Carl Hugo Hahn was born on the 18th October 1818 in Riga, Livonia province, in Russia. His father, Carl Peter Hahn (1774-1863) was a farmer. His mother was Anna Hahn (1794- 1838). They had four children, of whom CHH was the second child.
Carl Hugo Hahn attended grammar school in Riga. In 1834 he wanted to enlist with the Russian Imperial engineering corps in St. Petersburg. While waiting for acceptance before entering the service of the Russian army, he was converted and decided to become a missionary.
He applied to the Rhenish Missionary Society (a mixture of Reformed and Lutheran convictions) and left home in November 1837 to present himself to the Mission Headquarters in Barmen, Germany.
After a probationary period of 8 months as a teacher assistant at the Reformed parish school in Elberfeld, CHH was admitted to the missionary seminary in 1838.
After his studies he was ordained as a Lutheran minister. In 1841 he was sent by the mission to the Cape (South Africa) with the view of extending the missionary activities of the Rhenish Missionary Society to the north - to what was then known as “Great Namaqualand and Damaraland“ - a part of today’s Namibia.
We must remember that the political borders of Africa, as we now know it, had not yet been defined – this was pre colonial Africa. The scramble for Africa by the European colonial powers had not yet begun. The Scramble for Africa, also known as the 'race for Africa', was the proliferation of conflicting European claims to African territory during the New Imperialism period, between the 1880's and the First World War in 1914.
At the time of CHH’s arrival in Africa in 1841, European nations controlled only 10 percent of the continent. The most important holdings then were Algeria, held by France; the Cape Colony, held by the United Kingdom and Angola and Mozambique, held by Portugal.
Prior to his departure CHH made a list of eleven very challenging “Spiritual Resolutions”, reminding us of similar resolutions that were made by men like the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards. We shall see that the nature of his strong spiritual convictions and Christian commitments are a strong indication for his suitability for the work of a missionary in a very challenging mission field.
Arriving in the Cape and in Windhoek
CHH landed at Cape Town on 6th October 1841, and on the 21st December 1841 he arrived in Komaggas, in the Northern Cape at the mission station of ‘Father’ Johann Heinrich Schmelen, the first missionary to the Namibian people. From there he and another Rhenish missionary Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt and a missionary assistant named Jan Bam left for Windhoek, arriving there in September 1842. Windhoek was the domicile of Jonker Afrikaner. Jonker Afrikaner and 300 followers had left their settlement near Tulbagh in the Cape in 1823 and had established their new settlement at Windhoek ("Aigams"; today "Klein Windhoek") around 1840 - a considerable distance from their original home!
At the time of CHH’s first arrival in Windhoek it was estimated that there were approximately 1000 inhabitants living here. Ten years later CHH estimated Jonker Afrikaner’s people to be about 1200 people, while a further 2000 Hereros and 2000 Bergdama also served the Afrikaner chief.
Tribal tensions were a major problem at the time. Windhoek basically formed the border area between the Namaqua tribes, and the Herero tribes, of Bantu origin. Tjamuaha (ca. 1790 – 1861), father of the famous Herero chief Maherero, was the Herero chief at that time. He made a peace treaty with Jan Jonker Afrikaner in December 1842. He moved to Windhoek the following year and served Jan Jonker Afrikaner by stealing the cattle of fellow Hereros for him ! [Comment: Perhaps, the sensitivities that are felt by the various Herero groups towards each other today has its root in this historical blemish!]
The continual disputes between the Namas and the Hereros would prove to be disastrous and extremely discouraging to the mission, and especially to CHH after Jonker Afrikaner’s death in 1861. Until that time Jonker was undoubtedly the most powerful man in the land. When the peace treaty was signed in 1842 with the encouragement of the missionaries, everybody in the land submitted to Jonker, including the missionaries. He told the missionaries in no uncertain terms (in Dutch) … “Wie op mijne plaats kom, maakt dus wat ik wil, …” - translated .... "he who comes on to my property, does as I please "!
In February 1843 Hahn went to visit the Hereros in Okahandja (which the Missionaries called “Schmelen’s Verwachting” in honour of that great pioneer missionary, Johann Heinrich Schmelen , the father in law of Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt, who married Hanna Schmelen. CHH would eventually start a mission station on the banks of the Swakop (Tsoaxub) river, called Neu Barmen or Otjikango.
