Oshiwambo Forms of Greetings: Homestead Greetings

By By Petrus Angula Mbenzi
April 2011
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THERE are strict procedures that must be followed when greeting at a homestead.

When a person comes into a house, the greeting is not responded to by the house occupants immediately. The visitor shouts out once, for example. Mu uhala po? (How did you spend the afternoon?), while they are outside the house.

When they repeat the same for the second time, the question: Yee? (What?) is asked. This is done because Aawambo people fear that if one responds to the first shout, one might respond to a witch who might remove their vocal cords.

They then repeat the shout for the third time then the full response comes. Ee-ee. (Yes). The visitor is then asked: Owe ya ngaa? (Are you coming in?) If they are known to the house dwellers, this is an invitation for them to go where the house occupants are.

They respond: Ee-ee. (Yes) If the visitor is not known to the house dwellers, they are confined to the ehale (passage yard), until one of the house occupants goes to greet them. A woman who goes to greet a visitor kneels down whereas a man crouches before the greeting begins.

According to the Aawambo tradition, the visitor remains at the oshoto (a round uncovered enclosure for assembling) which is close to the entrance. There are poles at the oshoto, which are used as seats. The double poles in the west are reserved for the husband. The pole to his right is reserved for the munyalombe (the senior wife) the one on his left is reserved for junior wives.

The poles which are behind the senior wife’s seat are reserved for trouble makers or cowards. The poles behind the junior wife’s seat are reserved for the non-trouble makers. In the centre of the seats is the fireplace where a big log is kept burning as a sign of good luck.

Although the polygamous system has gone out of fashion, the seat to the right is still reserved for the trouble makers (iipundi yomawaya) and the one on the left is reserved for the non- trouble makers. The husband still owns the centre seat.

The house holder asks the visitor many questions such as We enda ngaa omutenya, onawa tuu? (You are travelling in the heat of the sun, is it all right?) This question challenges the visitor to tell his side of their story. The two people involved in the greeting can shake hands if they know each other. But a child should not disclose the whereabouts of the parents too soon. The child pretends that they might have gone out without saying where.

When a stranger identifies themselves, the child goes into the inner part of the house and informs the parents. If the parents do not know the visitor and are suspicious, they tell the child to inform the visitor that they are not in. The wife follows the same procedure when a stranger asks for her husband. She goes to the oshinyanga shamutyakemo (a dwelling place of he who is not in) and informs the husband. The husband can either instruct his wife to tell the visitor to come into the inner part of the house, or he asks his wife to tell the visitor that he is not in if he is suspicious.

There are greeting forms which are not restricted to any particular time of the day, but are often said during the day, for example Tu pii mo wo (May we be allowed in?) and Megumbo? (In the house?)

But again, these forms of greetings are repeated before the response is given. The response given here is not Ee-ee. (Yes) but it is Oomuka. (It is in here). If the person has already visited the house, when they come back he would shout: Omu mu li? (Are you in?). The response to this form of greeting is: Ee-ee. (Yes). And then, Ee-ee wa galuka? (Yes. Are you back?)

Greetings can also be linked to meal times. When one visits a house during lunch, one may shout: Omwiha? (Lunch?) The person who responds, follow the regular procedure and finally responds: Oonguka. (It is here.). When it is supper time, a visitor may shout: Uulalelo? (Supper?) The answer is:Oombuka.(Here it is.)

When a visitor is allowed in the homestead, they are addressed as follows: We ya po? (Have you come?) Then the response Ee-ee is given. The Question: We ya po is then repeated and this time it is followed by nawa. When the visitor gets a chance to greet they say: Ne opo mu li (Are you alive?), then the addressee reponds: Ee-ee . Upon departure the visitor says: Kalii po nawa (Stay well) and the remainees respond: Eewa, kathikii po. (Yes arrive safely). Proverbs may be used to say good bye, e.g. Ondjila nayi lale ongali (May the road lie on its back), meaning safe trip.

The meeting between two people or more after a very long time, or after one has recovered from an illness or escaped unhurt, occurs as follows: The addresser says: Oye naanaa (It is really them) and the addressee responds: Ongaame. (It is me). The addressor may also say: Twa moneni (We are seeing each other) nomwenyo (and the soul).

The addressee would respond: Eeno, twa moneni nomwenyo (Yes, we are seeing each other and the soul). This implies that the addressee is glad to be seen alive hence the phrase nomwenyo (and the soul). The addresser may also say: Twa lile ompungu tu mu mone omboga yanakwadhigwa tu mu tye meho.(We have not seen them since we ate the wild spinach, we have not seen him since we stirred the wild spinach). The omboga is linked to the beginning of the New Year, because when the Aawambo eat it, they say: Mumvo mukulu za mo omupe e ye mo. (Old year, go away so that the New Year may come in). The Aawambo use the same expression when tasting fresh fruits or products in the New Year.

When one speaks to senior person, they are compelled to lower their voice pitch and decrease the volume, For example, when the wife speaks to the husband she must speak in a low voice.

When greeting a king, a commoner must keep their voice low in pitch and volume. The third person may also be used when greeting a senior, for example one can say: Tate okwa lala po ngaa nawa? Did father sleep well? The third person is used for two reasons: to show respect and to show distance in terms of seniority.

Apart from the use of the third person, the plural form is used when one greets an individual, particularly when a junior greets a senior. The idea behind the use of the plural form is to find out whether the addressee and their family or acquaintances are fine. The plural form is also used to show respect to an addressee. The paralinguistic features that accompany greeting are also important for the effectiveness of the greetings. Oshiwambo greeting serves as a prelude to the making of a proper conversation or introducing the topic for discussion. PF

Petrus Mbenzi is a Lecturer in the Department of Language and Literature Studies at the University of Namibia’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences