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Carl Hugo Hahn

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Carl Hugo Hahn

Carl Hugo Hahn

Carl Hugo Hahn (1818–1895) was a German missionary and linguist who worked in South Africa and South-West Africa for most of his life. Together with Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt he set up the first Rhenish mission station to the Herero people in Gross Barmen. Hahn is known for his scientific work on the Herero language.

Early life

Hahn was born into a bourgeois family on 18 October 1818 in Aahof near Riga, Latvia. He studied Engineering at the Engineering School of the Russian Army from 1834 onwards but was not satisfied with that choice and, more generally, his parents' way of life. In 1837 he left Ādaži (Aahof) for Barmen (today part of Wuppertal, Germany) to apply at the missionary school of the Rhenish Missionary Society. He was admitted to the Missionary School in Elberfeld (also part of Wuppertal today) in 1838 and graduated in 1841.[1]

Missionary work

Hahn arrived in Cape Town on 13 October 1841. His orders were to bring Christianity to the Nama and the Herero in South-West Africa—not an easy task considering that both tribes were enemies at that time. He travelled to Windhoek in 1842 and was well received by Jonker Afrikaner, Captain of the Orlam Afrikaner tribe residing there. When in 1844 Wesleyan missionaries arrived at the invitation of Jonker Afrikaner, Hahn and his colleague Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt moved northwards into Damaraland in order to avoid conflict with them.[2]

Hahn and Kleinschmidt arrived at Otjikango on 31 October 1844. They named the place Barmen (today Gross Barmen) after the headquarters of the Rhenish Missionary Society in Germany and established the first Rhenish mission station to the Herero there.[3] At that time Jonker Afrikaner oversaw the development of the road network in South-West Africa. Hahn and Kleinschmidt initiated the creation of a path from Windhoek to Barmen via Okahandja, and in 1850 this road, later known as Alter Baiweg (Old Bay Path), was extended via Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay.[4] This route served as an important trade connection between the coast and Windhoek until the end of the century.[5]

Their missionary work was not very successful, and Hahn visited Europe between 1853 and 1856 to gather support for his endeavors, which by then were considered futile by the Rhenish Missionary Society. He returned with the order to evangelize the people in Ovamboland but his expedition to the Ovambo in 1857 ended in a disaster, and the members barely escaped alive. Moreover, Gross Barmen was almost destroyed by then due to the skirmishes between Namas and Hereros.[1]

After the Herero defeated the Nama on many occasions, missionary work was continued. Hahn moved westwards to Otjimbingwe in 1863 and established a missionary station and a theological seminary there to educate indigenous missionaries. Five years later, an attack by the Nama ended his hitherto successful project. The Herero fled the settlement and gave up their Christian affiliations. In 1870 Hahn brokered a ten-year peace deal between Nama and Herero and convinced the Finnish Missionary Society to take over missionary work in Ovamboland. When the Rhenish Missionary Society began trading for profit and colonising, Hahn severed his ties with them in 1872 and relocated to the Cape Colony.[1]

For the next twelve years, Hahn served as pastor of the German Lutheran congregation in Cape Town. From 1882 until his retirement in 1884 he was the Cape Government's "Special Commissioner for the Walwich Bay Territory".[6]

Linguistic works

While in Gross Barmen, Hahn learned to speak Otjiherero and translated the New Testament and other religious texts into the language of the natives. He also drafted a grammar of Otjiherero and published its first dictionary. During his visit to Germany in 1873/74, University of Leipzig awarded a Doctor degree honoris causa to Hahn for his research on the language of the Herero,[1] although his domestic servant and interpreter, Urieta (Johanna Gertze) probably had a more than cursory role in the creation of his language studies and publications.[7]

Family life

Carl Hugo Hahn married his wife Emma (née Hone, daughter of William Hone) on 3 October 1843. They had one daughter and three sons. After his retirement in 1884, Hahn visited his daughter Margaritha in the United States, and later lived with his son Carl Hugo Hahn (Jr.) in Paarl, South Africa. He died in Cape Town on 24 November 1895 and is buried at St. Petri in Paarl.[6]




  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ Vedder 1997, p. 222.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Vedder 1997, pp. 252–253.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^


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