Ewald Ovir

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Ewald Ovir (born February 6, 1873 in Jaggowall ( Estonian Jägala ), parish Alt Jegelecht ( Jõelähtme ) near Reval , Estonia Governorate ; † October 20, 1896 in Akeri at Mount Meru , Tanzania ), sometimes also written Gerald Ovir , was a Protestant Missionary . He is considered a Christian martyr .


Youth and education

Ewald Ovir was born the fifth of seven children to the farmer and estate manager Karl Ovir, who had moved to Jegelecht from northern Livonia . From 1883 to 1890 Ewald Ovir attended the Gouvernements- Gymnasium in Reval. He was considered a hardworking, level-headed and conscientious student. The financial problems, the death of his mother and the related separation from his family had a negative impact on his mental and physical health. From the age of eleven he had to help in various German-Baltic households in Reval , later as a private tutor. During this time, one of his doctors brought him into contact with the external mission.

On November 30, 1891, he entered the seminary of the Leipzig Missionary Association . On March 28, 1895, he passed the final exam. He was finally ordained on June 2. On June 5th of the same year Ovir and Karl Segebrock were sent to Kilimanjaro in what was then German East Africa , which had been a German colony for about 4½ years. Your ship left the port of Hamburg . Ovir reached Mombasa on August 10th. In August Ovir carried out a fact-finding mission to Mount Meru. The local Mangi Matunda received him kindly. This gave rise to the hope that there would be no attacks by the local population to be feared.

Missionary work

On September 21, 1895, Ovir arrived in Madschame (now Machame ), where he worked with the missionary Müller. Several stations of the Leipzig Mission had existed on Kilimanjaro for several years. The missionaries stationed there helped Ovir and Segebrock to grow into their duties. So they had to learn the local language. Scientific research on the local population was not very advanced at this point; Ewald Ovir, who was considered highly gifted, was able to make a significant contribution. The constant contact with the local population, the students who were fed in the mission station and workers at the station improved the missionaries' knowledge. After a short time they were able to begin religious instruction. They were also entrusted with all the work that had to be done in the house and garden. When another station was built on Kilimanjaro, they had to help with all construction work.

After a year, the missions quorum allowed Ovir and Segebrock to expand their work westward. On October 13, 1896, they traveled with some local Christians and 70 porters to the area of ​​Mount Meru, which was three days away. Here they wanted to build a new mission station in Usangi in the northern Pare Mountains , the first in this region. The reason for the order was the increased likelihood that the Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit could establish a Roman Catholic station in the same area. They wanted to forestall this foundation. A few days later, some of the porters reached their destination first and were able to report to the missionaries on their return that they had been warmly received by Matunda. As a result, the missionaries and the few remaining Christian companions felt safe when they reached the intended position of the mission station to be established on October 15.

In addition, a 30-man Askari protection force arrived a little later on a reconnaissance train under the leadership of Captain Kurt Johannes, the Moshi station chief responsible for the local district , and set up a military camp nearby. However, John warned the missionaries about rebellious Arusha and Meru warriors. The Arusha are a people of the Maasai who settled further south , after whom the Arusha region is named today. John had carried out a surprise attack on the Arusha in 1895.

Violent death

Some native warriors, who were not under Matunda, attacked both the soldiers 'and the missionaries' camps in an equally surprising retaliatory strike against the captain on the night of October 20, 1896, in order to prevent further penetration by Europeans. Since the military camp was surrounded, the soldiers could not help the missionaries. The local warriors surrounded the unprotected tent of Ovir and Segebrock and killed them after a short fight with numerous spears, while Johannes escaped with his life. Ovir is said to have previously called out to the attackers:

"I'm dying, but I thank you!"

Three of the local Christian companions also died in the attack, while two were captured. The attack by the Arusha was finally repelled.

Three of the escorts escaped and reported on the attack and Ovir's last words, which were also witnessed by the local soldiers nearby. A short time later, one of the Christian companions told the missionary Müller that the injuries suffered by the missionaries were as numerous "as if you threw a fishing net over one and drew every stitch with a spear".


The missionaries were buried by the soldiers at the place of their death, near Akeri.

When Captain Johannes reached the German administration in Moshi, a punitive expedition was planned under Lieutenant Moritz Merker. He moved with 100 Askari from the Chagga people to the region of the attack and began the retaliatory strike on October 31. After three weeks of fighting that killed several hundred locals, the Meru had to surrender their rifles and pay a large amount of ivory as a tribute . Their homes and food reserves were destroyed. In this way Johannes gained control of the region, but armed clashes continued for years.

In Germany, the fatal attack on Ovir and Segebrock endangered the financial support of the Leipzig Mission in German East Africa. The mission management responded by styling the two killed missionaries as martyrs, which was simplified by Ovir's last recorded words in order to bind their supporters closer to themselves. On November 10, 1896, a commemorative sermon for Ovir and Segebrock was held in Leipzig's Nikolaikirche on the occasion of the annual celebration of the local mission branch. In it, the situation of the mission was compared with that of a victorious general, who would be incited to fight further by the death of his soldiers instead of giving up. The motive that the blood of the missionaries would require further missionary work was maintained in many publications on the death of Ovir and Segebrock, even in later times.

In 1900, Carl Paul , a later director of the Mission Society, expressed the hope that others would take the place of the "fallen" missionaries and that the place of their death was "consecrated ground". He hoped that a chapel would be built on this site as a sign of the ultimate victory of Christianity.

In 1902, the Leipzig Mission in the Meru area prevailed. The martyrs grave was expanded, maintained, often photographed and thus made known in Germany in order to gain support for the mission. It also became an important symbol for the emerging Chagga Church. The cult of martyrs around Ovir and Segebrock, cultivated in this way, also motivated others to do missionary work for the Leipzig mission, for example Hugo Stelzner, who admitted that a book about the two missionaries had taken him to the missionary service.

On Monday, October 19, 1936 at 7 p.m., a memorial service for Ewald Ovir and Karl Segebrock took place in the St. Petri Church in Riga . The bell made by JC Schwenn in Riga, which was intended for the chapel in Akeri, which was located near the grave of the two missionaries, was also inaugurated there. This bell and another bell that was to be brought to India represented the gift of the German-speaking Evangelical-Lutheran congregations of Latvia for the 100th anniversary of the Leipzig mission.

Despite the violent colonization that was then linked to the mission, there are now numerous Christian communities between Kilimanjaro and Meru. Next to the grave of Ovir and Segebrock is the church of the village today.

Remembrance day

October 20 in the Evangelical Name Calendar .

The day of remembrance was first introduced unofficially by Jörg Erb for his book Die Wolke der Zeugen (Kassel 1951/1963, vol. 4, calendar on pp. 508-520). The Evangelical Church in Germany took over in 1969, this Memorial Day in the then introduced Evangelical Name calendar since this Protestant Memorial has official character.



  • Karl von Schwartz: Karl Segebrock and Ewald Ovir , Verlag Ev.-luth. Mission, 1897

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