The special relationship between Finland and Namibia has began already a century ago. The first Finnish missionaries made the long voyage in the 1860's almost to the other side of the world, to the now nearly mythical Ovamboland. The northern parts of Namibia were inhabited by ovambopeople, who were ruled by a sovereign king. The Germans were also already present in Namibia, but since the northern was rough territory, most oft he German settlement was concentrated to middle and southern parts of the country. The vast north remained the Finns working field.
The most famous of the missionaries was Martti Rautanen or just simply Nakambale. The name comes form his habit of wearing a hat made on straw, which seemed very unusual to the locals. Nakambale means "basket" in ovambo. The name stuck so hard, that even Rautanen's son, who continued in the same line of work as his father, was called son of basket.
The influence of Rautanen and the other missionaries was significant. Thanks to them a progressive schooling system was founded in the area and it was used over a hundred years. The missionaries also played a role in rooting out some old, often nasty, habits. For example before when the king died, his first wife lost her life as well. This practice stopped with the Finns. The Finns had generally a good relationship with the ovambokings and in the late 19th century first of the kings converted into Christianity. The first church of Ovamboland was build in 1870 in Olukonda just 100 meters away from missionary station and home of the Rautanen family.
Rautanen also found himself a wife in Africa. He married Frieda, the daughter of a family of German speaking missionaries. Frieda's family were missionaries in many generations and in the beginning her father was strongly against the relationship, but came around later. The couple continued together their work. Rautanen lived the rest of his life in Ovamboland. He returned only few times to Finland, even then only for short periods. Nakambale died in 1926. Frieda lived longer, until 1937. They and several of their children are buried in the cemetery of the church in Olukonda. On the tombstone of Rautanen is also written Nakambale.
As in his own words: "I have two homelands, as everyone else. You have Heaven and Finland, I have Heaven and Ovamboland." (Martti Rautanen's letter from 1903)
Today, in Olukonda, the premises of the missionary station are occupied by the Nakambale Museum. It was founded in 1995 by ELCIN (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia), but is nowadays run by NACOBTA (Namibian Community Based Tourism Association). The station is the museums main building. The 136-year old church is no longer in everyday use, but has come a very popular place to hold weddings.
In the museum's exhibition the lives of the early missionaries is presented through artefacts of everyday life. You can see musical instruments, plates and sets, some imported from Finland, some of local origin and Rautanen's handmade choth closet, which was first of it's kind in Ovamboland. There's also Rautanen's study room, were is on display his devised system to translate the bible to Ovambo.
Next to the station is a traditional ovambohouse. It has proved to be popular visiting place among school-classes. The house is a fine example of the local construction style. The different rooms are separate huts, which are divided and connected with small fences. The whole house is surrounded by a bigger fence.
The museum also offers traditional lunches. Eating by hand from big bowls made of clay is a great experience. The porridge accompanied with grilled chicken and spinach and bean sauce is delicious and well worth a try. The Nakambale museum also supports local cultural identity. In the museum's small gift shop you find woven crafts, like baskets and toys, made by the local women. There is a possibility to stay overnight at the camping site of the Museum.
Text & photos by Karita Immonen