‘Quo Vadis’ Ovaherero - Ovambanderu Culture?

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
April 2012
Besides being an arena for consoling and comforting the bereaved, a vigil is somehow also a vibrant albeit subdued discussion-cum-debating-cum-exchange platform for the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu men folks.

This varies from the controlled heated to lukewarm, subtle and purely entertaining as well as relaxing exchange, bordering on amusing conversations, depending of course on the subject being discussed at any particular point.

Unlike the women folks, usually secluded and isolated inside the main house of a homestead, or room, in a consoling act of its own kind known as etando, the men folks engage in an unofficial and subconscious battle of the minds and mouths. In this regard, vigils have, among the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu culture, somehow assumed the unintended, or subconsciously intended; unofficial platform of the story-telling and debating form of art.

Albeit to captivate the bereaved minds, it temporarily suspend them from their sense of loss.

Last December, just before New Year’s Eve in Okakarara, a conversation-cum-debate was started on culture centered on the demise of culture, or its perceived demise, as per the “debaters”, at least the three active ones, with the rest of the mourners only chipping in with isolated questions, comments or remarks.

The gist of the exchange was the deculturalisation of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu communities. The three main proponents were in their late 50s and early 60s, if not already in their 70s. They were all in agreement that the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu culture is no longer what it used to be, that it has undergone a tremendous erosion. Was this erosion reversible or could it even be arrested in the least? This is something they could not agree on.

One was adamant that as heads of homesteads and thus the guardians as well as transmission belts of their culture, they no longer seem to be in charge of their homesteads and thus cannot prevail over culture and its transmission to the next generation. Let alone the preservation of the little vestiges thereof still discernible today. But another thought there was still hope. The third seemed ambivalent, neither had he lost hope nor was he optimistic that much could still be salvaged of what has been left.

The root cause, according to them, is because men folks are no longer in charge of their homesteads, which is their culture. Because they have been emasculated economically, their culture has also been wholesaled by the younger generations who are now calling the economic shots. Because of his economic emasculation, or substitution of the elder generation by the younger, the old guard is no longer in a position to divine children; be it in a marriage or other aspects of their socio-cultural life, as they no longer hold economic of financial sways over them. Regarding marriages, children are increasingly marrying from outside a given socio-cultural setting, previously considered a cultural defiance.

This has apparently resulted in homesteads or households and communities at large, somehow increasingly becoming a hotchpotch of different cultures, leaving little room for mono-culturalisation but multi-culturalism and the de-culturalisation of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu.

As the home has been the bastion of culture and the first point of culturalisation, with multi-culturalism and presumed attendant de-culturalisation, homes are no longer the nerves of culture and culturalisation. This was the concern of the three traditionalist mourners, which other mourners obviously tacitly shared, taking a vested interest in the exchange of the three main proponents from the fringes of the conversation. Is this trend reversible? Can it be halted and how? Was their utmost concern?

It is as if someone from NBC’s Otjiherero Language Service was eavesdropping on the exchange of the three old traditionalists from Okakarara. At the beginning of February, this particular Monday evening, the Red Flag Commando Hall in Katutura was jam-packed as young and old, men and women, converged in what was seen as a cultural pilgrim. Those who had gathered were united in one thing; their common concern for the erosion or perceived erosion and the imminent demise of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu culture. And they could not have hoped for a better team of culturalists-cum-traditionalists-cum-folklorists of the likes of Alex Kaputu of NBC’s Otjiherero Language Service repute, who have been clamouring for an honourary doctoral award for their service in the promotion and preservation of the Otjiherero culture.

John Garvey Muundjua who could be described as a strict cultural disciplinarian and an organic Otjiherero linguist; Hiangaruuu Veseevete, a regular speaker at many a traditional platforms and an authority of note in the Otjiherero folklores and tradition; Willy Kaeka also a knowledge-bearer in his own right about the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu culture; Johanna Maendo, an old hand at cultural mannerism of especially Ovaherero-Ovambanderu women. Last but not the least, the panel of eminent cultural people was also blessed with the presence of Veneruru Korumbo; a budding traditionalist who has of late been spearheading the Ovaherero Cultural Youth League (OCYL).

The League has been having evening sessions on various aspects of culture, within the capital and beyond. Only the weekend of 9-11 of last month, they were at the coast to take coastal cultural adherents, as well as aspiring ones through the rudiments of culture.

During a programme broadcast live on the NBC’s Otjiherero Language Service, courtesy of the First National Bank (FNB), the panelists took the audience through three hours of cultural introduction, education, enlightenment and re-awakening. Between them, they presented fielded questions on various cultural aspects such as how youths of the specific cultural inclination have been, must and should behave; traditional marriages and how married women and vice-versa married men, should conduct themselves within the union and many other cultural-traditional aspects of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu.

It was only pertinent that Kaputu had to raise the curtain by distinguishing between culture and tradition. He explained that culture is constant and permanent while tradition is dynamic and changes. With that he had set the mood for a vibrant evening of presentations, questions, comments and even differences of opinions on various aspects of culture and tradition of these communities.

But back to the original source of concern of three men folks from Okakarara, even the three hours could not have assuage their pertinent concern and/or answered the equally relevant question on whether the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu culture was in demise or not. Let alone satisfy them to the causes of the demise.

Indeed, as these discussions revealed, this is something that would warrant endless debates, exchange of opinions and views before a certain conclusion are reached. But what is clear is that somewhere, something is amiss, should one say about the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu culture? Or tradition? The debate continues and as much, the concern of the three old traditionalists lingers on! PF