TREKKING THE ONDONGA KINGDOM

By By Dr. S V V Nambala
August 2010
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THERE is a popular saying: “Ondonga opo tayi kala,” meaning “Ondonga shall remain forever.” Perhaps it is proper to investigate why Ondonga is so popular and considered everlasting.

What is so unique about this region?
Let us find out some historic facts that might have made Ondonga unequaled to other regions.

Ondonga is part of the former Ovambo tribal areas in the Oshikoto Region. Several sources say that Ovambo and Kavango people are closely related to the Nyemba group in Angola. It is said that long ago, there were three brothers: Nampoko, Muntenda and Ngulanene. Nampoko was a leader of the Nyembas, Muntenda leader of the Kavangos, and Ngulanene leader of the Ovambos.

The latter two brothers met early death. It is further alleged that “the Kwangali kingdom was near the Kwanyama Kingdom at Manyandi, and was under the leadership of Nguranene. The name Nguranene has roots in the Kwanyama and Ondonga tribes, as do the names Angula, Nangula and Hangula.

The Kwangali people retained these names, with a slight variant i.e, Haingura and Nangura, within the tribe as evidence of the close relationship between the Kwangali and Ovambo Kingdoms.” (Muha 1999: 1)

Ondonga lies south of former Ovamboland close to the Etosha Pan. The area was occupied for centuries by the Aandonga tribe under the leadership of their kings. Aandonga refers to people of Ondonga --- people who were born, migrated and assimilated or who permanently live in Ondonga tribal area. Some local historians such as Sakeus Efraim maintain that the original term was Aandongo, but not Aandonga. Aandongo is said to have been derived from “ndongo”.

When they reached the current place of residence after many years of travel they finally said: “Ndongo oompa” (until here; thus far), as a vow not to travel further anymore. There is also a Ndongo Kingdom of the Mbundu in the vicinity of Cuanza in Angola.

In Oshindonga language there is no equivalent meaning to the term Ondonga. However, in Luchazi (one of the Nyemba groups) ndonga means river. There is also a place called Ndonga linena about 80 km east of Rundu in Kavango where there is an agricultural project today. When the people of Ondonga came into their present area of residence about 300 years ago, they settled first at “omulonga” (river) called Nyuwe Lake (Oshamba; Omulonga). It is also probable that the name Ondonga was derived from the common noun omulonga (river), the place where they first settled.

It is not known when the term Ondonga came into use. When Nangolo dha Amutenya became king of Ondonga in about 1820s, he called his capital Ondonga. It should also be remembered that according to legend, the Ovambo people migrated from the upper reaches of the Zambezi at the same time as the Hereros. Both are descendents of Mangundu’s two sons or daughters (since they are matrilineal), Nangombe and Kadhu.

Nangombe became ancestor to the Ovambos and Kadhu (Kazu) to the Hereros. Some speculate, therefore, that one of the first leaders of the Bantu immigrants into the area from the Great Lakes region during the 18th century was called Mundonga. Hence his people were referred to as Mundonga’s people – Aandonga (the people of Mundonga).

Omulonga (Oshamba), the place where they settled first, is situated right in the middle of Ondonga, dividing Ondonga into two parts – eastern and western parts. Ondonga east is called Oshitambi, and Ondonga west is called Onamayongo. People who live in Oshitambi are called “aashitambi” or “aambuga.”

The latter term is disliked by people who live in Oshitambi, because it connotes people who are uncivilized, dirty, too far from development or even sorcerers and witches. The people who live to the west are called “aanamayongo” or “yomeni lyomulonga” (meaning “those who live on the other side of the river”). The aashitambi used to consider themselves as the original, authentic or proper Aandonga, while they viewed the aanamayongo as a mingling of foreigners and sojourners.

History has it that the people of Ondonga migrated together with other Ovambo people in the south-western direction from the Great Lakes in Central Africa in about the year 1300. They entered Namibia from the north via the Kunene River, and reached their present location by about the year 1770s. The terms Ondonga and Ovambo appeared in the earliest writings of Francis Galton and Charles John Anderson’s diaries when they visited King Nangolo dhaAmutenya of Ondonga in June 1851. At times the terms Ondonga and Ovambo were interchangeably used by Galton (1889) in his book Narrative of Explorer in Tropical South Africa Being an Account of a Visit to Damaraland in 1851 (London, Ward, Lock and Co.).

