Courtship, betrothal in Oshiwambo culture (Part1)

Courting a girl was not as complex a process in the ancient times as it might be the case today.

When the right time came for a man or a woman to find a soul mate, the parents would take the lead roles while the young ones simply relaxed and waited for their D-Days. The parents made all the arrangements for their children to find the right soul mate.

This was done through an initiation school (Olufuko).

This school would be organised in consultation with the reigning king.

The parents of the initiates were obliged to accompany their daughters to this important school. I will not get into the details of what happened in the school but the main purpose of the school was for the girls without soul mates to find them as well as to prepare them for adulthood.

Men who already had girlfriends also attended the occasion just to see how their soul mates faired.

A proposal to a girl was made by tying a palm leaf around a girl. A girl who rejected the proposal simply removed the leaf. Another aim of the initiation school was to cleanse the girls of back luck.

They were also given permission to fall in love with the men of their choice without being persecuted by family members. Falling pregnant before graduating from this school was punishable by death.

But after the graduation ceremony, which was graced by the presence of the king, the girls would then be free to fall pregnant.

The advent of Christianity led to the abolition of this school but it has, to a lesser extent, survived acculturation as some communities have since continued to practice it in secrecy.

The recent revival of Olufuko by the Outapi Town Council was condemned by some religious people who saw it as a promotion of promiscuity and an increase of the transmission of STDs.

Both the revival and the rejection of the Olufuko raised more questions than answers: Does its revival reduce teenage pregnancies?

What impact does it have on the academic performance of the learners? Is the current Olufuko conducted according to the ‘original version’ of it? Is there any correspondence between Olufuko and a confirmation school? Is there a possibility of integrating the good norms and values from Olufuko into the current confirmation classes? What are the merits and demerits of Olufuko? And so on.

Another ancient school was called ‘Iiyugo’ where boys and girls spent time together for about a month. During this period, they pretended to be husbands and wives. There would be a lady in charge of the ‘Iiyugo’ to ensure that the young men and women did not go beyond playing together.

Again, this was a chance to find the right soul mate but the parents advised their sons and daughters on the type of man or woman who was suitable for marriage.

Young men and women also participated in the ‘uudhano’ during the full moon season. Here, they also exchanged some sweet words. But the final decision always lay with the parents.

If a girl was informed by her parents that a certain man wanted to fall in love with her and the parents found him suitable for marriage, then she had no right to say no.

The question is: Who was the right soul mate? Parents used certain criteria to choose men for their daughters or vice versa. They chose a man from the clan with faithful men, a diligent one. The “suitable” men also had to possess certain qualities like having a deep voice, hairy skin and so forth. The one with a soft voice and effeminate mannerisms was considered unsuitable.

The girl with the following qualities was not selected: Deep voice, beard, hanging bums, the one with calves covering the ankles, the talkative one, the one who did not sit properly (ha kuutumba omwandi gwa gwa), one who ate a lot, the lazy one, the one whose clan practised witchcraft and the one who made dust as she walked.

The suitable girl was the one with a soft voice and a composed manner. In addition, having a wider opening between the big toe and the next toe was considered a plus, because this opening symbolised wealth.

There was a way of showing a man that a girl was interested in him. All they did would be to prepare the ‘oshikwiila’ for a man. Similarly, men showed their interest in women by shooting birds for them. But the two could not fall in love without the consent of the parents. PF