At this time the Wesleyan (Methodist) missionary society had also sent some missionaries to Windhoek in response to Jonker Afrikaners pleading for a missionary presence in his midst. However, it is apparent that Jonker had cast his nets very wide, and his desire was not only heard by the Methodists, but also by the Rhenish mission society! Sadly, a dispute arose between the Wesleyans and the Rhenish missionaries. At that time Jonker Afrikaner had preferred the Methodists as his missionaries. This meant that Hahn and the Rhenish missionaries had to leave Windhoek after 2 years.They decided to settle and work among the Hereros in Okahandja. Even though Jonker Afrikaner did not really like this idea, it did not really matter, since he was the undisputed chief of this area.
It is during this time that CHH decided to go back to Cape Town for a while. This apparent setback in his missionary activities ultimately proved to be a great blessing. It was at this time that he had providentially met Emma Sarah Hone (1814- 1880), a devout and godly Christian woman, converted under the ministry of Thomas Binney, a Congregationalist pastor in England, and a contemporary of the great Baptist Preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. She had left England in 1843, sponsored by the “Society for Female Education in the East“. In Cape Town she accepted a temporary position as superintendent of the school attached to the Lutheran church. CHH had hardly seen her twice when he asked her to marry him. She accepted! A letter in her diaries tells the story. Here follows a short excerpt from a letter to her mother written on October 20, 1843:
“You will readily imagine my great surprise at this announcement when I tell you I had met Mr Hahn but twice – it is true, I had heard him preach and was much pleased with the warm manner in which he advocated the cause of the mission in which he is engaged …“. At the beginning of the lengthy letter she introduces him as “Mr Hahn” to her mother , but by the end of the letter he is ‘my dear Hugo’.
They were married in Komaggas on the 3rd October 1843, by Johan Heinrich Schmelen. Their marriage was a good one, and they remained deeply devoted to each other throughout their lives. The letters of Emma Sarah Hahn are a spiritual treat! The godliness of this woman is amazing! Someone ought to write a biography of her life!
Carl Hugo and Emma adopted two Namaqua boys (Daniel and Johannes) and in her letter to her mother she repeatedly calls these two her sons. Emma and Hugo desired to raise these boys for the glory of God, to become teachers among their own people – a wonderful missionary strategy! Later they were to have 4 of their own children.
The young couple spent a short time at the mission station in Komaggas (Northern Cape) in preparation for the mission among the Hereros. The trek by ox wagon was a long and arduous one. It could take up to three months from the Cape to get to Windhoek.
Neu Barmen (Otjikango)
We have seen that the settling of the Wesleyan missionaries (R. Haddy and J.Tindall) in Windhoek brought about a dispute, causing the Rhenish missionaries to leave and settle among the Herero, at Neu Barmen (Otjikango). A number of Herero clans moved here, coming under the sound of the Word of God. The nomadic life styles of the Herero, together with the frequent droughts, cattle raids, thievery etc. made a consistent ministry to them difficult. Yet, despite the odds a church building was completed towards the end of 1847.
CHH learned the Herero language by word of mouth. It was a labour of great patience. He writes: “If I had not feared the hand of God, I would have deserted, and would have left this work to brothers who were more gifted and energetic than I, to learn this language“.
After painstaking preparation, he preached his first sermon in the Herero language on the 24th of January 1845. His text came from Matthew 28:19 (The Great Commission) explaining the reason for which the missionaries had come.
When 2 new missionaries (Johannes Rath and Heinrich Scheppmann) arrived from Germany via Walvis Bay, Franz Kleinschmidt who had been a companion to the Hahn’s left to establish a mission station in a place which he called "Rehoboth" in May 1845.
In 1846 a dark shadow fell over the mission as Jonker Afrikaner broke the peace which was concluded with the Herero on the Christmas of 1842. Why did he do it?
Well, the traders were following hot on the heels of the missionaries, and Jonker Afrikaner had accumulated much debt with the traders. The European traders supplied the “Afrikaner tribe” among other things, with arms and ammunition, and thus he needed to pay back 800 oxen to the traders. So he simply stole these cattle from the Herero tribes to finance his deficit!