However, he was also aware of using the term Ovamo instead of Ovambo. “I should have said that I used the word Ovampo in the Damara [Herero] sense, in which it includes all the corn-growing tribes to their north. These seem to be precisely the same race, manners, and customs; and they speak one language.” Galton said. According to Galton’s observation the Ovambos have strong local and personal attachments, very national and proud of their country. Hence they never thrived or survived when taken away as slaves. Galton had also looked upon Ovambos with a special high esteem and was impressed by what he had experienced in Ondonga. For him “it would be a crying shame to enslave the Ovampo …. They are a kind-hearted, cheerful people, and very domestic. I saw no pauperism in the country; everybody seemed well to do; and few old people that I saw were treated with particular respect and care.” He even claimed that “If Africa is to be civilized I have no doubt that Ovampoland will be an important point in the civilization of its southern parts.”

Report on the Natives of South West Africa and their Treatment by Germany. 1918:137 (London, Majesty Stationery Office) carried similar sentiments saying that “Ovambo are a light-hearted people and amongst other amusements, delight in music and dance. Whereas according to Charles J. Anderson in the same report (138); the Ovampo are an industrious race, and the men, contrary to the custom of most other African tribes and nations, work fully as hard as the women. Besides taking part with the latter in the cultivation of the soil, they tend the cattle when pastured in the distant forest, furnish wood for the huts and enclosures, dig wells and perform various other laborious occupations. When, moreover, they have time to spare from their several duties, it is often employed in trading with their neighbours, for which purpose they not unfrequently make journeys of several hundred miles in extent; on these occasions they exchange iron and copper rings and beads, hoes, spear-heads (assegais), and a few other simple articles of their own manufacture (there being artisans, so to say, amongst them) for iron, copper, etc. The women are never idle, as the men are. Independently of household duties, nursing their children, milking the cows and goats, they assist their husbands and brothers in field labours, reaping the grain, storing it away, etc.; but let them be engaged in what manner they may, they always seem a merry, happy set, laughing and chatting together and making sport, as it were, of labour.

The Aandonga were, if not still are, self reliant people, with a strong mutual goodwill and cordiality. At the time of Galton’s visit, all were “plump and well fed; even the blind old people … were … well tended and fat….By each homestead were five or six cows and a quantity of goats, very small, but yielding a great deal of milk.” The Aandonga “have a high notion of morality in many points, and seem to be a very inquiring race.” Galton observed.

In the olden days when a stranger comes into Ondonga, one was not allowed to eat with him or her for the first time before a special ceremony was conducted or performed. The ceremony was like this: The stranger sits down, closes his / her eyes, and raises his / her face to heaven; then the Ondonga initiator takes some water into his mouth, gargles it well, and, standing in front of his guest, delivers it full in his / her face. After this ceremony, well and good, eating together was permitted.

During the German colonial period, the Germans exerted their influence upon Ovamboland, with Ondonga as an entrance point. The first attempt to secure German influence in the area was by Lieutenant-Colonel and Governor Leutwein in 1895, but he was unsuccessful. The reason was that after hearing of the massacre at Hornkranz and what had happened to Hendrik Witbooi in the south, the Ovambo people were not prepared to receive the Germans. Instead they were prepared for war. Therefore, Leutwein had to stop his planned trip to Ovamboland.

The second attempt was in 1900, when the District Chief of Outjo, Captain Franke, paid a visit to King Kambonde kaMpingana of Ondonga and King Ueyulu yaHedimbi of Uukwanyama. The third attempt was in 1901, when Dr. Georg Hartmann and Lieutenant von Winkler travelled through Ovamboland to Angola on a feasibility tour contemplating building of a railway from Tsumeb to Angola ports.

Again another mission to Ovambo including Dr. Gerber, architect Laubschat and Gass visited Chief Nehale lyaMpingana of Oshitambi, and once again King Kambonde kaMpingana and King Ueyulu yaHedimbi in 1902. These Germans were military men in plain clothes. But King Ueyulu was able to detect that they were German “spies.” Hence their attempts to win over the Ovambo leaders and place them under German “protection” failed.

In July 1903, the German army under the command of Lieut. Volkmann carried a punitive attack on Ovambo Chief Himarua’s village at the Okavango-Angola border valley for having rejected German authority over his people and rejected German missionaries in his territory. Although the Germans withdrew after the attack, another large punitive expedition was planned against the Ovambos at least in early 1904. The outbreak of the Herero uprising in January 1904 and subsequent rising of the Namas destructed German attention to the north and the Ovambos were left alone.

Ondonga has been an important entry point for anyone contemplating visiting the north of Namibia in the past and even today. Hence the statements “Ondonga opo tayi kala” (Ondonga shall remain) and “Kehe omukwaniilongo omOndonga eendela” (Every foreigner passes through Ondonga) is a point to consider. Over the years, many people sought refuge in Ondonga. Today the King of Ondonga is the chairperson of the Council of Traditional Leaders in the country.PF