NEPS hosts a mock traditional wedding

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
February 2013
The Philippine Street, host to the Namibia English Primary School (NEPS) and its surrounding streets became a cultural siege on 3 November, 2012 when the school [in the heart of the old Katutura in Windhoek] was temporarily transformed into a rural village and an Ovaherero-Ovambanderu traditional homestead where a cultural wedding took place.

So massive was the impact of the event that the Ovaherero Cultural Youth League (OCYL) chairperson, Venee Korumbo and her team was inundated with calls from concerned community members, asking if traditional leaders had now abdicated their responsibilities, especially with regard to presiding over traditional weddings.

This came after the OCYL went on-air over the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)’s Otjiherero Service’s airwaves, to alert that, as it would be normal practice, the bridegroom’s entourage was to report to NEPS on the Saturday morning for the traditional wedding ceremony.

Have traditional weddings now been relegated to Windhoek, NEPS and the OCYL, for that matter? This was one of the questions that rung loudly among members of these traditional communities in Windhoek [and beyond] at what they not only feared as a derogation of their cultural-cum-traditional practices but its invasion and possible demise.

Unknown to many, the OCYL was only hosting a Cultural Day based on the theme “Our Culture, Our Pride”, focusing on a simulated traditional wedding. In a simulation resembling a real traditional wedding, youths from these communities in various role-plays, acted out all the stages and happenings of a traditional wedding from when the bridegroom’s entourage entered the dowry cattle into the bride’s homestead’s kraal, up to when the bride would eventually be whisked away by her groom and his entourage.

Hence, the impression among the general public was that a real wedding was indeed afoot at NEPS.

How could the community not be falsely impressed that a real wedding was, in fact, underway with all the gadgetries of a traditional wedding like the bridegroom’s set-up camp at the assumed homestead, NEPS; the bride’s elegantl attire in her traditional white robe, not to forget the groom in his tailor-made western suit and hat?

And of course, there was plenty of meat as would befit any traditional gathering of such communities. In fact, the simulation seemed so authentic, as one of the ‘brides’, Kamuu Tjombonde, testifies: “To be honest, this was such a serious matter that I was initially nervous.” She says the event was an eye-opener for her.

Despite attending many a traditional wedding, this was the closest Tjombonde had been to a real traditional wedding and truly appreciating its essence. Hence, she looks forward to her moment. She says she has realised that it is not actually difficult to go through a traditional wedding, as she believed before.

Her only discomfort during the occasion was the heavy traditional petty-coats (half a dozen of them that go along with the traditional Otjiherero dresses). The event was so close to reality that one of the groomsmen, Jaumburuka Mbaha, got hooked-up [for real] to his fellow acting bride, Vitjitua Rukoro.

A community member who witnessed the wedding, Kasukoo Uremena, describes the event as having been “very good”. Uremena says, there were many things about a traditional wedding she used to take for granted, despite the fact that she went through the process in real life. Although she has been aware of the various aspects of a traditional wedding, like the delivery of the dowry cattle, “ongombe yovitunya”, “orunde” (a hump, which goes along with the hump dance) and “evango”, the loin - she was not aware of their importance until this ‘wedding’.

The occasion was not all simulation, though. Folklorists, Hijangaruu Veseevete and Johanna Maendo were at hand to guide the proceedings right through the mock trials, as well as to explain every facet thereof and its cultural-traditional meaning.

Chief Alex Kavei of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA); an inhabitant of the Gam communal area in the Tsumkwe Constituency, also witnessed the proceedings. He could not hold back his appreciation of the importance of the event in transmitting cultural-cum-traditional practices to the younger generation, especially in view of variations as per regional differences and their possible erosion and imminent demise because of modernisation.

“The event was such an experience, particularly being seen in the presence of young people who are still eager to learn our culture in this day and age, when it already seems so forgotten,” says Chief Kavei.

According to him, this noble effort to educate, inculcate and make the youth conscious of culture and traditions, should not be a once-off thing but a consistent one - not only for the sake of culture preservation but for promotion as well.
For example, for the eyuva rosazu (day of red tolly), or orongombe okuhita (day of driving in the tolly), when the dowry tolly is driven into the kraal of the bride’s homestead, Friday has come to be regarded as [culturally or traditionally] the day when this must happen.

Also, there are variations with regard to the bridegroom, as in, when the dowry tolly is driven into the bride’s homestead’s kraal.

In some variations, the bridegroom accompanies the dowry cattle after which he enters the main house for the first time.

In a different variation, the bridegroom remains encamped and only enters the main house in the bride’s homestead later during another ceremony unofficially known as “ndjipatururira ondjuwo” (open the house for me) from a hymn with the same lines or similarly titled.

Originally, money was never in the equation as part of dowry; just the tolly and two heifers. “Kamanguere yarara nomukova motjinjo” (Kamangeure has slept with its skin on) go the lyrics from an old popular female traditional dance song, sung only at weddings. It is a reference to these cattle, which must not be slaughtered while the wedding is in process.

By tradition, the bride and groom are not supposed to eat the meat from these cattle. Hence the cows’ slaughter after they couple has left the bride’s homestead. This is a safety measure; lest such meat gets mixed up with other meat and the bride and groom eat it.

In these matters, there are many variations - even among the elderly like Kavei who is a traditional leader for that matter and is supposed to be well-vested in his cultural and traditional practices. Thus, he is of the opinion that such educative cultural days should not only be confined to the youth but the elders must benefit from them as well. The elder, according to him, could use such an occasion as a platform to share notes on the various facets of cultural-cum-traditional practices, as well as ensure cultural and traditional uniformity.

The Cultural Day was made possible by the owner of the Ombujotjimbari farm near Okahandja, among others. He donated a springbok carcass and 25 litres of cultured milk. A certain Pangaa Kandiimuine donated wood while the Otjiserandu Red Flag Commando No. 2 in Windhoek donated chairs, tables and cutlery. Relatives of the ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ dug deep into their pockets to ensure that the couple was elegantly attired. The OCYL also held a fundraising gala dinner to sponsor the event. PF