Heinrich Schmelen
Reverend Johann Heinrich Schmelen (1776–1848) was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 missionary and linguist
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 who worked in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 and South-West Africa. Traveling through the area of today's northern South Africa and central and southern Namibia
Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia , is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March...

 he founded the mission stations at Bethanie and Steinkopf and discovered the natural harbour at Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay , is a city in Namibia and the name of the bay on which it lies...

. Together with his wife Zara he translated parts of the Bible into Khoekhoegowab (Damara/Nama) and published a dictionary.

Early life and travel to Africa

Schmelen was born into a middle-class family on 7 January 1776 in Kassebruch, today a suburb of Hagen im Bremischen
Hagen im Bremischen
Hagen im Bremischen is a municipality in the district of Cuxhaven, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated approx. 20 km south of Bremerhaven, and 35 km northwest of Bremen...

 in the German state of Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony is a German state situated in north-western Germany and is second in area and fourth in population among the sixteen states of Germany...

. To evade conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 he went to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 where was influenced by pastors of the German congregation. He wanted to become a missionary and was advised to attend the missionaries' seminary
A seminary, theological college, or divinity school is an institution of secondary or post-secondary education for educating students in theology, generally to prepare them for ordination as clergy or for other ministry...

 of pastor Jänicke in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...


After graduation he was sent to South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 in 1811. He accompanied Christian Albrecht to Pella
Pella, Northern Cape
Pella is an oasis in Namakwa in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Originally called Cammas Fonteyn, the spring was used by a nearby stronghold of San people...

 in the Northern Cape
Northern Cape
The Northern Cape is the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. It was created in 1994 when the Cape Province was split up. Its capital is Kimberley. It includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of an international park shared with Botswana...

 from where he traveled the Oranje
Orange River
The Orange River , Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River is the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean...

 to serve a number of small nomadic pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...


Foundation of Bethanie

In 1812 Schmelen was ordered to trek into Namaland
Namaland was a bantustan in South West Africa , intended by the apartheid government to be a self-governing homeland for the Nama people. A centrally administered local government was created in 1980....

 to found a missionary station near the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 coast. He joined a group of Nama and Orlam on their way to ǀUiǂgandes. They arrived in 1814, and Schmelen named the place Bethanie. He then traveled further north until approximately 22 degrees latitude
In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

 but returned and founded a missionary station for Amraal Lambert
Amraal Lambert
Amraal Lambert, Nama name: ǂGaiǀnub, was the first Captain of the Kaiǀkhauan , a subtribe of the Orlam, in the eastern area of Namaland, today's Namibia....

clan of the Kaiǀkhauan (Khauas Nama) people.

Schmelens cottage at Bethanie, erected in 1814 and a national monument since 1952, was long regarded as the oldest building in Namibia. Only later was later discovered that the church and the pastor's house in Warmbad
Warmbad, Namibia
Warmbad is a settlement located in the Karas Region of southern Namibia. It is situated south of Karasburg at the Homs River, close to the border with South Africa, and belongs to the Karasburg electoral constituency.First occupied by traders, hunters, and missionaries of different congregations,...

, both destroyed in 1811, were older than the Schmelenhaus, and that the fortification of ǁKhauxaǃnas
ǁKhauxaǃnas is an uninhabited village with an ancient ruined fortress in south-eastern Namibia, east of the Great Karas Mountains. It is the oldest systematically designed and built structure in Namibia, pre-dating all buildings erected by Europeans...

 predates all European constructions.

Missionary journeys

Schmelen traveled across much of Namaland and visited numerous tribes. While visiting Cape Town in 1818 he received a letter from the London Missionary Society, ordering him not to return to Bethanie but to found a missionary station in Bysondermaid in Namaqualand
Namaqualand is an arid region of Namibia and South Africa, extending along the west coast over and covering a total area of 170,000 square miles/440,000 km². It is divided by the lower course of the Orange River into two portions - Little Namaqualand to the south and Great Namaqualand to the...

 (today Northern Cape
Northern Cape
The Northern Cape is the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. It was created in 1994 when the Cape Province was split up. Its capital is Kimberley. It includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of an international park shared with Botswana...

 province in South Africa). He named the place Steinkopf after Dr. Steinkopf, one of the London pastors of the German congregation.

One year after his arrival in Steinkopf a colleague took over the missionary work, and Schmelen returned to Bethanie. The Orlam there had in the mean time started to raid cattle of the Herero and accused Schmelen of wanting them to remain in poverty. He lost a large part of his followers; his general success with the Orlam community was poor. "I almost fell down to my knees begging them to come back to church, but they refused." he wrote about his experience. After a drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

 and a locust
Locusts are the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory...

 plague befell Bethanie, which was blamed on his anger towards the community, he closed the missionary station in 1822 and returned to the shore of the Oranje. At about this time he was instructed to translate the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 into the Nama language.

