24 Feb 2022
The death of Ondonga King Iitana yaNekwiyu on 16 September 1884 plunged the kingdom into a succession struggle which saw Prince Kambonde kaMpingana ascend to the throne on 27 September 1884. Tensions reached near-breaking point when his younger brother, Prince Nehale lya Mpingana, who had been at loggerheads with his older brother from an early age, refused to recognise Kambonde’s kingship.
To prevent an escalation of the conflict between the two brothers, Nehale’s mother, Princess Namupala gwaNangombe, and his father Mpingana yaShimbu, allocated a district to him at Uutumbe in the vicinity of Oniipa in 1885. Nehale had a strong desire for self-determination and refused to settle there, saying “Okwiipangela ku vule okupangelwa,” (“It is better to rule than to be ruled.”) He and his followers moved further and settled east of the Oshana Omulonga in what was known as Oshitambi. He then established his capital at Onayena.
Nehale’s parents recognised his authority over Oshitambi (Eastern Ondonga) in November 1886 and the following year Nehale announced to the Finnish missionaries that he was king of Oshitambi. The Ondonga kingdom was now ruled for the first time in its history by two kings: Onamayongo or Western Ondonga, ruled by Kambonde kaMpingana and Oshitambi or Eastern Ondonga ruled by Nehale lyaMpingana.
Unlike his older brother, who maintained friendly relations with the Finnish missionaries, Nehale was deeply suspicious of the missionaries. He viewed them as collaborators of the Germans colonial administration and feared that the Aawambo would lose their independence. He was especially incensed about the ‘sale’ of a huge tract of land by Kambonde to William Worthington Jordan in 1885. In October that year, Jordan concluded a treaty with a group of Dorslandtrekkers (Thirstland Trekkers) and founded the short-lived Republic of Upingtonia.
Nehale distrusted Jordan, a trader of mixed descent, and arranged for him to be shot dead while Jordan was camping near Omandongo on 30 June 1886. Following Jordan’s death, the two mission stations in Oshitambi, Omandongo and Omulonga was abandoned and the missionaries retreated to Olukonda in Western Ondonga.
When a German military contingent arrived at Namutoni in December 1896 to establish a post to control the spread of rinderpest, Nehale stationed 25 warriors at a waterhole between Oshitambi and Namutoni to report any further advancement into Oshitambi. He also fortified his royal residence at Onayena.
The construction of a German fort at Namutoni in his territory in 1903 did not sit well with the king. When the Ovaherero revolted against the Germans administration in January 1904, they sent a messenger to King Kambonde requesting him to join the war against the Germans. Nehale suggested that Kambonde attack the military post at Okaukuejo, while his forces would simultaneously launch an attack on Namutoni. On the advice of the Finnish missionaries Kambonde and the other Owambo kings, however, decided to remain neutral. Nehale, who had established a close relationship with the Ovaherero, however, attacked Fort Namutoni on the morning of 28 January 1904 as an act of solidarity. The following month, his warriors also attacked Grootfontein.
When plans by the German administration to send a punitive expedition against Nehale failed to materialise in 1906, the administration tried to get Nehale to pay a large number of cattle as compensation for the attack on Namutoni. The recalcitrant king repeatedly refused until his death.
Nehale died on 28 April 1908, according to some sources from a spinal back complication or after falling off a horse, and was buried at Onayena. After his death the Ondonga kingdom was reunited under Kambonde lyaMpingana who died on 9 October 1909.
Nehale was accorded the status of a National Hero for his fierce resistance to colonialism and there is a symbolic grave in his honour at the Heroes’ Acre which was inaugurated on 26 August 2002 in Windhoek.
His courage as an early resistance leader was recognised when the waterhole at Namutoni was renamed the King Nehale’s Waterhole on 28 January 1996. The northern gate of the Etosha National Park was named the King Nehale LyaMpingana Gate when it was opened in 2003, while the King Nehale Conservancy, adjoining the Etosha National Park in the north, was also named in his honour. His name also lives on at the Gondwana Collection’s Etosha King Nehale lodge in the conservancy.
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