Religion, culture compete at Chief Zeraeua’s funeral

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
March 2012
It’s Thursday the 19 of January, exactly 10 days after a dark cloud had descended on the Zeraeua, Tjiseseta and Zemburuka clan. Indeed, on all the adherents of the traditional White Flag and with no lesser trepidations on members the Green and Red flags, the entire Ovaherero and Ovambanderu cultural kin family.

On this day, the funeral parlour of the Avbob funerals’ undertaker in the residential area of Soweto in sub-urban Katutura, is a hustle and bustle but of a sombre-cum-cultural kind. This is because of the dark cloud that has descended on this clan with the passing away of the Head of the Royal House of Zeraeua, chief of its traditional authority, on 8 January. He was popularly known as the Chief of Erongo, Eerike Christiaan Zeraeua.

The popular reference to him as the Chief of Erongo was motivated by his affability, especially in the town of Omaruru, and the Otjohorongo communal area, his area of traditional jurisdiction proper. Because of his deep footprints, culturally and traditionally, and by virtue of his Christian devotion, he became a cultural-cum-traditional as well as a divine Plenipotentiary in Chief in Erongo, an influence which rubbed on beyond, an especially among the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu clans among whom he not only came to be the quintessential cultural custodian and guardian but a peacemaker and a maker of peace.

This is why this particular Thursday came to be what it came to be. What you sow is what you reap and somehow the late Chief Zeraeua good deeds followed him up to his mortality.

A cultural extravaganza that Thursday morning impregnated the air surrounding the area wrapped in bereavement modelled on the Ozombimbi and Ozondoro, the traditional Ovaherero and Ovambanderu battle cries.

This is perhaps one of the few remaining cultural epitomes of these cultural groups; an honour reserved only for people of traditional standing and stature, like the late Chief Zeraeua. Other high-ranking officers of the three flags, heroes and heroines of these cultural communities were present either through their dedication to their communities, or any other commendable deed.

The late Chief embarked on the first lap of his last rite back to his native Omaruru and the seat of his authority, the village of Okaumbaaha in the Otjohorongo communal area in the Daures Constituency of Erongo Region, before he eventually joined his forebearers in the holy traditional shrine of the Zeraeua. That he is bestowed such honour by the three flags, to crescendos of battle cries, eulogies and sopranic ululations, goes beyond his royalty. Indeed the Chief hailed from one of the eminent Ovaherero warrior clans - the Zeraeua clan, famous first for their war exploits and bravery against the Afrikaners alongside German traders.

In exchange for this, they acquired arms, which later was to stand them in good stead in their pitched battles against the Nama, for supremacy of grazing land and territorial jurisdiction, as well as for the plunder or reclaiming of their cattle looted under the able leadership of Jan Jonker Afrikaner, who became known to the Ovaherero as Kakuuko kua Mukuru Wouye, literally meaning the ‘hand of God on earth’.

It is with these arms that the Ovaherero eventually liberated themselves from the then perennial raids by the Nama towards the mid-1800s. The late Zeraeua was thus a direct descendant of a warrior clan that did not only play a decisive role in the initial internal clashes with the Nama but also eventually in the wars against Imperial Germany.

Indeed, it was none other than Willem Zeraeua, the great-grandfather of the recently departed Chief Zeraeua, who abdicated the commanding of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu forces against imperial Germany’s forces in the 1904-1908 wars, following the historic 1863 all-Ovaherero conference in Otjizingue (Otjimbingue), to Samuel Maharero.

Thus the warriors of the White, Green and Red flags gave a full traditional military honour to a direct descendant of the heroes and heroines, pioneers of the anti-colonial resistance but also a respected traditional leader on his own accord and time.

The war chants in Windhoek were but only taste bud wetter’s of what was to transpire in Okaumbaaha, and eventually in Omaruru. Understandably Okaumbaaha was a cultural pilgrim in its own league that the village has ever seen in its years of existence. There, the send-off of the late Chief started properly and all traditional rituals in earnest were punctuated by messages of condolences by the massive contingent of mourners that had descended on the village.

There, the late Chief made the traditional pass-by to the traditional commando enroute his birthplace of Omaruru, where he was laid to rest. There is nothing to compare Omaruru to in recent times in terms of the cultural activities of the Ovaherero, or any other happening one may even dare, as visiting mourners estimated at about 5000 strong, thronged the town.

An impromptu cultural sample in Windhoek was then relegated to its true nature; a curtain-raiser of minute proportions, to the actual extravaganza in Omaruru.

The Windhoek contingent may easily have been swollen up 100 times by the three flags’ traditional armies’ regiments; both on foot and on horses, with the latter which could not have been less than 50, under the command of none other than Bob Kandetu.

Before ten the Saturday the Omaruru State Hospital was besieged. Not by victims of a Tsunami that may have swept the town. No, true to the divinity of the late Chief, the town was as tranquil as it could be. But the siege was from chanting traditional warriors of the flags, imbued with the late Chief’s undying quest for the redemption of the blood of his ancestors, still crying out, more than 100 years after the fact of the 1896 and 1904-1908 wars against Imperial Germany.

The warriors are out to escort the late Chief from the hospital’s mortuary to the commando of the White Flag in the township of Ozondje, where he spent a good deal of his lifetime with his people.

By this time, in anticipation of the arrival of the remains of the late Chief, the commando itself is this Saturday morning already a beehive of mourners. In all sizes and shapes, in all traditional colours of White, Red and Green, an assortment of colour and design of traditional armies’ uniforms and dresses. Politicians, have-beens, would-have-beens and would be politicians and those still desperately clinging to political offices; commoners and genteels; officers and generals; paramount chiefs, supreme chiefs, chiefs, senior councilors and councilors, and old and young have come in droves converged on the commando. And still more were coming. The attendance list of especially the traditional leaders read like a ‘Whose of Who’ of Namibian traditional leaders.

The presence of traditional leaders, albeit nothing traditional about them on the day from their dress code, much of it Western, with the exception of one or two; the drilling parades and the warrior chants, perhaps the few telling aspects that this as traditional funeral befitting an African traditional leader.

The greater part of the day is consumed by speeches until the late hours of the evening. Sunday sees the late Chief being chaperoned into the Old Evangelical Lutheran Church for a religious service, having been an elder himself in the same church before the actual funeral. The Head of State, Hifikepunye Pohamba, attends this ceremony, as much Damara Chief, Justus //Garoëb, makes his presence felt in chiefly garb. This is eventually followed by the funeral service.

White, red and green flags’ traditional armies’ warriors chanting battle cries while chaperoning the late Chief Eerike Zeraeua’s funeral hearse out of the Omaruru hospital mortuary to the White Flag commando in the township of Ozondje for the official funeral ceremony. PF