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From: Stephen Hayes
To: All
Date: 2003-03-05 03:44:36
Subject: The other side of silence

Forwarded from the South African Genealogy list

=== Forwarded message follows ===

South African novelist Andre Brink's latest book  - The Other Side of Midnight.

The book describes savage, brutal events which took place in the then South
West Africa in the early 1900s. The story is about Hanna X, a fictional
German orphan girl who is among a boatload of women sent out from Bremen to
South West Africa to marry or service the soldiers busy fighting the Herero
and Nama populations there.  She's abused in the orphanage back home, she
is abused - and witnesses abuse - on the boat, and is raped and appallingly
mutilated on her arrival in Africa.

Those women who are rejected by the men for being too old or too ugly are
sent to an institution in the middle of nowhere, where they suffer yet more
brutality, until Hanna plans her revenge on the officer who scarred her
face, her body, and chopped out her tongue.  Then author Andre Brink uses
his imaginings to carry on the story.

The title of the book comes from a George Eliot quote - "If we had a keen
vision and feeling of all ordinary human life it would be like hearing the
grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar
which lies on the other side of silence."

Brink came upon the story of these women through his friend, Afrikaans
writer George Weiderman who was then living in Windhoek and saw a newspaper
cutting from Die Republikein. The article dealt with the shipping out of
young women from Germany to South West Africa at the end of the 19th and
the early 20th Century in order to fulfill the needs of the troops then
stationed there. Many of these women were orphans. There were some
prostitutes among them who wanted to get out of the brothels. Some were
adventurers and others were women destitute in one way or another from the
poorhouses of the German towns. The German authorities were looking
particularly for women under 30 so that they could fulfill what, in their
eyes, was a useful function upon arrival. There usually were anything from
about 60-70 to several hundred on a boatload, and the first of these came
out in about 1901 and went on until about the outbreak of the First World
War.  They boats arrived several times a year in Swakopmund or Luderitz.

Because most of the women could not afford the passage they were housed in
appalling conditions and they were at the mercy of the crew of the boat.

Men in search of women could register their names with the authorities in
Windhoek, and when a shipload of women came in, each of them was assigned
to one of the men who'd put in a request.

Upon arrival in Swakopmund or Luderitz, the women were put on a train. At
that stage the train journey from Swakopmund to Windhoek took four or five
days, during which there was a process of mixing and matching, with
everybody trying to find out whether there was somebody to suit him or her.
Some women and men died on the trains because fights would break out. Upon
arrival in Windhoek, the local churches were busy.

The women deemed too ugly, too old or whatever, to be marriageable were
sent off to a settlement in the desert, which was then used by some of them
as a kind of religious retreat. It was also a brothel of a kind as
detachments of soldiers passed through. There was no need to guard these
women because if they tried to escape the desert got them, as they couldn't
last for more than a couple of days without food and water in the searing heat.

The fictional Hanna eventually takes the risk of leaving this place, along
with the young girl Katja. It is during the visit of a detachment of
soldiers who attempt to rape Katja that Hanna decides to leave. Hanna is
eventually restored to health in some ways by the Nama people.

By accident an ex-student of Andre Brink who's now living in Germany
discovered that her great-great-great-grandmother was one of the women
brought out. She found out that the father of this girl came out with her
and made sure she was properly married before he left her. The
great-great-great-grandmother had kept a diary.

Anne Lehmkuhl
Ottawa, Canada


--- WtrGate v0.93.p9 Unreg
 * Origin: Khanya BBS, Tshwane, South Africa [012] 333-0004 (5:7106/20)
SEEN-BY: 633/267 270
@PATH: 7106/20 22 7102/1 140/1 106/2000 633/267

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