Schmelen set off to a second northwards journey in 1824 or 1825, again with the aim to find a hospitable place at the coast to improve logistics for the support of the missionaries in the hinterland. Amraal Lambert accompanied him on this trip. They followed the ephemeral Kuiseb River
Kuiseb River
The Kuiseb River in Namibia flows from the Khomas highlands west of Windhoek to Walvis Bay. The Kuiseb is an ephemeral river with a mean run-off of roughly 20 million cubic metres per annum....

 and made contact with the Topnaar Nama at the place later called Scheppmannsdorf. In 1825 they reached the river mouth and discovered the natural harbour at Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay , is a city in Namibia and the name of the bay on which it lies...


On his way back he met Jonker Afrikaner
Jonker Afrikaner
Jonker Afrikaner was the fourth Captain of the Orlam Afrikaners in South West Africa, succeeding his father, Jager Afrikaner, in 1823...

 near Rehoboth
Rehoboth, Namibia
Rehoboth is a town of 21,000 inhabitants in central Namibia just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Located on the B1 road, 90 kilometres south of the Namibian capital Windhoek, Rehoboth lies on a high elevation plateau with several natural hot-water springs. It receives sparse mean annual rainfall...

 and convinced him to convert to Christianity. In 1827 he visited Okahandja
Okahandja is a town of 14,000 inhabitants in Otjozondjupa Region, central Namibia, and the district capital of the Okahandja electoral constituency. It is known as the Garden Town of Namibia. It is located 70km north of Windhoek on the B1 road...

, the first European
European ethnic groups
The ethnic groups in Europe are the various ethnic groups that reside in the nations of Europe. European ethnology is the field of anthropology focusing on Europe....

 to do so.

Family life and living conditions

After several years of criss-crossing the vast area of Namaland, Schmelen owned neither shoes nor clothes and dressed himself with hides until in 1818 he got the opportunity to travel to Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

 to procure new essentials. In one of his letters from Bethanie he reports:

Being a rocky and stony place it wasn’t easy to get about. I was not able to keep a horse in these conditions, and so I used an ox which was trained for riding. I took my Bible and a karos [sheepskin] which I used by day as a saddle and as a bed by night. I crossed the vast areas of this land to preach the gospel. The Lord [...] blessed my feeble efforts so much that at times I forgot all about my hunger and thirst which I had to frequently endure on my journeys. My food was only a little meat. I had no bread, but the Lord strengthened me daily, so that by his grace I have endured.

During one of his travels through the Namibian interior in 1814, Schmelen married Zara (née
NEE is a political protest group whose goal was to provide an alternative for voters who are unhappy with all political parties at hand in Belgium, where voting is compulsory.The NEE party was founded in 2005 in Antwerp...

 Frederiks), who originated from Kookfontein. This happened "to the no little horror of his friends" because Zara was of Nama descent, one of the first natives he convinced to convert to Christianity. The London Missionary Society
London Missionary Society
The London Missionary Society was a non-denominational missionary society formed in England in 1795 by evangelical Anglicans and Nonconformists, largely Congregationalist in outlook, with missions in the islands of the South Pacific and Africa...

 temporarily suspended Schmelen, following a rumour that their relation was "sinful", that is: that they were not married.

Interracial marriages between missionaries and indigenous women were common in those days and encouraged by the missionary societies to give the missionaries the opportunity to live an exemplary family life in their congregations, and also to acquire language competencies and local clan support. It was in fact Zara who did most of the work on his Bible translation, as he could not speak Damara/Nama anywhere near native level.

Four children emerged from this marriage, one son who died early, and three daughters, Hanna, who married Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt
Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt
Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt was a German missionary and linguist who worked in South-West Africa, today Namibia. He founded the missionary station and town of Rehoboth and together with Carl Hugo Hahn set up the first Rhenish mission station to the Herero people in Gross Barmen...

, Johanna, and Friederike.

In 1830 Schmelen and his wife traveled to Cape Town again to have their translated works (the Four Gospels and the Catechism
A catechism , i.e. to indoctrinate) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present...

, as well as a dictionary) printed, and to equip themselves again. On the way back, his wife Zara died in April 1831 from exhaustion. He decided to stay in Komaggas and took over missionary work there. He married Elisabeth Maria, sister of missionary Jan Bam, in 1834, and died in Komaggas on 26 July 1848.

External link

  • Pictures of the Schmelenhaus in Bethanie at
    The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.