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A Man and a Mission

Namibia is purported to have some of the most beautiful postage stamps in the world. But what’s more fascinating are the stories behind the artful images they depict—plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history, and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with her.

These stamps pay homage to a Finnish Mission and Nakambale, a man committed to its success.

A Man and a MissionFor centuries, outreach to foreign and undeveloped nations was a practice adopted by churches with a primary aim of preaching the gospel. These missions as they came to be called, evolved to do so much more, providing vital services in times of need.

In 1871, Olukonda was founded as the first Finnish missions in Owamboland. From 1880 until he resigned his post in 1920, the post was headed by Martti Rautanen, known by locals as Nakambale, the one with the basket, because of his trademark skullcap.

The beginning years were somewhat rocky due to the fluctuating political climate, the departure of key Finns and even to the sudden death that led to the arrival of Rautanen and his family.

Rautanen led a humble life dedicated to the evangelization of the AaWambo people. Born in what is today Russia, he knew early he was destined to a life of service and attended the Training School of Missionaries in Helsinki, after which he was ordained.

Life in Olukonda was hard. Initially settled at another mission with his wife and three children, they were forced to move when the reigning King resisted their work and even contemplated expelling them from his kingdom. The Olukonda climate was different and they suffered frequently from malaria, eventually losing four of their nine children to the disease.

Generally, their move to Olukonda proved more stable and Rautanen gained the confidence of various AaNdonga kings. The first church was constructed in 1888, its foundations and walls built from clay, sun-dried brick walls. Weddings, including two of Rautanen’s daughters, anniversary and birthday celebrations, and evenings of hymn singing filled the walls with joy. But there were also tears of sadness. The mission house often served as a hospital for sick workers, some of whom died there.

The mission prospered under Rautanen’s leadership with an expansion of the church, and the addition of a mission house and other ancillary buildings. Prominent visitors such as Swiss botanist Dr. Hans Schinz, high-ranking German officials and the Administrator of South West Africa all visited during his tenure. Increasingly, he was called on by German and later South African officers, serving as a translator and political advisor. He worked as a linguist and compiled a German-OshiNdonga dictionary, translated the Book of Hymns and started translating the Book of Prayers.

Although he resigned from his post in 1920, he remained at the mission, dying there in 1926. His commemorative service was held in the church he laboured for, with hundreds of people attending the service.

In 1991, the mission house and church were renovated and converted into a museum known as the Nakambale Museum. Along with the adjoining cemetery, the site was proclaimed a national monument on November 2, 1992. It’s now one of the best places to experience Owambo cultural history.
Stamps and Stories, Vol. 1, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012.