This of course, set a terrible precedent. Another Nama tribe, the “Rooi Nasie" (Red Nation) followed Jonker’s example and attacked and raided the Mbanderu (the eastern Herero) of their cattle! The Hereros at this stage were comparatively helpless because they did not own guns.
The country was soon dumped into anarchy. By the end of 1850 Jonker had killed large numbers of the Hereros (including the people of Kahitjene) at Okahandja, which was not far from Neu Barmen, the mission station of CHH. As a result, the Hereros left this area and the mission station had to be temporarily abandoned.
A year earlier, on the 31st October 1849 (Reformation Day) Hahn had written in his diary, as he was reviewing 5 years of missionary labour:
“Reviewing the past 5 years reveals continuous hard labour, much need and fear, but also strings of evidence of the Lord’s help and faithfulness. I have been preaching for two years now, admittedly with limited ability of the language. I cannot yet see the fruit of repentance, but I know that those that are here have heard Gospel truths frequently and they know them. They also know the difference between good and evil. If only the Ovaherero would fear the LORD and shun evil , then we could truly speak of a great change.“
The Rhenish mission recalled CHH in 1852 to Germany to find out whether they should continue with their missionary labours under these circumstances. 1852/3 were years of intense fighting between the Namas and the Hereros.
In July 1850, the Wesleyans had officially terminated their missionary work among Jonker’s people and had left Windhoek. After this the gospel was not preached for several years in Windhoek. This illustrates the importance of praying for the peace of a nation so that the gospel may advance. We shall see that there was such a period of prosperity and advance in the Herero mission between 1870 and 1880.
However, at this stage in the early 1850’s - after 10 years of intensive mission activity, there was still no baptized Herero believer! This reminds us of the circumstances of the great Baptist Missionary to India, Dr. William Carey, who laboured for 7 years before he saw his first convert! Indeed these first missionaries to the Namibian people were saddled with an extremely tough mission field! No wonder that they suffered so very frequently from discouragement.
After consultation with the Rhenish Mission in Germany it was decided that CHH should continue the work among the Hereros, which he did in 1856. At this stage he was also instructed to proceed north, to the Ovambo people, if possible.
During this time of furlough in Europe he had also visited his family and friends in Russia, and his wife’s family in England. You can imagine that this was a time of great joy and refreshment after 13 years of absence from their homeland. Their 3 boys were left with relatives and friends in Germany to pursue their education.
1856-1859 Hahn’s second period at Otjikango (Neu Barmen)
Returning to Africa via Cape Town they sailed for Walvis Bay and disembarked there on the 16th January 1856. They reached Otjimbingwe (which would become the new mission station) in March 1856. There he met many of the Hereros from Otjikango who were very pleased to see him. Often missionaries cannot see the good that is accomplished by their ministry. Now it had become evident that their missionary labours had borne some fruit .
When he left Otjimbingwe to return to his former mission station at Otjikango, he was accompanied by some 100 Hereros. They found the station in a bad shape.
On the first Sunday there, Hahn preached to a congregation of some 150 people. But most of them, though happy to have him back, continued to show little fruit of repentance. Hahn felt very despondent and in a sermon preached in 1857 in the Herero language he told them that he had felt that his preaching to them for the past 10 years had been without any success. Listen to his words preached on Sunday the 25th January 1857:
“I then asked what fruit these 10 years of preaching had yielded. My own response was that I cannot see any fruit; indeed it would appear to me that everything had in fact grown worse, for some years ago they were considerably more desirous to hear the Word of the Lord than they are now, and the thieving and other sins were hardly as bad. I also reminded the women, who commit nothing but sins of the flesh, that they were setting an awful example for their children to follow … one is left with the impression that one’s words bounce back as if from a rock … After this introduction I preached from my text: And forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those that sin against us”.
We may ask a question at this point: Was Hahn a legalistic preacher or was he driven by the doctrines of grace? Did he understand the delicate relationship between law and gospel?
Let me remind you that as a committed Lutheran he would have understood the theological tension between law and gospel. If a classic Lutheran would err in any way, he would err on the side of the doctrines of grace! Dr. Martin Luther gave his life for the doctrines of grace and for the primacy of the gospel over the law! So where did CHH stand in regard to these things? Here we find it in his own words. In his diary entry on that same day he writes: “ I do not wish to oppress them by the law. It is my stated desire and principle, to preach the full, blessed riches of the gospel! However, until now, neither law nor gospel has made a great impression on them!”
