Uwe Timm

Uwe Timm: Morenga

Review

Uwe Timm's documentary novel "Morenga" is historically closely related to Seyfried's "Herero": the Nama uprising starts on the 4th October, only eight months after the Herero uprising. Timm pursues the rebellion through the eyes of the veterinarian Gottschalk until its suppression in 1907. On the 21st of September 1907, when Gottschalk sets out on his voyage back home, the Germans, with assistance from the English, beat up and kill Jakob Morenga, the leader of the Namas. In order to destroy the traditional tribal structures and to disempower the indigenous peoples economically and force them into labour, the land and cattle of the Herero and Hottentots are confiscated.

"Morenga" is a documentary novel, consisting of real documents such as proclamations, quotations from military and historical papers, combat accounts, newspaper clippings, as well as fictitious documents in the form of notes from logbooks, diary entries and letters. Pjotr Kropotkins "Gegenseitige Hilfe in der Entwicklung" which Gottschalk inherits from his communist friend Wenstrup, acts as a contrasting foil to the imperialistic ideology of these texts. In addition we find impressionistic passages, which describe and view people, landscapes, proceedings, state of minds. The montage of objective and subjective texts brings to mind Alexander Kluge's battle descriptions. However, unlike Kluge, Timm creates the impression of a linear historical event by means of the continuous fictional narration of the veterinarian Gottschalk. In contrast to Seyfried's work, an indigenous perspective is totally absent. Even Jacob Morenga, the Herero/Nama who was educated by missionaries, was a mineworker in South Africa and regarded as a "black Napoleon" because of his leadership abilities and military skills is only portrayed through German and British eyes.

Both the cartographer Carl Ettmann in Seyfrieds' "Herero" as well as the veterinarian Gottschalk in Timms' "Morenga" are reading Fontane and start their South West African adventure as children of their time: they consider the Herero and Nama as people at a lower level of development and see an opportunity to flee an overpopulated Germany and the poor economic prospects they would have there. In order to establish a farm and a more independent livelihood without the restrictions encountered at home, they hope to profit from the "gold rush" atmosphere on the vast African continent. In the course of the war they become disillusioned. They come to realise the value of the Herero and Nama cultures, which are destroyed by imperialism. They approach German colonialism and racism with increasing scepticism. The two civilians are sensitive to the cruelties of the military and become interested in the culture and language of the colonised people who are belittled by the majority of Germans. Their closer relations with the indigenous people result in a profound insecurity, stronger in Gottschalk's case than in Ettmann's. Both have good intentions and an idealistic approach to life. Only gradually do they realise, that due to their respective professions as veterinarian and cartographer, they have no choice but to become accomplices and are instrumental in aiding imperialism and the genocide.

From: GOETHE, Zeitschrift für die Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter des Goethe-Instituts 2/2003: S. 26-27 (Beitrag von Mechtild Manus mit dem Titel "Widerstreitende Erinnerungen an eine gemeinsame Geschichte")