Entrances and the blessing of the Main Entrance in Oshiwambo


The Oshiwambo homestead is called egumbo which comes from the verb stem – gumba (to fence).

This can be attributed to the fact the enclosure of homestead was fenced with thorn trees. In some Oshiwambo dialects it is called onghanda. Etymologically, onghanda is a ceremonial baby carrier given to the bride by the bridegroom’s family to indicate that she had been engaged. She carries it to symbolise her readiness to start her own family.

The onghanda symbolises enclosure and protection for a human being hence it has been used as a designate for a dwelling.

The thorns were used as a means of protecting the home dwellers against enemies. The thorns were placed against the poles as an extra protection measure. The fence is called ongandjo. The ongandjo is constructed with large mopane tree poles sharpened into points at the top and was used as a defence against enemies and wild animals. Before poles are planted in the furrows of a new homestead for ongandjo, twigs of omusati (mopane) and omugolo (terminalia) are thrown into the furrows by the hegona (a paternal relative). This is done to ensure that there will be peace and harmony in the homestead. Some leaves of omusati and omugolo are also thrown to the poles of the new dwelling for the same purpose. The beer dregs are poured into the furrows to wish the family the large iigadhi (mahangu storage baskets).

The homestead consists of three entrances: The main entrance (eelo/onhu) which faces the eastern direction to symbolise prosperity and good luck in Ondonga. It is believed that the Aakwampungu (ancestors) from the east bless the people are source of fortune while the Aakwampungu from the West bring bad luck. The sun rises in the east and it brings good atmosphere.

Traditionally, people who fall sick are taken to the east to be cured of their ailments. The origin of the Aawambo also lies in the east. But entrance of homestead in Uukwambi, Uukwaluudhi, Ongandjera, Ombalantu and Uukolonkadhi is situated on the western side. The reason why this direction is chosen for the entrance cannot clearly be established. Every commoner has to enter the house through the onhu. Traditionally, the main entrance is sealed with the omunkono tree especially at night. But some people tend to seal their entrances with poles. When one enters the homestead, one pole or two, depending on the size, is lifted and put back. Such an entrance remained closed and it is only opened if the need arises.

The okanto (a small back entrance) is situated on the western side of the homestead. The okanto is used in case of emergency, for example the entire family can use it in case of attack. When an enemy enters the house through the main entrance, the house dwellers can escape through the okanto. The okanto is never used by a stranger. Its shape is different from the shape of the main entrance. The okanto is y-shape passage in a fence.

The okanto is also used by someone who comes from the kraal after milking the cows, because it is believed that if milk travels through main entrance it will go stale. Another small entrance that leads from elombe (the main kitchen) to the granaries section is called etambo. When a king pays a visit to somebody, he enters the homestead through this entrance because it is believed that if he passes through the entrance that is used by the commoners, he will die or become permanently disabled.

There are taboos that are related to entrances such as nobody is allowed to sit in the entrance for no apparent reason. A widow can sit in the entrance after the death of her husband for purification purpose. It is here where water is poured over her body to cleanse her of misfortune.

This practice, however, has been abandoned as it is seen degrading and humiliating for a woman. The main entrance is sealed when the owner of the homestead passes away so that death loses its direction when it wants to strike again. This is also a way of consoling the bereaved people, because they may no longer associate the deceased with the entrance.

The main entrance of new homestead is officially opened by one’s paternal relatives. The ceremony is known as ekulo lyeelo (planting of gate- posts). The paternal relatives prepare the four ondjege (Kalahari Christmas tree) or omupanda (lance tree) poles. He plants two poles on each side of the entrance. The Aawambo just like other Africans prefer even number as odd number is seen as sign of bad luck. He uses his right foot or hand only when he covers the furrows in which he puts the poles.

The right hand or foot is a symbol of good luck. He digs a hole in the middle of an entrance and throws in a piece of omudhime tree to neutralize people who come with bad intentions. It is believed that if a witch or wizard walks over this stick he/she goes into ‘trance’ and loses their power to cast spell on the home dwellers. They seal the hole with the right foot. The stick thrown in the hole remains there for indefinite period to ensure safety and welfare of the home dwellers. The word omudhime come from the verb stem – dhima (to extinguish, neutralize) therefore the pieces of leaves of this tree nor are used wipe away misfortunes. On the contrary, the omudhime sticks are not used as fire woods nor they used as poles for the homestead. Should that happen, the death of the homeowners is accelerated. The seeds of beans, mahangu, sorghums, etc. are scattered in the entrance to wish the family wealth and prosperity. The posts are smeared with red ochre to wish the family good luck. When the entrance is blessed, the hegona (a paternal relative) conducts a prayer:

May more millets travel through this entrance...
May more cattle and goats fill this homestead...
God of Nangombe blesses this entrance...

To be continued...