Incidentally, it appears as if Hahn was a systematic expository preacher and a true pastoral preacher, for he records in his diary (1st February 1857) that he continued to preach from the Lord’s prayer, the next section …. “and lead us not into temptation.” If one reads Hahn’s diaries one cannot help but see that he passionately preached a 'felt' Christ!
In May 1857 Hahn made his first missionary journey to Ovamboland with a view of establishing a mission station there. He was met with considerable hostility and was almost killed there. About 800 Ovambo warriors surrounded them at one point and threatened to kill their party of about 30 travelers. They were miraculously delivered by the grace of the Lord, and in response to Hahn’s pleading prayer at that time. One of the travel companions was killed with the spear by a son of the Ndonga king, Nangolo.
At this time Hahn continued to work on, and eventually produced and printed a Herero grammar and dictionary – a significant and important step for effective Bible translation. This work would eventually earn him the Doctorate from the University of Berlin, in 1873.
The setbacks upon the missionary cause however continued. In 1858 the wife of his missionary colleague, Johannes Rath and 4 of his six children were shipwrecked and lost at sea near Walvis Bay.
In addition the hostilities between Nama and Herero continued, and this adversely affected the work on the mission stations. The missionaries themselves were frequently abused. The missionaries behaviour towards their aggressors however continued to be meek and Christ-like. They did not use any weapons in self defense, nor did they curse their abusers.
The Rhenish mission however, began to question the viability of the Herero mission and recalled Hahn again in 1859. The Herero mission was closed for the second time. The only baptized convert at this time was a Herero woman called Uerieta.
His foster son Daniel Cloete was left in charge of the Otjikango mission.
Between 1859 and 1863 the mission had dropped to its lowest level ever as this period was characterized by continuous unrest and upheavals, after the death of Jonker Afrikaner in 1861. Only one missionary, Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt remained in Nama/ Damaraland.
In Germany, Hahn was offered the post of director of the Berlin Missionary society. He turned that offer down and persuaded the Rhenish mission to send him back – but this time with more missionaries. He persuaded the Mission society to adopt a new approach i.e. the formation of a “Missions Kolonie“ - a missionary colony. Hahn was a pioneer in what is today called ‘holistic mission’. Nambala and Buys comment,
“Hahn endeavored to convey a comprehensive Christian message in three parts …
(i) a Christian economy and lifestyle.
(ii) A Christian community removed from the non believing community where converts could feel at home and live as Christians.
(iii) Christian leadership training, equipping young people for leadership in traditional society.
In summary, Hahn attempted to establish a missionary church, in which the gospel message, the community of believers and the service of the church to the community (kerugma, koinonia and diakonia) would convey the gospel in an integrated manner.
1864 - 1873 Hahn’s Third Missionary Period
He returned in 1864 with a Blacksmith and a wheelwright, followed by further Mission colonists (including the Haelbich family, one of whose descendants is a member of our congregation today! ), settling at Otjimbingwe. Apparently this worked well, and many Hereros were taught various skills and people were becoming settled in this colony, in which food security was soon achieved. The church grew and more people were baptized, whilst also joining the church. In 1866 he started a school, called the Augustineum, named after empress Augusta of Germany, who sponsored this project. This school continues to exist today in Windhoek, under the same name.
In 1866 he traveled once more to Ovamboland visiting all the Ovambo chief, who had by then requested a missionary to be sent to them. Hahn promised that he would have a missionary for them within two years. He kept his word, and sent Martin Rautannen who did an extraordinary work among the Ovambo people - a labour that spanned 50 years! Incidentally, some of the Ovambo kings had sent their sons with Hahn to Otjimbingwe to be educated at the Augustineum.
In 1869 renewed heavy battles raged between the Hereros and the Namas. This time the Namas suffered heavy losses, and Jan Jonker Afrikaner (the son of the chief Jonker Afrikaner who had died in 1861) asked Hahn for mediation between himself and Maherero on the 23rd September 1870. This peace treaty would last for 10 years and did much to propel the cause of the gospel. The Herero Mission experienced rapid growth at this time.
