vanha valokuva, jossa etualalla afrikkalaisia ihmisiä ja taustalla eurooppalaistyylisiä rakennuksia

Shared histories

Historical relations between Finland and Namibia in a new light

The project Revisiting Finnish-Namibian Relations since the 1860s is part of a collaboration connected to the strategic partnership between the University of Turku and the University of Namibia. It brings together Finnish and Namibian historians and other scholars to analyse historical and modern connections between the two countries.

Geographically and culturally distinct Finland and Namibia form an interesting combination from a historical point of view. The Finnish Missionary Society began its mission work in the Owambo region (previously known as Ovamboland in English or Ambomaa in Finnish) in present-day northern Namibia in 1870 and had a strong influence on cultures and societies in the region. In the latter part of the 20th century Finnish mission workers and especially Martti Ahtisaari, the future president of Finland, played central roles in the processes whereby Namibia became independent.

Influences have, however, always moved both ways and Namibia has also been meaningful for Finnish people. During the decades when the Finnish Missionary Society was active in Namibia, a variety of texts, images and objects were circulated in Finland and formed the basis of the early imagery of Africa in the country. For a long time, Owambo remained the best-known corner of Africa among the Finns.

The scholars of this team have different language skills and areas of specialization and they have different cultural backgrounds. This diversity forms an excellent basis for developing novel research questions, conducting joint research and distributing the results widely. We also intend to promote the accessibility of materials located in Finland and/or written in Finnish in Namibia and elsewhere in the world. The project enables new approaches to the history of Namibia and offers tools to understand the past. As far as the Finnish audiences are concerned, it seeks to help understand the relation to the former mission field and Africa more generally.

Image: The Ondangwa mission station, photograph by August Pettinen (1893). Finnish Heritage Agency, Picture Collections, photographs of the Finnish Missionary Society.