Nakayale, a village in north-central Namibia has been the home of Finnish missionary work since 1925. Nakayale has long been known as a mission station, where missionary events and undertakings were disseminated to other areas in the north of Namibia and some parts of southern Angola. I remember this because I attended Erkki Tauya Junior Secondary, named after a long serving principal of the school at Nakayale, which is one kilometer from the church. I attended school at Nakayale for six years, from 1989 until 1994, when I left for secondary school elsewhere. While I attended the junior secondary school, which was a little bit further from the church, I remember that there was a primary school, which is in very close proximity to the church.
Nakayale Primary School
The primary school was also established as a result of the efforts of Finnish missionaries, which stemmed from their early work at Oniipa and in Finland. The then colonial government granted the Finnish Missionary Society permission to operate at Nakayale. They provided 1962 yards of ground space. This approval provided for the church, the hospital and the school. However, the three different sections developed differently over time. First the church was fully established, then the school and the hospital in 1936.
The primary school was previously named Nakayale (Okeelele), but is currently named Sakeus Iihuhua Primary School, after the first ‘local missionary’ and pastor at the church. One of the first people to lead the school was John Mandume Ndatipo, a former principal. His father, the late Reverend Simson Ndatipo, was one of the first Namibian pastors to work in difficult conditions of mission work in southern Angola. Simson Ndatipo was one of the first local missionaries to travel to southern Angola to work among the community there. He worked in the areas of Evale, Cassinga, Vila da Ponte, Ngalangi and others. He later led the Nakayale congregation.
Finnish Missionaries at Nakayale
Among the first missionaries to arrive at Nakayale was Heikki Saari. In 1919, while Saari was working in Ongandjera, he was commissioned by the Finnish Missionary Society to go to Ombalantu to oversee the establishment of the mission station at this location. In 1922, whilst Saari was overseeing the process, the Society gave approval for the missionary Kalle Himanen to go to Nakayale in 1922. Himanen stayed at Nakayale on his own, with occasional support from others, until a local pastor was appointed. One of those who visited Nakayale was the missionary Viktor Alho.
Evangelism had been successful in the Ondonga area at this time, where the native Aawambo were being ordained as pastors at a local seminary. One of the first pastors to be ordained was Sakeus Iihuhua, who was later posted to work in Nakayale. Iihuhua was ordained on September 27, 1925 by the missionary Matti Tarkkanen.
Saari, whom the locals nicknamed Ikonyena, oversaw the establishment of the mission station. He led a team to construct the church building, storage room, the rooms of the missionary helpers (female and male sections) and a dispensary, as well as a section for the sick. There was also a shaded area constructed to cater for an animal cart. This was carried out with the assistance of Iihuhua who was a teacher at the time.
The Finnish missionaries were to a certain extent involved in establishing the mission station. When the Aawambo pastors were ordained, it was not deemed necessary to send Finnish missionaries further to north-central Namibia. Instead, they had opted for a policy that prioritized the establishment of other mission centers by local Aawambo, with support provided by the Finnish Missionary Society. Iihuhua initially taught from 1917 until 1921; thereafter he undertook training to become a pastor from 1922 until 1925. When he became an ordained pastor, he was then sent to Nakayale in order to establish a missionary church in the village. Heikki Saari and Himanen stayed at Nakayale until 1922, thereafter Iihuhua joined Himanen in 1925. Iihuhua remained in Nakayale until 1976, but was assisted by Titus Heita between 1955 and 1972. Josafat Kashindi Shanghala took overall charge of the congregation from 1974 until 1977, and worked with Lot Hambiya from 1974 until 1976. Shanghala, who retired as a bishop, is the grandson of the late Sakeus Iihuhua.
