Omayanda II: Intra-marriages in eyanda no more taboo

By By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
June 2010
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IN the May edition, this column introduced the cultural phenomenon of Omayanda amongst the Ovaherero, Ovahimba, Ovambanderu and many other cultural sub-groups, variants of the Otjiherero language group.

Eyanda or omayanda, the plural form, is the matrilineal descent of someone within the culture of this. One is known, identified or belongs to a certain eyanda beecause of her/his mother.

There are seven main omayanda namely, Ovakwendjandje, believed to be the first eyanda, being the eyanda of Karombo, who was the mother of her seven siblings who, while on an expedition to the funeral of their uncle, Kamuruao, separated ways and arrived separately and at different times at their uncle’s homestead.

Their differing and varied experiences during this expedition thus earned the separating trekking groups different accolades. For generations these groups have come to be known variously.

As Ovakwetanda, the group associated during the trek of quenching their thirst from drips of water. The Ovakwatjivi has been referred to as such because of the wishes of a mother against the snobbishness of her daughter looking down on her previous homestead having married into a well-to-do homestead.

Ovakwahere have been known as such for using oil from a rock to make body oil while the Ovakwenambura are associated with rain for welcoming it as a God-send shower in the wilderness. Ovakwauti equally used a certain wild plant as “perfume” to repel the odour induced by days if not months of travelling without washing.

The omayanda plays an important role within the social fabric of the Ovaherero at various occasions like death in the family, weddings and even as an ice-breaker in social encounters among strangers.

In the olden days, and to a certain degree still today, it is the first line of introduction rather than one’s name. Meeting someone with the same eyanda as you, means meeting your long-lost or hitherto unknown next of kin. Following this line and the family tree would reveal that you hail from the same root.

The focus now falls on two other aspects of eyanda. That is inter- omayanda marriages as well as intra-eyanda marriages, and on sub-divisions within omayanda.

The golden traditional rule is that two people with the same eyanda cannot have a love relationship or marry for they are related. Normally, one is either an Omukwetanda, meaning she/he is born by her/his mother as an Omukwetanda and is thus a member of the Ovakwetanda eyanda. Secondly she/he is known by the eyanda of her/his father, hence the reference to him/her as Omunaa, meaning child of his father and thus the reference to the eyanda of his/her father. If her/his mother was an Omukwetanda, and the father an Omukweyuva, then the child would be known as Omukwetanda Omunakweyuva, denoting his double descent, that of the mother and that of the father as per their omayanda.

Thirdly, the Otjiherero language cultural group, and all its sub-cultural groups, be they Ovahimba, Ovambanderu,Ovatjimba,etc., has a way of drawing inner strength during difficult times, and even in good times, by summoning or merely thinking of them by exclamation or expression. Such is known as okuyana or okuriyanena, when one usually reverts to one’s paternal grandfather, usually his eyanda.

Thus one is for instance an Omukwetanda, being the eyanda of his/her mother; then Omunaakueyuva, reference to her/his father’s eyanda and lastly Nguyanenwa Movakwetanda, meaning whenever she/he stumbles or so, her/his first reaction would be to think of his grandfather, through the latter’s eyanda, for him to prevent her/him from falling or to shield her/him from whatever may threaten to befall him/her.

Because of the golden anti-intra marriage between people of the same eyanda, one would normally find an Omukwetanda Omunaakwetanda, meaning someone whose mother as well as her/his father are Ovakwetanda. That would mean she/he is a product of a brother and sister, something that has been taboo within these cultural group.

Someone would be an Omukwetanda (mother’s eyanda) but an Omunaakeuva (fathers eyanda which is different from his father’s) but Nguyanenwa mOvakwetanda(back to his paternal connection through his grandfather’s eyanda). In the case of the latter that may have meant the child being born to a union between cousins, her/his father/mother having married her/his grandfather’s niece/nephew.

However, because of colonisation and urbanisation, cultural erosion has set in to the extent that it is not unusual to meet someone who is Omukwetanda Omunaakwetanda.

But in the event two Ovakwentanda or Ovakweuva of the opposite sex, meeting and declaring love or marital vows, they may do so initially because of ignorance as because of same eyanda they are brother and sister. The elderly would normally put a halt to such a relationship.

But where it has advanced and children may have been born from it, and the two are reluctant to let go, their natural kinship through the eyanda would be nullified, okuyambururwa, through a ritual known as okuhuwa omutwe, where ash is applied to the two. For culture observant, adherent and obedient parties, as well as those obedient to the elderly or their parents, it would be the end of such a relationship. But in modern times, suitors have been conveniently discarding or ignoring this cultural imperative without compunction and with little repercussions or sanctions.

Folklore has it that the deculturalisation of the anti intra-marriages rule within omayanda came about through a man once known as Kamukuju, an Omukweyuva, who started to marry his nieces.

This was to avoid the plunder of his homestead by his in-laws as punishment for the brutal battering of his wives one after the other. As his nieces would be from within his own eyanda and thus from within his homestead, no one would dare take away his belongings in any event of his heavy-handedness that most of the times culminated in the deaths of his wives.

Other omayanda soon followed suit marrying within and to a certain degree the taboo of intra-eyanda marriages was broken.

However, one informant testifies how cultural nature would not come in between him and his partner. He believes that is because they were from the same eyanda. Because of his fondness for her he misrepresented his actual eyanda as an Omukwatjivi, which she also was.

They would just not come to the point until the feeling eventually evaporated. Before they would go into the act something would come up disturbing this precious moment like her getting periods out of the blue.

The seven main Omayanda enumerated are further subdivided either in accordance with any major happening within it, in accordance with the names of the various children born in it or in accordance with the one or other circumstance impacting on it at the time.

For instance the Ovakwetanda consists of those belonging to what is referred to as Ondjuwo Onene (Big House) and Ondjuwo Onditi (Small House).

The two houses have been so named when a visitor found two children playing behind their mother’s, Mukwetanda’s homestead having drawn house in the sand, one big and one small. It happened that the elder child had drawn the smallest house while the youngest the biggest.

But the one with the biggest house drawing, the youngest came to be known as the Omukwetanda of the Big House while the elder but with the small house drawing came to known as the Omukwetanda from the Small House.

The Ovakwendjandje, named so for their generosity, comprises those of Ozerandu or Ondjerera (red or light) and those of Ondorera (Darkness). This is because when this group arrived at their uncle, Kamuruao’s homestead, some would enter it at sunset and others when the darkness had descended on the homestead.

The women Mukwauti bore children known, amongst others, as Katana, Tjivanda, Kazondeo, Kamukandjo and Nanduruka thus the Ovakwautu came to be subdivided according to the names of the various children. Likewise with the Ovakwenambura whose mother Mukwenambura bore two children Koja and Nandjou who in turn bore Nandomba, Kaundja, Kokoto, Mbingana, Karukombo and others.

The mother Mukwahere bore such children as Kapumba, Kandere, Karundu and Kamunakwa and the Ovakwahere are subdivided according to them while Mukwejuva bore such children as Hauari and Kahumba and grandchildren like Pere, Mbaheua, Kateta, Mutati, Katjitjo, Karirua and others.PF