When Jakob Marengo was captured and killed in a battle between his men and the combined German-British forces in 1907, the British security forces who were actively involved in the battle were awarded with a German military medal.
Records say this was the only time in the history of the German Empire that British security forces were decorated with a German military medal.
This shows how powerful Marengo was as a Namibian resistance fighter during the Herero-Nama resistance against German occupation between 1904 and 1908.
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In 1884, Germans invaded what is now present-day Namibia in Southern Africa to obstruct the British who were planning to expand their territories into Namibia.
The Herero and Nama tribes were the two indigenous people of Namibia who owned the lands and were prosperous cattlemen and farmers.
Before the German invasion, they lived in sophisticated and well developed social settings, but between 1884 and 1903, they helplessly watched on as the Germans took over the lands and properties, killed their labor force and shipped them away into slavery.
In January 1904, the outraged Herero and Nama tribesmen were armed with local weapons and rifles and attacked the Germans.
Marengo was one of the courageous anti-colonial fighters who stood his ground against the colonizers.
“Born of a Herero mother and a Nama father, Marenga had a vision of broad African nationalism which transcended narrow ethnic loyalties and he was therefore designated as ‘the man of the future’. He employed scientific guerilla tactics with the multi-ethnic troops under his command and engaged the German colonial army in more than fifty battles,” founding president of Heroes’ Acre near Windhoek Sam Nujoma said in 2002 when Marengo was recognized as one of nine national heroes of Namibia.
Starting off as a mineworker, Marengo was educated by Christian missionaries and was fluent in German, English, and Afrikaans.
Before making his name in the Herero and Nama uprising of 1904–1907, Marengo was already involved in other local attacks across German South West Africa regions.
But it was the Herero and Nama uprising that would earn him a reputation as the fighter with intelligent tactical plans.
Nicknamed the Black Napoleon by the Germans, Marengo, with his over 600 armed men from the Nama, Herero, and Xhosa, became a thorn in the flesh of the Germans during the Herero and Nama uprising.
“In July 1904 he started raiding farms in the southern parts of the colony, ransacking and killing the inhabitants. He took care not to clash with the Schutztruppe. Every so often he and his men evaded capture by retreating across the border into the Cape Province and thus onto British territory,” writes Gondwana Collection.
Accounts state that his aim was to exchange “German rule for British rule as he expected justice and fair play from Britain.”
“This naive political belief, which was being challenged at that very moment in Natal in the socalled Bambatha Rebellion may or may not have been too seriously meant (after all he was in British captivity) but it is implicit from Marengo’s background and from the composition of his fighting force that he was not fighting to restore the power of the chiefs,” according to sahistory.org.za.
Meanwhile, Marengo also aimed at reuniting the different groups which been kept apart for so long by the Germans.
Fighting over 50 battles against the Germans, the latter, in March 1906, launched a major offensive against Marengo who fled to the Cape Province again (a British territory).
But getting there, he realized he was also wanted by the British authorities, so he turned himself in and was detained. He was later freed and he left for Upington.
Despite being put under police surveillance, he managed to evade the system and went into hiding close to the border of German South west Africa where he quickly began gathering supporters.
At this juncture, the German authorities asked the British to remove Marengo from that border area and even a bounty on his head.
Realizing that he didn’t have any friendly area that will serve as an external base, Marengo decided to leave to Kalahari in Bechuanaland Protectorate to plan his next line of action.
But the Germans troops and the British police managed to find him in the hills of Eenzaamheid where he had 30 men with him.
After a battle lasting almost two hours, Marengo was eventually shot and killed by the German-British forces on September 20, 1907.
One of the nine national heroes in Namibia, Marengo has since been honored with a statue and a granite tombstone “with his name engraved and his portrait plastered onto the slab.”
As the thevillager.com writes, “Every Namibian student that has ever studied Namibian history will remember this man, as the Tate in a hat, and dark jacket, eye focused and one had resting on his lap.
He was this man with a dark complexion that sat in a confident pose and could be easily imagined on a horse riding towards the energy lines with his men. He was one of the first heroes you were taught about in Namibian history.”