Missionary work from Nakayale spread to support the establishment of Igreja Evangelica Luterana de Angola (IELA) in Angola. While it took a number of years to fully establish the church, there was eventually a strong Lutheran presence in the country. The establishment of the IELA in Angola occurred after something of a push-and-pull process whereby the missionaries were not being fully accepted. This was largely due to the strength of Catholicism in the area at the time. The local missionaries worked under harsh conditions, and they were expelled from the area at one point. It was not until 1933, when the Finnish mission work normalized, that they were accepted back into the Ombadja, Ongambwe, Odhimba, Ongalangi, Ovimbundu, Oshihokwe and Ongangela communities.
The late Reverend Sakeus Iihuhua, who was born in Onayena, Ondonga, trained to be a pastor and was ordained in September 1925. Thereafter he was soon sent off to lead the Nakayale congregation. The Finnish missionary Himanen worked at Nakayale together with Reverend Iihuhua. Before Himanen and Iihuhua began working at Nakayale, Saari used to travel back and forth between Ongandjera and Nakayale. He did this in order to teach God’s word among the Aambalantu, as well as Aambadja, who were coming from southern Angola to seek the word of God.
While various writers described the establishment of the church in Ombalantu as difficult, Himanen and Iihuhua managed to teach Christianity and to subsequently convert and baptize a number of locals. Among those baptized were people from southern Angola, who had left their homes in search of the word of God. Indeed, they converted the people from Ombadja first, and thereafter they baptized the locals.
Sakeus Iihuhua established his homestead at Omholo, Outapi, a home that is still associated with missionary work. Iihuhua was receptive to people coming from Angola seeking evangelism, and he housed them at his homestead, where he oversaw bible studies, catechism teachings and other services.
Previous research conducted in Ombalantu in 2002 revealed that the missionaries were at first skeptical and reluctant to pursue missionary work and the advancement of Christianity prior to the 1920s. They may well have been deterred by the Aambalantu killing their own king. Thus, they may well have been initially concerned about the possible eruption of violence in the area. Hence, they did not pursue Christian teachings as fast as they would have liked.
Viktor Alho stayed at Nakayale until the 1930s, together with Ebba Maria von Pfaler (known locally as Nandjungu), who worked at the hospital. They successfully facilitated and oversaw the building of a hospital section called Oshali, where patients with TB were kept in isolation. Other missionaries who worked at the hospital were Aino Vapaavuori, Helmi Makkonen, Kaino Kovanen and Anneli Linkola. Kaino Kovanen, a nurse, stayed for a long time at Nakayale until she was forced to leave because the government of the time did not accept the fact that she was treating people suspected to be SWAPO soldiers. Many children were named after the nurses.
The hospital has since been moved to the town center and renamed Kamhaku Hospital, and is managed by the current government. The school has also been taken over by the government, which is responsible for maintenance including payment of teachers’ salaries.
There are still some building structures at Nakayale that were constructed by the Finnish missionaries that exist to this day. Unfortunately, many of them are no longer in use.
Today the Nakayale congregation has a very active missionary program, which together with other ELCIN congregations, celebrate mission work on 7 July every year.
Auala, J. et al., Ongerki YomOwamboKavango. Ambo-Kavangon Kirkko. The Ovambo-Kavango Church. Helsinki: Suomen Lähetysseura, 1970.
Ekandjo, S., Ondjokonona yaNakayale. Unpublished manuscript, 1993.
Uupendafule womusita Ndatipo. The Namibian Newspaper, 6 November 2015.
Nampala, L. T & V. Shigwedha, Aawambo Kingdoms, History and Cultural Change: Perspectives from Northern Namibia. Basel: P. Schlettwein Publishing, 2006.
National Archives of Namibia (NAN). Finnish Mission Society: Mainstation Nakajale, 10 October 1952. Native Commissioner Ovamboland records.
About the Author
Hertha Lukileni-Iipinge is an archivist at the University of Namibia Library. She has studied archives and records management at the University of Botswana. Her first degree in history was obtained from the University of Namibia. Her research interests are Namibian history, the preservation of documentary heritage and she also works to ensure that scholars have access to this source material.