oshiwambo Ceremonial Greetings and Responses

GREETINGS during different Oshiwambo ceremonies are different from the usual forms of greeting.

When one comes to a house where there is a wedding ceremony, a woman may give a shout of praise: Ilililili! Ilililili! Or chant praises in honour of the bride or bridegroom.

A man may shout: Uuwuh! Uuwuh! People who are in the house respond by ululating or shouting.

The normal greeting is then done after the dancing and shouting has died down. The other phrases shouted during the wedding party are: Walakata! Walakata Wandu! which refers to falling of beads, because when the woman gets married, her new husband breaks the strings of beads around her waist (the ondjeva) and she is given the new ones (omushambe). Wandu! which means it is obvious, they would respond.

It must be noted that ululation is also a form of greeting in a homestead of a person who has been struck to death by lightning.

Similarly, a mother of twins responds to greetings by ululating before she is purified.

But the ululation which signals a sad occasion is performed in a low continuous voice whereas the one which signals happiness is done in a loud voice.

During the mourning period, mourners may wail or sing upon arrival at the house. The women take the baskets off their heads and hold them up with their left hands above their left shoulders and men rest their sticks on their left shoulder with their right hands. The mourners inside the house respond by wailing as well.

The wailing is not very dry but is interspersed with songs or praises in honour of the deceased. The wailing can be heard more than two hundred meters away from the homestead of mourning. It is mostly professional mourners who may lead the group of arriving mourners. Such a man or woman breaks into song or praise mixed with wailing and members of his entourage join in. But the voice of the professional mourner is often more audible than that of other mourners.

When they get in the house, they may shout: Omu li momutumba? (Are you in the sitting position?) The response is either Ee-ee, ne mwa tondoka or Ee-ee, ne mwe shi uvu ko. (Yes, did you run? or yes, did you hear it?) The expression: Mwa tondoka refers to how the Aawambo react to the announcement of death. When someone passes away, their family members shout out loudly. When the neighbours hear the shout or the ululation, they run towards the place where the shouting is coming from, hence the expression: Mwa tondoka? or Mwe shi uvu ko? Some arriving mourners may also say: Otamu lili? Eeno otatu lili (Are you crying? Yes, we are crying)

Ululation is also done when the death of a royal family member is announced or when the death of a twin is announced. The death of the person struck to death by lightning is announced in similar fashion. The mourners in a homestead respond to the ululation of the arrivals by ululating as well. It should be mentioned that this ululation is different from that for a happy occasion.

The question: Mwa shigama? (Have you had any sleep?), is asked in the morning during the mourning period. When the mourners are dispersing after the funeral, they wave good-bye by saying: Twa piti mepya yakwetu (We travel through the field, beloved) or Twe ke egeka (We are going to settle, meaning, we are departing from death lamentation). This refers to the fact that mourners, particularly relatives of the deceased hold a meeting in the field which signals the end of the mourning period.

At such a meeting a group of mourners face the east. They then rub their arms with soil. When the mourners are away from the mourning session, they do not like to talk to the people they meet nor do they pass by other homesteads because it is feared that they might contaminate other people with death.

The situation today is not so much different from what used to happen in the past. The only difference is that some people start singing religious songs from Ehangano (Oshiwambo hymn book) as they approach the homestead. The mourners in the homestead may break into the same song as a response to the arriving mourners.

When the singing ceases, the actual greeting ensues. The arriving mourners shake hands with everyone at the homestead and say: Hekelekweni (May you be consoled) to each mourner. Some people, however, shake hands without saying a word. The formal greeting may be exchanged among mourners. During this time one mourner may say to the other one: Osho owala shino (It is only this one, referring to death.) The response may be: Opuwo ngaa (So be it). Or Eeno, a ka vululukwa (Yes the person has gone to rest), because saying the word death or die is a taboo and is avoidable at all costs. PF