Ethithino lyoongongo and Omagongo festivals

By Petrus Angula Mbenzi
March 2012
Both the Ethithino lyoongongo and the Omaongo festivals are annual festivals but they are interlinked, because one festival leads to another festival.

The Ethithino lyoongongo (sucking of marula fruits) takes place around February but the exact date depends on the ripening of the marula fruits. Nobody is allowed to begin the extraction of juices (ekolo) from the marulas before the event is held.

Individual housemasters organise the event, which is held to allow women to begin extracting marula juices. The event has been pushed to the periphery of an indigenous culture due to modernisation and its didactic import.

There are, however, a few families and communities who still observe the occasion.

On the set date the organising housemaster collets the marula fruits first thing in the morning. He packed the marula fruits according to the number of house occupants. Then he takes the fruits the oshinyanga shondjungo (the reception area close to the wife’s hut) where they are kept for a day.

The herbs and fruits are also brought at this place a day before the celebration. The house occupants are advised to spend the night in the homestead as it is a taboo for them to spend a night away from home.

The next morning, all the house occupants get up early in the morning and make all arrangements for the celebration. The foods for the festival are cooked at the kitchen of the chief wife. The oshithima (porridge) and ekaka are prepared. The oshithima is cooked with onkeshenga (the mahangu flour from the corn that was not mixed with grain, wa tsuwa ompanda). The ekaka lyompungu is eaten to wish the house occupants good luck in the new year.

The word ompungu comes from the verb: pungulula (to turn way from danger or misfortune). Cow’s fat is added to the ekaka while the juices from bean leaves known as ekundu is eaten at the main reception.

In the evening of the same day, the fruits are stacked at the Oshinyanga shondjugo and the house occupants sit around the stack. The housemaster then takes a fruit and suck it, swallowing the juice together with the fruit and says: Mumvo mukulu za mo omupe e ye mo (Old year got out to usher in the new year). The house occupants take turns in sucking the fruits. In the ancient times, the chief wife sucked first followed by the junior wives then the children. Each house occupant says the maxim when sucking the fruits.

After the fruits have been sucked, the omagongo (marula beer) festival is allowed to commence. But the commencement of the festival is officially opened by the king himself. The marula fruits of the ookahola are taken to the homestead of each headsman. Each headsman selects the fruits, which should be extracted for juice. The marula drink is taken to the king’s royal house by his subjects but only the nice omagongo is taken to the ombala. The king invites his subjects for the celebration where he tastes the marula drink first in the presence of his subjects who begin helping themselves to the drink thereafter.

After this celebration, people are allowed to begin enjoying the marula period (okalo). People are expected to observe certain rules very strictly. Nobody is allowed to a carry any weapon.

Court proceedings are suspended during this period to give all the subjects of the king sufficient time to enjoy the omagongo. The present traditional authorities still maintain these rules.

The omagongo festival is currently celebrated in turn by various traditional authorities of the Aawambo. They meet as one big family to observe the occasion. The aim of the festival is to thank the aathithi (ancestors) and Kalunga kaNangombe (God of Nangombe- Nangombe is the ancestral mother of the Aawambo) for the good harvest and for keeping them until they usher in the new year.

Traditionally, the omagongo festival is organised by the king himself. The whole community is invited to the royal house but only adults are allowed to attend the festival in their traditional attire. They take the pots of omagongo with them. The omagongo is poured into small pots (uumbundju) from which they are served to the attendants. The uumbundju are placed in the baskets with sand in them. The women who live at ombala choose the nice omagongo, which is offered to the headsmen and sub-headsmen (omalenga nookapatashu) and the omahango with poor taste is given to ordinary people.

Men consume the omagongo at the main reception area whereas women consume it at the elugo. Some women and young men stay at oshinyanga to scoop the omagongo for the omalenga. The king has a cup bearer who fulfills this function. Omagongo is scooped with a wooden cradle.

After scooping, the cradle is placed on the ground, because it is believed that if it is placed anywhere else, the attendants would fight. The cups into which omagongo is poured is just half-filled. Beef or goat‘s meat is served and the attendees sing and dance throughout the ceremony. One of the songs sung at the ceremony goes: . . . Ongongola nayi kuke tu nw’ ontaku.

Ngongola nayi kuke twe yi mbwanya po…

(May the period for drinking marula beer come to an end so that we may drink ontaku - a traditional soft drink made from mahangu and sorghum flour for the period for marula drinking). May the period for drinking marula beer ceases, because we are fed up with it. While attendees take marula beer, they discuss various issues within the community. Towards the end of the day, people start leaving one by one starting with the women.

The drinking of marula continues at different homesteads from approximately the beginning of March to mid-April. Neigbours invite one another to enjoy ongongola. During this period, children quench their thirst with oshinwa (marula juice).

It must be pointed out that most of the elements of the festivals have gone out of fashion. Most families no longer observe the ethithino lyoongongo. The extracting of juices in some communities begin with the official announcement by the king. Apart from that, the oshiyanga shondjugo is virtually absent in some homesteads.

In the ancient times, the marula tree, which produces the best marula beer, belonged to the king in each homestead (where the marula trees grow) but this practice has virtually been abandoned. There are, however, a few individuals who still cling to the practice.

The celebration of the marula period still persists but it is no longer decentralised, i.e. individual kings rarely hold the festival for their respective communities, because the chiefs of all politics in the north-central Namibia (Owambo) take turns in organising the festival. PF