UNDERSTANDING OSHINI: The Pounding Area

The oshini is the section of the homestead which is situated a few metres from the entrance.

This is the area where mahangu (finger millets) is pounded into flour by women. Other products such as pips, and marula kernels and herbs are processed in the oshini.

Men are not welcome in oshini as pounding is exclusively women’s task. In rare cases, men may pound, particularly when a family consists of boys only. Men who loiter in the oshini may be considered feminine and cowards. The pestles are also kept near the pounding area. It is taboo to sit on a pestle as such an attitude may accelerate the death of the wife.

The oshini either consists of a thatched roof or remains roofless with a wall made of clay bricks. Its floor is plastered with sand from anthills.

In the ancient times when women collected sand for plastering the oshini, they asked permission from ancestors to do so, failure to ask for permission resulted in the cracking of the floor of oshini. When the floor of oshini has got rubbed, it is plastered again. The pounding blocks (iini) are dug into the ground. The number of pounding blocks in the oshini must be even.

The pounding blocks have spiritual and legal importance. If a traveler has lost direction, they simply put their head on the pounding block for a while and then they would be able to find their direction again.

Traditionally, junior wives and girls were buried in the oshini when they passed on. When the wife wanted to annul a marriage, she dug out the pounding blocks and took them along.

Should she dig out the pounding blocks, it is a clear sign that marriage had been terminated and had no intention of renewing that marriage. Similarly, the husband could dig out the pounding blocks if he was no longer interested in the continuation of the marriage.

As soon as the wife observed this action, she would pack up her belongings and leave the husband. This way of terminating marriages is still practiced by some Aawambo. Some women still feel coldly welcomed and uncomfortable if the oshini is missing in their traditional homestead.

The oshini is never moved without the authorisation of the wife, because when it is moved without her permission, it means the husband wishes her dead. The oshini is not constructed in the homestead of a bachelor. Should the need arise for the construction of the oshini in such a homestead; it should be constructed outside.

Several baskets are used in oshini such as the flat basket for sifting called ongalo. The ongalo has other functions in the homestead. It is believed that it has protective magic. When a member of the househould has to undertake a trip, food is served in ongalo.

The ongalo is left in the place where the traveller took his food until the household members are sure that the traveller has arrived safely. In modern world where technology plays an important role, travellers may send SMS messages or calls on his mobile to announce that he has arrived safely.

As soon as the announcement is made, the ongalo is removed from the oshinyanga shondjugo (the sitting area opposite the wife’s hut) and stored away. The ongalo has bad magic as well. It is believed that if a man is hit with ongalo, he becomes an effeminate or a coward.

Mahangu is taken to the oshini for pounding. First, the girls remove the bran (uuhutu) by the process called okuhompa. Then mahangu is placed in another basket called ontungwa yokutsila and mixed with the oomuma (grains of the corn left over from pounding) and little water is sprinkled on the surface and this process is called okunengeka (keeping moist).

Alternatively, mahangu may be placed in a pot and a lot of water is added to it and this is called okuyayeka. This process lasts longer than okunengeka which requires only a few hours before mahangu is ready for the second pounding. Okuyayeka takes three days or more before the second pounding called okufuulula is commenced.

After okufuulula, the third pounding takes place which is called okupwaga. In case of dire need from the mahangu that was kept moist for a number of days is of poor quality. For the flour, a girl may pound mahangu to the last grain. This is called okundongola (pounding to the last grain) Okundongola is not a good practice, because the oomuma (grains) are needed for okunengeka process.

Two girls can take turn in pounding mahangu into flour in one pounding block. This is called okutsaathana (taking turn in pounding and this is done at fast rate). As one girl lifts up her pestle from the block, the other one puts her pestle in the block. This is done without any pause.

It must be noted that girls are introduced to the oshini soon after birth. One of the relatives takes the baby girl to the oshini and pretends to be pounding mahangu into flour. She pounds into an empty pounding block, ta tsu omukolongondjo. While doing this, she says to the baby girl: you will pound like this and make me the oshikwiila (mahangu cake).

You must hold the pestle like a real girl, to tsu oshikadhona. Pounding in an empty pounding block for pleasure is not allowed. It is believed that doing so accelerates the death of the wife. The girls of the same neighbourhood can organise to pound together in one of the homestead.

They spend the night together and wake up early in the morning to pound mahangu. This is called oshilangeka. Girls may also pound together in one homestead when the moon is full. The moonshine allows them to pound in the evening. This pounding activity is called oshaamwedhi. Pounding by hand has largely been replaced with milling machines as many people now have access to this facility, but malt is still processed in the oshini.

When the girls pound mahangu into flour, they should stick to certain procedures. They should not pound too slowly and the thud must be continuous. They should not bend her knees. Traditionally a girl who bends her knees while pounding was kicked out of the initiation ceremony. Bending of knees showed that a girl was an indolent and such a girl was not marriageable. However, a girl is allowed to sing while pounding to while away tediousness. PF

References
Sine Nomine2010. Omuthigululwakalo gwAawambo Ohela noNena: Memeo

Keeping Our fire burning: The Traditional Homestead, 2002: University of Namibia.