150 Years of Finnish–Namibian Relations

In July 1870, 150 years ago, after a long and tedious journey, the first Finnish missionaries arrived at their new missionary field in Owambo in what is now northern Namibia. This marked the beginning of an intricate relationship between Finns and Aawambo. The relations of these two people, one from the very far North, the other from the far South, formed into a remarkable and unique bond, which has not always been unproblematic but has always been intense. This has especially been the case in past decades, leading to the long-sought independence of Namibia in 1990.

These relations have resulted in many fascinating cultural phenomena, which we often forget to attribute to the cultural interactions that took place in the past. Thus, even in today’s Namibia, Finnish influence can be recognized, for example, in the first names of many people. In Finland, the very image of Africa as a continent is strongly built upon the multitude of reports, books and interviews concerning the Aawambo.

Some two years ago, the then rector of the University of Turku, Kalervo Väänänen, returned from a journey to Namibia with the objective of instigating a historical project on these intriguing relations. After meeting with the representatives of the University of Namibia (UNAM), it was agreed that a collaborative project on the history of the relations of the two countries would be carried out. This collection of essays is the fruit of this initiative.

This webpage brings together a selection of essays (you can download them in a pdf-book format here) by Finnish and Namibian scholars to shed light on the partly shared histories of the Finnish and Namibian people. Although the history of Finnish-Namibian relations has previously been examined in both countries, scholars in Namibia and Finland have mostly worked in isolation from each other. This collection of essays seeks to combine different perspectives to shed light on some questions and phenomena that bring these people and their histories together.

This collection by no means claims to offer a complete history of the relations, but rather presents a selection of various perspectives that introduce some recent scholarship to the reader. The short essays portray research conducted in Namibia and Finland by scholars of different backgrounds; mostly historians, but also archivists and records managers, fashion and textile designers, sociolinguists, cultural anthropologists and others. The examples show many points of shared interest. Therefore, the aim of this collection of essays is also to encourage future scholarly collaboration between Finns and Namibians. It is evident that by combining different linguistic skills and cultural knowledge and by making available previous research and materials located in both countries it is possible to reach a new level of understanding of our entangled histories.

To our Finnish readers we would especially like to explain some of our editorial decisions. We have decided to call what in Finland was historically termed Ovamboland (“Ambomaa”) as Owambo, to follow the common modern practice. This loses the colonial burden of the historical term. The singular form of Owambo people used is Owambo, in plural Aawambo. In a similar vein, Finnish first names are used in their Finnish form. Thus, Martin Rautanen is referred to as Martti Rautanen and so on.


Turku and Windhoek, November 2019,

Marjo Kaartinen, Leila Koivunen and Napandulwe Shiweda