The debate on erosion of culture continues in Opuwo

The honour of welcoming the guests fell on Opuwo Constituency Councilor, Kazeongere Tjeundo. Among the guests were prominent traditional community leaders like Chief Jonas Tjikulya of the Ovazemba Traditional Authority, Senior Councilor Mika Muhenje of the Vita Thom Royal House; Senior Councilor Solomon Hartley of the Ovambanderu Traditional Authority, Senior Councilor Ujeuetu Tjihange, Chief Ruhozu of Vinjange and Secretary to the Tuzemba Traditional Authority and Opuwo Town Councilor, Licius Mupya, among others. Tjeundo clarified that the discussion was about a concern for the cultural degeneration and erosion of cultural values of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu. The elders were expected to share with members of the audience how they saw the communities conducting themselves traditionally in the modern day, and how they used to in the olden days. The ultimate was to provide solutions to any traditional-cultural issues raised, this coming necessarily not from the leaders but from all. One vexed question he thought should be discussed was the practice of Ouramue (inter-relationship between cousins), especially how cousins used to behave towards one another and to what extent this has changed to day and how cousins behave towards one another today?

The first issue open for discussion was how to bring up children in the right way because it is maintained that children are today misbehaving. Who is to be blamed? Are children today within the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu communities no longer brought up like in the old days? And what were these old ways? First to address the issue was Senior Councilor Muehenje, who was poignant that the blame could not be on the children alone. He added that fingers could also point, for example, to teachers, among others, for misbehaving themselves. Likewise, the child grows up within his/her community and parents. “The child, especially the girl lives in his father’s kraal,” and when going to the kraal she is supposed to be dressed properly. But more often than not parents do no see to it that she is. The child is supposed to obey his/her parents until she/he grows up and passes on the same obedience to his/her children.” If he/she in the first instance is disobedient to his/her parents why is it any surprise to her/him when as a perent his/her children is disobedient to hi/her?” He said currently there seemed to be no obedience between parents and their children and one things which was worsening the situation was alcohol abuse by children. It is none other than the parents themselves who supply children with alcohol, albeit Councilor Muhenje, to help their children not to show some inhibition. Ordinarily children should be ashamed and fearful and if this is taken way by the use of alcohol supplied by or consumed with the acquiescence of the parents, this also take away the respect between parents and children. He said the community has degenerated, and is further bacttracking because of alcohol, children disobeying their parents and the parent’s inabilities to discipline their children.

This was by no means an easy subject. It is just like shaping the traditional container, ehoro, of traditional milk, omaere. Not all of them assume the same adorable shape once moulded by their crafters, the same with bringing up children the traditional way. This has also become difficult as culture has been diluted albeit Councilor Hartley. Talking about the tradition and culture of bringing up children “I am talking about a child growing up between his father and mother. Once she/he starts walking she begins directing the goats, then shepherding. Among us the Ovaherero this is when she/he starts to be given a goat(s) among their homesteads flock”. In his manner the child grows with this homestead’s mannerisms, among them not to sleep away from the homestead or eat away lest this becomes a habit. In those days both boys and girls would occupy a particular house in the homestead with their parents and under their watchful eyes, or in separate houses, boys in one house or room and girls in another with the girls in the one located further most in the house where parents could maintain a vigilant guise over them. They would only leave the house under strict permission. Until they are “old enough” or have reached the puberty stage, known as okuteya okati, wear the traditional wear for children known as omutjira, a leather waist band with a tail behind and a front cover to cover the private parts. Once they have reached the puberty stage a special initiation ceremony would be held for her on the side of the main house, known as the holy fire house, ondjuwo yokuruwo, together with her peers. This could compare with the Olufuko practice in the Oshiwambo culture which of late has ensured some consternations among Namibia’s ecumenical community. She would be decorated with special decorations known as otupateka denoting that she is no longer in the same class as all children in the homestead but that she is edging towards maturity even deserving a room or house of her own. But while unripe she (he) would be in the reigns of her (his) parents to whom she(he) would listen to and obey them. And this is a way Hartley and peers were brought up not in the sense of tjitjekura tjeriyama(maturity age as is today). He went on that the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu never varandisire ovanatje vawo kaparukaze, literally translated meaning they never abdicated responsibilities for their children. Nor did they show any carelessness towards their children. To date their culture and traditions is something that is being alienated from them but which they would not themselves willing surrender.

Once any girl has come off age and has started dating, her suitor such a relationship would be a deeply guarded secret with the boyfriend passing by her homestead or house only deep in the nigh and leaving before dusk. If through this she became expectant, in most cases to her cousin, this would as much be unknown unlike today when expectancy seems a public showmanship. She would hide her pregnancy until in her late pregnancy with only few of her parents being aware of her pregnancy. Contrary to day she would be parading her pregnancy wearing even unfitting clothes parading her protruding self. “Please my lords do not say I am being disrespectful but these are things unknown to us, did not experience them and perhaps if you this old ways they may restore a sense of inhibition which is no more exiting among us,” pleaded Councilor Hartley. In addition, he added, a child born outside the wedlock was absolute taboo among his culture. If this happened the child would not be her’s, that is the unwed young lass but would only be her sister or brother, and the child of his grandparents. Today there is a practice of such a child being adopted by her/his father’s homestead, which was unknown in Councilor Hartley’s time. Neither would such a homestead’s elders have the audacity of traditionally reporting the pregnancy visited upon the girl by their boy. “To whom would you report the pregnancy? How would you approach such reporting? Why would you in the first instance report such pregnancy knowing well that you not be allowed to adopt the child? You did not have the permission to impregnate her. You are not known,” was the emphatic questions-answers by Councilor Hartley to underline that child birth outside wedlock was taboo in the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu culture and traditions.

If the father of such a child could not claim any fatherhood to his child what about child support? The biological mother’s parents would take care of this, answered Hartley once again categorically. “Announcer, these children born out of wedlock to day for us here in Kaokoland (Kunene Region) most of them are not given away for adoption. They are born in the homestead and remain own to the homestead, their grandfather, and younger brother or sister to their biological mother. That is how they are known,” concludes Councilor Hartley emphasising that in the Otjiherero customary and not in today’s law this is the case and that is wrong to officially report and adopt such a child. These reporting and adoption are new things of today which they had never known. The same issue was equally put to Councilor Muhenje who was hesitant to address himself to it, not because he did not know what the traditional practice was on bringing up children but because he was not quite sure as to the genesis and essence of the discussion. “I am not sure about this discussion where it is coming from, headed to and to be discussed where and when? Is it culture as it was, or as it is now which is not the way it used to be because it has been changed through the law from what it used to be?” asked Muhenje. He added that if it was a matter of how it used to be and it is no longer there and he would not like to talk about something that is no more. For one tradition is used to be children were given out to matrimony by their fathers and mothers. But today children are giving themselves away to marriage because the law allows him/her to do so once he/she has attained a certain age. If there were experts who are eager to revert to tradition and culture as it was it would be necessary to change the law first because it is the law that has brought tradition and culture into this state of flux, that a child does not know that his/her father or mother is the one who is supposed to command her/him.

As much as the discussion could not last for ever, reflecting everything that was disussed is not possible given the limited space. But the debate continues. The debate courtesy of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)’s Otjiherero Language Service was held in June in Opuwo as what is popularly referred to as Ondjuwo or Etuwo rOmawe (stone house or room). Through the sponsorship of the First National Bank it was broadcast live for more than three hours on the day. It was a sequel to an live earlier broadcast from Katutura’s Red Flag Commando hall in Windhoek in January which was also sponsored by the FNB. The discussion then was blessed by a formidable 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 his 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 in 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). PF