Royal House Greetings

By Petrus Angula Mbenzi
July 2011
Other Articles
Greeting at a royal house is different from greetings at the house of the commoner.

Similarly, the terms of address for kings and royal people are different from terms of address which apply to commoners.

A reigning king or royal male person is often addressed in third person, for example, Tatekulu okwa lala po tuu? Did grandfather sleep well? One can also say: Aantu oya lala po tuu? Did people sleep well? Although the term of respect tatekulu is currently used, traditionally the king is just addressed as Tate.

The king or any royal person may be addressed as aantu because the king reigns over many people. They are regarded as his subjects. In fact, the commoners are not regarded as aantu (people). They are regarded only as aathigona (the poor ones), because in the ancient times a commoner was not allowed to become wealthier than the king.

If the king realised that a certain commoner owned more cattle than him, then a raid was organised to rob that commoner of his cattle. The men who live in ombala are termed as oombwa dhuuwa (dogs of the palace). They are referred to as dogs because their task is mainly to guard the ombala (palace) and to protect the kings

A young royal male is currently addressed as Tate (father). Among the commoners this term of address is reserved for married man only. A female royal is referred to as kuku, for example Wa tokelwa po, Kuku? How did you spend the evening grandmother?

According to Oshiwambo tradition, when the king passes by one is not allowed to look at him, but has to go on their knees and keep their eyes fixed on the ground until the king has left.

Similarly, commoners are not allowed to look at the queen. Shaking hands with a king or a queen is also a taboo. When you greet the king, you must speak in a low voice. Speaking in a loud voice is a sign of disrespect. One also does not have to speak at fast speed when greeting the king.

A commoner must speak clearly and softly. To each question asked by the king a commoner says: Eeno, tatekulu or alternatively one can respond: Eeno, Mwene gwandje ( lit . my owner, i.e. my chief or boss ) or Eewa, mwene gwiita (Yes, the owner of the war, i.e chief commander or Eewa, nkeyama yandje (lit. Yes, my lion).

The king is likened to a lion because in folktales the lion is regarded as the king of all animals and the owner of the jungle. If the king calls a person by name, they respond: Mwandjai (the great one or commander) or Ee, tate (Yes, father) while running towards the king coughing slightly and clearing his/her throat.

Holding a king in high esteem and greeting him in a special way are also common among the Silozi speakers. According to Raphael Mbala (12004) Royal greetings in Silozi are only done by ordinary people when the King (Chief) is passing by or when they are before his royal shelter called “lutatayi”

He will not respond directly to them, but will energetically pass by with his fly-switch in his hand or seated majestically on his throne. Unlike ordinary greetings, here men should kneel down with both legs, bowing down while clapping hands and then up and raising hands up while saying “yoshoo” at the same time.

No one should be left behind or go before others. Everything should be done simultaneously. Women do not bow like men, but rhythmically and simultaneously follow men’s way of clapping while saying Yongee. Their ululations resonate and pierce the sky at intervals, throwing a thriller that runs through everyone’s nerves.

In fact, a king does not speak to commoners directly in several African cultures, he speaks to a commoner through a third party.

Raphael Mbala (2004) says that in Silozi greeting the king is conveyed by one of the person accompanying him and the king responds to the addressor through that person.

Rev. Kasindani Ngula of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) also experienced the same situation when he and Bishop Dumeni visited Kavango in the early 60s as youth pastors. The Hompa who addressed them spoke to them through his spokesperson.

The use of the third person is, therefore, exchanged between the commoner and the king in greeting and formal addresses to show distance in terms of seniority and also to confirm the supremacy of the king over his subjects.

The form of greeting in ombala (palace) is not the same as one done in the homestead of commoners. When one enters the ombala, one does not shout, but they cough or clear their throat.

One of the people inside the ombala, then goes to greet the visitor. If the visitor wants to see the osimu (king), the addressor informs the osimu. The visitor may wait for a day or two before he/she sees the king. The length of stay of the visitor at the ehale depends on the king himself. If the king does not like him, he might not see him at all. When the commoner meets the king, they crawl towards the king and greet him afterwards. Crawling like a baby shows humility, dependence and great deference.

When one is near the king, one sits on his heels, a kuutumba oshimbala and looks down as they speak to the kings. When one leaves the king, they crawl backwards as turning one’s back against the king is seen as an insult. When one leaves the ombala, they leave without saying good-bye.

Although the standard of greeting at the royal homestead is still maintained, the situation today is slightly different in Oshiwambo culture. The commoners can speak to the king directly. When the king is approaching the commoners do not kneel down at any place, but kneeling down is confined to the homestead. One can also shake hands with the king which was not in vogue in the ancient times. PF


Raphael Mbala. 2004.Silozi Greetings: Memeo.
Auala Leonard. 1977. Onakuziwa Yandje: ELCIN Press.