The Significance of Hegona (Father’s Sisters or Female Relatives) in Oshiwambo Culture (Part 2)

On the wedding day before the procession enters the homestead, the bride and bridegroom are seated somewhere outside the homestead.

Hegona of the bride or bridegroom, depending on where the procession is, moves closer to the couple to give the bride and groom the omalovu (beer), she takes a cup and takes the beer out of the pot and pours it into a cup until it overflows.

The beer that spills is ‘given to the ancestors’ to taste first. She does it carefully so that the beer does not bubble. Should it bubble, then it would be believed that one is swearing at the ancestors who in turn may curse the newlyweds. She then gives a cup first to the groom and then to the bride. Both the bride and groom must receive the cup with both hands and empty the beer cup without pausing.

She (the hegona) then takes her gifts and puts them in the big basket. While she does this, she waves efungu (dancing wand) and ululates. Hegona is given special piece of meat at a wedding (such as the front leg from each ox slaughtered) in some tribes, or omapitakati (rib cage) in Ondonga. In some Aawambo tribes, for example, among the Aakwaluudhi, a hegona is given the omugongo (the back part of a slaughtered ox) If a hegona does not receive the sufficient meat, she could become angry and leave the party and if that happened, then she would curse the couple to become childless.

To appease the anger of a hegona, the couple must travel to the homestead of the hegona to tender an apology and to ask her to evoke the bad luck. They have to shower her with lots of gifts and help her with house chores for a couple of days. When she is satisfied, she has to perform magic to purify the couple. Once the couple is cleansed of back luck, the hegona massages the tummy of the wife and says: Ka vale nokomushila (Go and produce more children).

Whenever the couple decides to establish their new homestead, they would have to inform hegona of the man. The hegona would have to do the mapping of the new homestead. She would have to get up at dawn and lead their child to the new dwelling. The hegona has to lead the procession and carry the burning omusindilo (a magic stick). When the procession arrives in the new dwelling, the people have to put their luggage at olupale where hegona makes the fire to officially inaugurate the new dwelling. The owner of the house and his entourage then warms themselves before the fire.

After a certain period, the hegona comes back to bless the entrance. Again, she performs her magic. When her daughter or son passes on, the hegona is officially informed, because no fire is made before she comes to make the holy fire for the mourning period. If she were to be delayed and someone made the mourning fire before she arrives, then such a fire would have to be extinguished as soon as she arrives. She makes the first fire for the mourning session. Anybody who wants to make a new fire, would have to take a coal from the main fire. At the end of the mourning period , the hegona is expected to remove the ashes from the main fireplace and throw them in the omudhime bush or simply on the main road. It is believed that the ashes thrown in the omudhime symbolise that death has been reduced within the family. Should people walk over the ashes from the mourning period, they would become contaminated with death, i.e. death would strike their families.

It is also the responsibility of the hegona to do the mapping of the grave of their daughters or sons.

The meaning of the concept, hegona, has since been distorted by several westernised people at present. The impact of Christianity and its western didactic imports seem to have negatively influenced some deWambonised people (ya omalimalima) to attach wrong meanings to the concept. A few Aawambos today appoint men as the hegona of their daughters or sons. This is wrong because, aalumentu ihaa kwiinine. Some deWambonised people appoint their own daughters or sons to become the hegonas of their brothers or sisters.

It has also become a common practice to appoint unmarried women or men as hegonas. This is totally in conflict with the traditional practices of the Aawambo. Worst of it all, some men appoint their own wives to become hegonas. Some men also appoint themselves as hegonas of their sons or daughters.

The biological father or mother cannot become a hegona. This is totally unacceptable, iihuna yomuntu yi vule yombwa. In Oshiwambo, a father may be referred to as a ‘he’ not a ‘hegona’. Once a father calls himself a ‘hegona’, ‘it’ means he has relinquished his responsibility as the biological father, because he will have regarded himself as the father in a small way. It would be appropriate to do things consistently in accordance with our tradition.

Some Christians claim, Tse aakriste katu na shidhila/shipwe (We Christians do not stick to taboos). This is said when they want to appoint unqualified people for this post - hegona. It might be appropriate for the “dewambonised” people to decolonise their minds and apply the survived traditional practices strictly. The main question is: Why use the concept in the wrong way? Why not just abandon it completely if you detest it? PF