The significance of Hegona Part 1

By Petrus Angula Mbenzi
August 2012
History
The term hegona literally means ‘little father’. This is a denotative meaning of the word.

Any person, regardless of age or sex who is related to one’s father is considered as hegona. Hegona plays an important role in the life of a child. The significant role of the hegona towards a child may begin at the naming ceremony, but it usually begins at the time her daughter or son enters marriage.

I have deliberately used the feminine possessive, because strictly speaking, it is women who have the sole responsibility among the Aawambo to take care of the children of their brothers. Men very rarely play this role.

Any father selects a hegona or shenkadhi for his child. Such a woman is given the responsibility to take care of her son or daughter until they die. For one to become a hegona of someone’s child, she should meet certain requirements:

She should be legally married in a stable marriage and should have reached menopause. An Oshiwambo marriage is legalised thorough the official handing over of an omasiga (cooking stands) to the married woman by her mother-in-law or by a hegona.

A woman who has not been given the omasiga officially is not considered legally married according to the Oshiwambo custom. Similarly, a man who has not eaten the sorghum or bran porridge, inaa lya oshithima shiilyawala nenge shuuhutu is not considered legally married.

An Aakwanyama marriage, is also legalised through offering fresh mopane sticks to a woman, okundwangulilwa iithonono. These are the three main qualities of a hegona.

A woman who has abandoned her husband or who mistreats her husband never qualifies to become a hegona. It is believed that the abuser of men or a divorcee would ‘contaminate’ someone’s daughter or son with bad qualities.

What role does a hegona play in the life of her daughter or son? Hegona’s main role as adumbrated previously begins at the wedding ceremony. A hegona is expected to perform various activities during the wedding ceremony.

First, she should smear her son or daughter with red ochre mixed with fat. The mixture should be applied on the whole body of the daughter or son who will usually remain dressed in a pair of shorts while the hegona does her job.

This takes place at the oshoto shondjugo (the reception area opposite the woman’s hut) of a hegona. People who have accompanied the son or daughter are also smeared with the mixture lightly. After performing this activity, the hegona gives the son or daughter a special gift, which could be a goat, chicken or money at present day. This is to wish the son or daughter more gifts for the wedding.

The next day, the hegona travels to the house of her son or daughter to make the omasiga (cooking stands) for the wedding party. She collects the clay from an anthill in the morning alongside several women. She erects a mopane tree in the homestead to wish the bride good luck. After making the omasiga, she makes the main fire.

Everybody interested in making the fire during the wedding takes coal from the main fire to start a new fire. When making the omasiga or fire, they must perform various magical activities.

Should the hegona be delayed on the day of singing and arrive late, the house-dwellers may decide to make the fire by themselves. But as soon as they see her cooking, such a fire must be extinguished so that she makes the new fire. It is believed that the fire made by a person other than the hegona is not blessed, thus the hegona is referred to as a gwomambi (duiker/buck) or gwosisi (tortoise) as these animals symbolise good luck in Oshiwambo. It has to be noted that these terms may apply to both men and women.

A day before the ceremony, a hegona returns to boil sorghum flour to brew the first beer; okuhanga omalovu. Nobody else is allowed to make beer before she is done. She also performs various magical activities as she makes the beer, for example; she stirs the beer with a sorghum stalk and puts beer in her mouth and blows it into the air to wish the wedding good luck. She also ‘gives’ the omalovu to the ancestors to taste by pouring a bit to the ground.

Next time, we will look at the significance of the hegonas on the main day; the wedding day. PF