The Tsumeb copper mine in the Otavi Mountains of Namibia is famous both for its spectacular mineral specimens and for its unparalleled diversity of mineral species. The site was mined for nearly 100 years, first by Anglo-German and then by multinational companies; however, prior to that, the site was central to the economies of the Ndonga, Haiǁom, and Herero, who mined, smelted, crafted, and traded the copper. This paper attempts to fill a major gap in the early history of Tsumeb: how did control of Tsumeb’s copper transfer from local communities to Germany? By synthesizing a wide variety of sources, this paper tells pre-colonial and early colonial histories of copper in the Tsumeb area, focusing on the Haiǁom who mined the copper, the Ndonga who smelted and crafted it, and the Herero who had historical relationships with the land. Throughout, the paper attempts to connect Tsumeb’s local history with the larger regional context of South West Africa (now Namibia), and to provide a more in-depth account of the communities whose roles, in previous mineralogic histories of Tsumeb, have been reduced to: ‘trouble with the natives.’

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