The cultural significance of omusati (mopane tree) in Oshiwambo culture
The name omusati is the truncated form of omusi a ti (the deceased once said).
This is an anecdote about the Omusati tree.
In the ancient times, the Aawambo ancestors gave this tree a name. After a few generations, people forgot the name of the tree and began asking one another, “What did the deceased say?”
In other words, what name did the ancestors give to this tree? People could not remember the name of the tree, hence omusati.
Omusati plays a significant role in the life of the Aawambo. It is a magic tree. The leaves of the omusati are strewn in a new dwelling to wish the house dwellers good luck.
A paternal relative of the house owner throws the leaves around the new dwelling and puts some leaves on the pole of the homestead. As they do this, they say a prayer: May this house be filled with peace and harmony.
Some paternal relatives throw the leaves around without saying a word. Twigs are chopped from omusati and thrown into every hole dug during oludhilu when a new house is erected.
The twigs of omusati are also used for appeasing hatred.
When one person migrates from one tribal area into another, the leaves of omusati are strewn on the ground and the migrant treads on them, taa lyata iifo.
Treading on the leaves of omusati means the migrant remains protected and the people they will meet will give them a warm welcome.
They are placed on the road, offering fortune to a traveller; that they will be received well in a get-good field.
The mopane fruits are used in weather forecasts. It is believed that when too many omakoti appear on the omusati, there will be good showers in that year.
In the event of a new house, a paternal relative brings along two or four sticks of omusati and heat them in fire. The new occupants of the dwelling are expected to inhale the smoke of the iithonono (fresh sticks).
The omusati can also be used for firewood. Some people prefer omusati firewood to those of omugolo.
A log is put in the main reception area (oshinyanga oshinene) and another log of omusati may be kept burning to wish the family well.
Omusati plays a role in moving into a new homestead. The first work done by moving into a new home is to fetch bark slabs from the woods, omihuya, to be used as binds and to erect the omusindilo (magic stick) and oshinangelamwali (a type of grass, which magically allows one to stay longer in a particular residence.
Small fresh omusati trees are chopped down and their barks are taken off. They are bound into balls. In the middle of the ball, a small omusati twig is put.
Three chops of fresh omusati wood and twigs from liana are brought in the living room. A sauce pot is placed on these chops and when it is ready, porridge is cooked upon the same fire.
The sticks of omusati are used as building materials while the barks of the omusati are used in making the roof of traditional huts.
The wooden hoops are fastened with the barks and the omatsatsa (wooden hoops) are made with oombala (mopane woods after the barks have been removed) from the omusati. Pounding blocks are carved from omusati as well as the pestles.
The mopane worms browse on the leaves of the omusati.
Omagungu are delicious food for the Aawambo and are harvested for commercial purposes. Before the rainy season, the mopane trees become the living place for omambulunganga (edible insects).
The omambulunganga are harvested and cooked as a meal. The omusati also produces uutushi (sugary secretion on mopane leaves). The uutushi are collected and eaten, particularly by children.
In modern times, the omusati is important during the festive season. The house owners cut the mopane trees and plant them in their homesteads to symbolise the birth of Christ. The twigs are put on the poles during this time. It is not known why Christians have chosen the omusati (pine tree) as a Christmas tree. But it can be assumed that its magical significance has encouraged Christians to use it.
In Oshiwambo, this is tree of happiness and since Christmas is a time of joy, this tree suits the season. On New Year’s Eve, Christians put fresh omusati in their homestead to welcome the dawn of the New Year.