Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama retrace their wars’ history

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
November 2013



For two weekends in a row they have been on the road. Firstly they  travelledabout 3000 kilometres to the village of Tlakameng in the area of Vryburg in the Northwest Province in South Africa, and another approximately 900 kilometres to and from the Ozombuzovindimba in the Otjinene Constituency in Namibia all in the name of searching for answers.


These are the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu people, descendants of the great warriors and survivors of the direct victims of the genocidal wars of 1896, 1904-1908 wars by imperial Germany against Namibians. On both occasions they were led by their traditional leaders, Paramount Chief, Kuaima Riruako, of the Ovaherero, and Ovambanderu Paramount Chief, Queen Aletha Karikondua Nguvauva and Omaruru Chief, Raphael Kapia.


The trip to South Africa on the weekend of September 27-29, which coincided with the National Heritage weekend in that country, attracted the all Batswana of Namibian descendants, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu, Nama as well as South Africans of Namibian to an occasion which can be best described as a dream come true.


Turning to the South Africans of Namibian descendant, it was a momentous occasion as it was their first time, that they were united with their kith and kin from Botswana and Namibia. 


Indeed the event was not only an event mirabillus  for the South Africans had not been united with fellow, and has been craving for such a union,  but for some Batswana of Namibian descent as well who had never met their tribesmen and women ever before, especially their traditional leaders. And none could encapsulate the feeling on the day, and which turned out to be the feeling of all, whether from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa as Reverend Rupert Hambira, a Batswana of Namibian Ovaherero descent put it. The feeling of eventually meeting long lost ones.


Call them what you like, cousins, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. No one knows but the air was in Tlakameng that particular weekend highly pregnant with overarching true feeling of Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama camaraderie. Real and unprecedented African brotherhood and sisterhood if you like.


“You know I finished primary school and I finished secondary school without ever thinking that Namibia was on the continent of Africa.  I thought it was a place so far, we were told it was a place so far that we will never reach there again. But now I am happy that we are here, and I am seating here on the podium with my chief, with my own Paramount Chief, close, very close to the Paramount Chief, and it is the very first time that I am seating in a tent with my own Paramount Chief nothing can be far. And nothing can be better and I die today, I will go straight to Heaven,” Reverend Hambira embodied the elation of the weekend.


The atmosphere was so emotionally charged, not in a sense of agitation but in the sense of tears of both joy and emotions, that one of the directors of ceremonies at Tlakameng, Moses Riet, a South African of Nambian Nama descent confessed to being close to tears. The signing of the hymn which is punctuated by the wailings of the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama charged the atmosphere so much so that most who can hardly speak nor understand their mother tongues, Otjiherero and Nama, but can sing in either of the languages of their Namibian descent.


Not that their Namibian fellows took much along in terms of culture artefacts  and displays safe for their trademark paratroopuniforms in the traditional Green, Red and White flags. But this was enough to invoke the cultural nationalism of their long lost fellows from Botswana and South Africa,  sending many tongues wagging, and heads turning, wherever they dared stepping and entreating. Not to mention the bellowing of battle cries by a few, which reverberated and vibrated like thunder. But nothing could surpass the elation of these long lost Namibian descendants than meeting their own face to face, particularly traditional leaders that they can call their own as per Reverende Hambira’s confessional testimony.


To crown it all never again shall the voice of reparation be an isolated cry in the wilderness the descendants in Namibia only, as has hitherto been the case, with the three peoples pledged to rally behind one another onwards speak with one voice to claim what rightfully belongs to all of them, if only to put the souls and spirits of their ancestors to eternal peace, wherever they may be.


From Tlakamaleng it was onwards to Ozombuzovindimba, the weekend of October the fourth to the sixth.. A double billing weekend of the 109th commemoration of the Extermination Order against the Ovaherero by the then Imperial Germany’s commander in the then South West Africa, General Lothar von Trotha, on October 2, 1904, and the second anniversary of the return of the first 20 skulls of Namibian victims of Imperial Germany’s atrocities.


Surprisingly it was against the best wishes of the National Heritage Council, for these communities to go to the Ozombuzovindimba for the commemoration, once again the traditional leaders of these communities formed the vanguard to this traditional holy shrine. And this time around the commemoration seems one gear up, if only in its cultural ingredient with drilling parades in the traditional Green, Red and White flags regalia, both on foot and on horses, battle cries, both by women and men, ondoroand ombimbias they are respectively known.


This year the pilgrim had a special significance in that the shrine has received a facelift, courtesy of a grant from the Spanish government through the United Nations. All this is a result of the efforts of the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu Genocide Foundation (OGF) to make their case very loud and clear. This completed the first phase, which basically entails the main entrance; some sign boards from the settlement of Otjinene to the shrine; a hut for the traditional priests; a borehole as well as fencing. 


To induce some cultural dose into the commemoration this year, traditional circumcision surgeon, Tjitavi Kambausuka, was on hand applying his surgical razor to some 23 children including seven San ones whom he claim he had to perform the surgery free of charge as their parents could not afford the asking price of N$150 per child, in the process forfeiting in this instance N$800 for the seven San children. Even for the other children because of the nature of the occasion, he reduced his price from N$170 to N$150.


It is anyone’s guess what peer groups these children would belong to special group of children who were circumcised in the same period, usually a three-year period, are named after any main happening or epoch. Like with the return of the skulls in 2011, a peer group may have been established accordingly, and since these young lads have been circumcised two years after the return, they may fall within this peer group. But the show may easily have belonged, at least culturally, to and a group of traditional dancers who, led by dancer Kuruha Nganjone, since the Saturday evening and subsequently on Sunday morning before the beginning of the main event, kept the guests spellbound with traditional dances.


While the main message in Tlakameng was cultural revival, the main message at Ozombuzovindimba by speaker after speaker for all communities to rally behind the call for reparation. “Those of us from mother Namibia, the cradle of your origin, have despite the damage done by the colonial forces to our culture, still have some traces of our original culture remaining. And that is why we are here to bond together, rediscover our culture and traditional practices and move forward together,” said Chief Riruako. But not culture as an end in itself but towards socio-economic reconstruction eventually. “Until we commonly find a common cultural home together all of us, we shall remain strangers in our respective countries. Hence the need to continue this new and good beginning through cultural exchanges,” said Riruako adding “let me make it clear that cultural re-awakening and revival cannot be an end in itself but a means to an end. This end is socio-economic reconstruction,” said Riruako in Tlakameng.


“The other objectives have not been achieved because many of our people are still living in abject poverty, landless and many of our people, as we have just seen in Vryburg in South Africa, are still scattered all over the world. Cameroon, Togo, Germany, you mention them. Thus our mission is more than just the return of the skulls. Part of this mission is to unite these people scattered all over the globe together, if not physically, at least in spirit. More than physical relocation, all what some of these people are looking for is a sense of connection and belonging to their own. Foremost among this is to rediscover their language and culture. Thus, these skulls, many of which have not retuned yet, as well as commemoration such as this one here at Ozombuzovidimba, should remind us every day of our main mission, which is REPARATION,” said Ovambanderu Paramount Chief Nguvauva at Ozombuzovindimba.


But poet Kamaaizngi Marenga has this to say at Tlakamaleng: “Today is the day to grow love, exchange smiles, and water our roots, to pump Heroic blood back, into the left-over greatness, rotting down in the dumps!”


Chief Riruako, queen Nguvauva and poet Marenga, were only echoing the sentiments of many whether in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Germany, wherever the descendants of the survivors of the direct victims of Imperial Germany are or may be.  PF