By By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
August 2010
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LAST month’s column introduced the importance of livestock, especially cattle and sheep, and to a lesser extent goats in the life of the Ovaherero community, including the important role animals play in the various rituals of this community.

This month the focus is on the various parts of meat and their cultural essence.

The head of an animal is a delicacy. Different parts of the head are reserved for designated social classes. The cow head is cooked in a big cast iron pot.

A cow head, and more so a goat or sheep head in urban areas is a Namibian delicacy and popular at such eateries as the Otjikaendu Den in Windhoek’s Katutura surburb, at Aunty Emily Gaes’ joint in Kuisebmund in Walvis Bay and many other eateries countrywide.

Animal heads are not a Southern African specialty only, but an African phenomenon stretching across West Africa. You will be surprised that even in metropolitan cities like New York, in the United States of America, a smoked cow head is popular among homesick Texans having adopted it from Barbacoa de cabeza, an especially slow cooked cow head, which started in the ranches of north Mexico.

The Ovaherero attach special importance to the head of an animal reserving it for the head of the homestead. First the brain of such a cow head is linked to the thinking process of the owners of the homestead and thus ate by the elderly in the homestead. The eyes are linked to the vision and image of the homestead and, thus again reserved for the elders. Children are forbidden from eating the eyes. If cattle herders, and or hunters eat the eyes, it is mythically believed that other wild animals or fellow herders would see them from afar and flee. They will have trouble in their next expeditions as animals would be alert of their presence. They therefore should refrain from eating the eyes of animals.

Girls, and small children may not eat the nose lest their scent is picked up from a distance either by predatory enemies of the slaughtered animals or by other wild animals. The nose is reserved for mature people in the homestead and the elders. The tongue is for the senior members of the homestead as it is likened to the voice of the homestead and only the elderly and mature can speak on its behalf.

When children eat the tongue, they will often be spoken about if not becoming talkative themselves, something taboo in the Ovaherero culture.

is the tongue thus reserved for the elderly who may have mastered the art of speaking, presenting, and representing, and are able to verbally defend themselves and the homestead. But of course, the elders at their discretion could share a piece with the youngsters.

Ears are tied to the ability of the homestead to keep its ears to the ground and listen what others may be planning against it, as well as its ability to stalk wild animals or any other thing it may be pursuing.

The children, as the young and energetic force of the homestead, may not eat the ears lest they are heard from far foiling their pursuits. Thus it is also reserved for the elders. The various parts mentioned thus underlines the importance of the cow head to the homestead and its superiors.

The neck is reserved for children as they are seen as the “neck” of the homestead.

Known for its toughness and hardness, if children eat the neck, they shall equally be hardened in guarding their homestead. As one works with her/his arms, the front legs of an animal are thus reserved for children as the homestead’s operative arms. It is also for women, given their domestic responsibilities.

The fore shank bone meat is for children, the arm bone for both women and children while the blade is the reserve of the privileged children in the homestead.

The breast is a specialty in any homestead. As the nerve centre of the homestead the breast represents the wealth of the homestead and thus must be the delicacy of those responsible for its wealth. Obviously the man of the homestead.

Yes, women may eat the breast, but only when given by the head as an overture of his affection for them. The backbone meat is reserved for women in the homestead as they form the backbone in the bearing and rearing of children.

Likewise the ribs are tied to women. Because of the important function of the rib in shielding the lungs and liver, likewise women, in the Ovaherero culture, are seen to be the shields of any homestead and thus ribs are fit to be eaten by them.

The hind legs, especially the leg or round bone meat, are for men because they are associated with the mobility and motion of the homestead and only men are seen as the rolling stones. The legs are considered to be the pillars on which the homestead is anchored.

The legs are a specialty not for children lest they become big-headed and aspire or claim being pillars of the homestead, which they are not. Children may eat the leg but only with the generosity of the elders. Next is the tail bone, a specialty for women, as it is linked to their procreative function. Younger girls may not eat it lest they start craving for procreativity at an early age.

In terms of the inner organs, the heart, as the homestead’s engine, is for the elders, including the lungs, which are regarded as the pulse of the homestead. Today these two organs are given away. Not then when due to their centrality to the body and its functioning they were seen as too central to the homestead to be given away.

The heart and lungs signified the wellbeing of any homestead, and thus had to remain and enjoyed within it. Likewise the intestines had ordinarily been consumed within the homestead because as a cardinal animal storage, it was equally seen as an important homestead’s deposit box. Giving it away meant depriving the homestead of its preservation ability.

Equally, as the gangway to the animal’s stomach, it was seen as an important part of the animal and also the homestead and thus for consumption within. “oura wonganda, according to a popular Otjiherero expression which means the homestead’s secrets. Thus, giving the heart away was seen as opening up the homestead’s secrets to strangers.

“Otjihende otjinene kukuturikwa oura wonganda (a big/important pole of the homestead to which it hangs its intestine), emphasizing once again the importance of the cow’s intestine to any homestead. Kidneys and livers are considered highly within the traditional dietary regime of the Ovaherero who somehow seem to have realized their necessity to women in terms of replenishing their blood supply lost during menstrual cycles.

Thus they are eaten by girls and women while boys are strongly discouraged to eat it as it “is a women’s specialty”. (Sources: Hijangaruu Veseevete, Hariki Maundu and Jackson Musaso).PF