany was great, held the nations in check in fierce struggle, p. 135).

The number of print runs and copies sold indicate that there was indeed a market for this kind of literature in which the ‘theft’ of colonial possessions was lamented. The themes presented in these books reflect the rise of National Sozialismus between the two World Wars. Hans Grimm, who wrote the introduction to Verlorene Heimat, refers extensively to [a pseudonym of] Mattenklodt in his own work Volk ohne Raum, a good example of the German Blut- und Bodenliteratur. The hagiographic account by Laumanns (who mentions the address of Mattenklodt’s house as Adolf Hitlerstrasse 56!) praises the author’s ‘glühende Vaterlandsliebe’ (ardent patriotism) and claims that the book deserves an honourable place in the colonial literature.

The pejorative presentations of other ethnic groups (Sturköpfigen Neger, gelben Zwergen, schwarzen Hunde) are contrasted with the description of herrenmassiges auftreten (lordly bearing) of the colonists and clearly reveal the Zeitgeist in which the author lived. The baroque style of Mattenklodt’s writing (‘Palmen rauschen an Strom und See; Pfeile sirren und Schüsse bellen auf, die Kriegstrommel dröhnt und Tanzgesang durchjubelt die Vollmondnacht…’) describes Africa as a lost (German) paradise, ‘unser heiliges Afrika’ (our sacred Africa) indeed a verlorene Heimat.

Only rarely does the author surpass this ideological level and give the reader a view of the lives and customs of his fellow human beings in Namibia. But as historical documents, Mattenklodt’s work remains valuable because of its content and its social reception. In addition, his books are also still able to entertain the modern reader with a fast-moving personal narrative of excitement and adventure.

Selected bibliography

Aschenborn,Hans Anton
1925. Die Farm im Steppenlande. Elf Jahre Farmerleben und Jagd in Afrika. Mit 100 Abbildungen. Neudamm: J. Neumann

Baericke, Max E. 1981. Naulila: Erinnerungen eines Zeitgenossens. Swakopmund: Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftliche Entwicklung und Museum

Heintze, Beatrix
1999. Ethnographische Aneignungen: Deutsche Forschungsreisende in Angola. Frankfurt am Main: Otto Lembeck

Laumanns, C.
1942. Ein Gedenkblatt für den Großwildjäger und Kolonialpionier Wilhelm Mattenklodt. Westfalen im Bild, vol 16, no. 1-3, pp. 1-3

Lenssen, H.E.
1997. Chronik von Deutsch-Südwestafrika 1883-1915. Windhoek: Verlag der Namibia Wissenschaflichen Gesellschaft

Mattenklodt, Wilhelm
1928. Verlorene Heimat: als Schutztruppler und Farmer in Südwest, mit einem Geleitwort von Hans Grimm und Textillustrationen von H.Aschenborn. Berlin: Paul Parey

1936. Afrikanische Jagden und Abenteuer bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Hauptmann Steinhardt. München: F.C. Mayer Verlag

1944. Die Kisama. Herausgegeben und bearbeitet von Hermann Baumann. In: Baumann, H., Koloniale Völkerkunde: I. Horn: Verlag Ferdinand Berger, pp. 71-108

Schwarz, Thomas
2002. Koloniale Melancholie: Exotismus und kolonialrevisionistischer Diskurs nach dem Verlust des deutschen Übersee-Imperiums.Dogilmunhak: Koreanische Zeitschrift für Germanistik, 82, pp. 139-157

Tabel, Werner
2007. Autoren Südwestafrikas: Biographien, Rezensionen und Hintergrundinformationen. Windhoek: Klaus Hess Verlag

Tanz, Kurt
[ca. 1938] Der Mord von Naulila. Gütersloh: C.Bertelsmann Verlag

Voswinckel, J.G.E. 1977. Verfehmt, gehetzt durch Afrika: aus den Tagebüchern eines Afrikaners. Hamburg: Heine Verlag


Gerard C. van de Bruinhorst