Significance of ekaka and omboga

By Petrus Angula Mbenzi
April 2012
Omboga is a type of wild spinach, which grows in a mahangu field or in a field that has remained fallow for years.

The Aawambo rejoice when they see omboga grown so well in a field. They believe that when they have omboga, then they will eat their oshithima with relish.

Omboga drives away the lack of sauce, hayi tidha po omukaga. Different types of oomboga (plural of omboga) grow in the field such as omboga yompungu (spinach made of pedicellaria pentaphylla), omboga yoontaga (spinach made of pumpkin leaves), omboga yomakunde (spinach made of bean leaves), omboga yanakwadhigwa (mashed spinach), omboga yelopa (spinach stew made of pumpkin).

Sometimes omboga may be boiled and stirred with a stick (oludhigo) so that it becomes soft enough to dip a mahangu morsel into when eating.

The Aawambo welcome the dawn of the New Year by throwing a party in honour of omboga. This party is called oshipe shomboga (eating the fresh omboga). The woman picks the leaves in the field, ta mu omboga.

Omboga is cooked in a clay pot at the reception area opposite the wife’s hut, poshinyanga shondjugo). Omusati woods are used to cook omboga, because omusati is a magical tree for luck and good wishes. Omboga is mixed with omundjulu (edible spinach), seseuvium sesuvioides or ekwakwa (kind of plant, chenopodium) to make it tastier.

The householders apply the omboga to their navels. A fresh mopane wood remains on fire whose smoke is inhaled by the householders to symbolise the dawn of the New Year. The housemaster throws a morsel in the west and east directions saying: “Mumvo mukulu za mo omupe e ye mo (Old year go out so that the New Year may come in)”.

When people meet in the New Year or when they meet after they have not seen each other for a long period of time, they say: Twa lile ompungu tu mu mone omboga yanakwadhigwa tu mu tye meho (We have not seen him since we ate the ompungu, we have not seen him since we ate the mushed omboga).”

The husband eats the omboga together with ekala; a piece of the coal from the fire just lit before all members of the family follow suit. The ekala symbolises good luck. The ekala is also used to drive away bad spirits and misfortunes. No one is allowed to eat omboga before the offering to the ancestral spirit is made. Should one break this taboo, it is believed that they will suffer from an incurable stomachache.

Ekaka is a dry vegetable cake made from omboga (wild spinach). The omboga is boiled in a pot. When it is ready, it is put in the sun in order for the sun’s heat to drain it. The omboga is then pounded in the oshini to soften it. A woman takes a piece of cooked omboga and presses it between her hands to make ekaka. Her hands leave marks of five fingers. This is why it is nicknamed antano (five). Ekaka is eulogised as Indongo yokiithima (the black one for the porridge), because it is often served with oshithima.

Ekaka performs various functions in Oshiwambo tradition. One has to eat it before they undertake a long trip. It is believed that ekaka has some magic power to protect a traveler. A married woman always keeps ekaka in a pot with mahangu flour to ensure that her family members do not succumb to hunger wherever they are. At wedding parties, eating ekaka is obligatory.

The bride and the bridegroom have to eat ekaka so that they remain united throughout their marriage. It is believed that if the married couple refuses to eat ekaka on their wedding day, their marriage would be characterised by endless squabbles. Several Aawambos eulogise ekaka as Ekaka tali kakele kumwe; evanda tali vandalaleke (ekaka unites [people]; evanda makes one bend to avoid dangers.)

Ekaka is eaten by the future son or daughter-in-law being introduced to future parents-in-law. A future son or daughter-in-law is not allowed to eat chicken and goat’s meat or fish as eating these meats predicts bad omen. Eating ekaka and oshithima is believed to ensure that the couple will not break up and that happiness will reign in their future life.

Out of ignorance and obliviousness, several Aawambos, at present, eat the kinds of foods forbidden at etseyiko when introducing the future daughter or son-in-law to the future parents-in-law. Ekaka is used to demonstrate whether a future in-law is approved of or not. After the future in-law is cross-examined by the panel of interviewers (relatives and some neighbours), the mother of the future in-law puts either an even number of the omakaka (plural of ekaka) or an odd number of the omakaka in a basket and hands the basket back to a woman who has accompanied the future in-law.

A member of an entourage, a woman, always brings the basket with the flower in it. If one or three omakaka are placed in a basket, it means the future in-law is not approved of. If two or four omakaka are placed in the same basket, it means the in-law is approved of. PF