When hostilities were renewed in 1880, this brought the German government and military into the country – the beginning of the colonial era and the scramble for Africa.
1873 Resignation from the Rhenish Missionary society
In 1873 his relationship with the Rhenish Missionary society became very strained. Hahn had always been a dogmatic Lutheran. He had often struggled with the lack of a clear confessional basis of the Rhenish Mission. The Rhenish Mission was not church based; it was simply a “missionary agency“, drawing its missionaries from the Reformed and Lutheran confessions, and therefore it would not commit itself to an exclusive position. Hahn wanted the churches which he founded to be Lutheran - which did in fact happen in time! However, the straw that broke the camels back for him was when the Rhenish Missionary society wanted to dissolve the Otjimbingwe Mission colony and form the “Missions – Handels – Aktien Gesellschaft“ – essentially a commercial enterprise. That was the end for Hugo Hahn. He resigned and returned to the Cape, where he was called to become the pastor of the St. Martin Lutheran congregation in Paarl, until his death in 1884. His son, Carl Hugo became his assistant pastor.
A heavy blow was dealt him when his beloved wife Emma Sarah died in 1880.In 1882 he traveled to Hereroland once more as peacemaker, and he was received there with great enthusiasm.
In 1884 he returned to Germany once more and renewed his fellowship with the Rhenish mission, who granted him the status of “missionary emeritus”. At this time he also visited his sons Traugott and Josaphat, and then he visited his beloved motherland, Russia. Following that he visited his much loved and only daughter, Gita in New York. She was married to a missionary Beiderbecke, who had originally been a missionary to the Hereros, but who had to leave Namibia for health reasons.
Then he returned to South Africa. After a short illness he died in 1894 and was buried in Paarl with his wife. The inscription on their grave reads very simply: “Your kingdom come!”
Summary and Evaluation
What made Carl Hugo Hahn a great missionary? Why do we want to honour his memory?
1. He was a true follower of Christ. He belongs to a generation of Christians who when they hear the call of God rise up and follow Christ immediately. He did not say “let me first go bury my father“ (Matt 8:18-22). When Christ called, he did not say – let me first complete my engineering degree. He followed. His resolutions are a great reflection of a heart that truly loved Christ. It is clear that he had a pastoral / missionary call – otherwise he would have never survived in the ministry.
2. He was a devoted husband and father. He had an ‘incredible’ wife! His children were all devoted to Christ.
3. He was a church planter. At the heart of his missionary endeavor was the planting and establishing of churches (Lutheran). He saw the church as the center of God’s missionary plan.
4. He was a peacemaker. He displayed remarkable leadership and diplomatic skills in establishing the peace treaties between the warring Herero and Nama, both at the “Christmas peace“ of 1842 and at the peace treaty of 1870. He avoided political favouritism. Hahn said: “My task is to preach the Word and not to govern people“.
5. He was a language pioneer. He compiled the first grammar and dictionary of the Herero language. For this he was awarded a Doctorate from the Universities of Berlin and Leipzig.
6. He was an educator. He became the founder of the "Augustineum", a school, thereby laying the foundation for education and leadership in Namibia. He was also the director of the first artisan school, as well as organizing trade and industry in Otjimbingwe.
7. He was a spiritual father in Christ. He can be rightly named the father of the Herero mission, and he was also instrumental in opening up the gospel to the Ovambo people, for he brought the Finnish missionary society to Ovamboland in 1870.
8. He is the father of the Lutheran confession in Namibia. Namibia is the Lutheran "success story". One could only wish and pray that modern Lutherans generally speaking would have a similar spirit and attitude in terms of his evangelical zeal and doctrine.
I have had the privilege of meeting one of Carl Hugo Hahn's direct descendants (Carl Hahn), who lives in Windhoek and is an airline pilot for Air Namibia. Marcelle, my wife, a pre- primary school teacher at St Georges Diocesan School (Windhoek) has also taught his son, Hugo Hahn.
Brigitte Haelbich (Reissner), a member of our congregation is a 5th generation descendant of the Haelbich's, blacksmiths/wagon builders, who came out as a part of Carl Hugo Hahn's Mission's Kolonie. She became a born again, confessing Christian under the ministry of our congregation.