Tension between indigenous African traditions and cultures is as old as colonialism, and it’s afterrunner, Christianity. Christianity, introduced by various missionaries to Africa to paved way for a wholesale takeover and occupation of the African heritages, precious among these heritages being the African land and the gradual erosion of the African cultural persona through such foreign ideas like Christianity.
A famous African saying has it that: When they came they had the Bible and we had the land. Now they have the land and we have the Bible.” This is as much true for any or most of the African countries as it is for Namibia. And in Namibia it is not only a matter of the loss of land but traditions and cultures as well. One needs only reflect back to the role the missionaries played in the conquest of the African traditions and cultures as prelude to the conquest and occupation of African lands, and eventually the whole country.
History has it that the conqueror of Namibia was an event preceded first by a camel that was driven in the fore courtyard of Maharero by Imperial Germany’s troops. This being a taboo among the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu, was followed by Maharero being fed the liver of a camel which led to his death. But this was the last straw to break the camel’s back as the saying goes to get rid of Maharero, paved the way for his succession by one of his sons, Samuel Maharero, who was not necessarily the heir apparent to the throne but one whom the German colonisers considered vulnerable and amenable to their colonial chicaneries of conquest.
But before the “assassination” of Maharero, the colonialists, of course with the active participation if not connivance of the missionaries, had already started working actively on the erosion if not total destruction of the traditions and cultures of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu through the introduction of Christianity, and other western anti-African cultural values.
Testimony to this is that towards the outbreak of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu and German war of 1904 to 1908, most of the indigenous had abandoned their traditional and cultural ways and practices for Christianity. Foremost among the eminent people of these communities who had surrendered their traditional-cum-cultural way to Christianity, among others, was Andreas Kukuri who had become a pastor of note and in the process disassociated himself from the holy fire and eventually dismantled it. It is understood that among other cultural practices that these communities abandoned in favour of colonial traditional and cultural ways was the practice of circumcision.
History has it that after the war when these communities tried to regroup, one of the aspects was on the top of the agenda was that of their cultural renaissance was the revival of the holy fire. This year (2014) marks 110 years of the introduction of Christianity to these communities, erosion and or demise of indigenous African the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu and German wars, the occupation and conquest of their land, despite some pockets of tradition-cultural revival among these communities, Christianity remains a dominant force among them, eclipsing many a times traditional-cultural practices.
Of late this tension if not domination of tradition and culture by Christianity is being manifested in the Christian strand known as repentance or by its Afrikaans nomenclature of bekeerlingor mbatanaukain Otjiherero. Adherents of this Christian strand of belief have essentially dichotomise Christianity and traditional and cultural practices to the extent of incompatibility.
Not only this but young adherents of this Christian belief have been at loggerheads with their more traditional and culturally-inclined seniors at various traditional- cum-cultural occasions such as traditional wedding ceremonies and other traditional ceremonies like child naming, cleansing and what-have-you. To such young Christian believers, tradition and culture can be likened to an oil and water relationship, they just do not meet. This is because most pastors have come to regard, purport and preach this particular strand of Christianity as essentially diametrically opposed to each other.
But not so for traditional diviners and holy fire practitioners, Uapakua Upingasana, Jimmy Tjizembua Havarua and Gerson Ngetume, inhabitants of the villagers of Omupanda, Okatuoo and Ombooronde respectively in the Okakarara Constituency in the Otjozondjupa Region. Uapakua means he was buried. He has been so named because he is one of two surviving four sons. His parents fearing that he would again be taken away from them like his other two brothers who passed on, symbolically buried him while still a boy by putting him in an upright symbolic grave with his hands outstretched above his head.
After covering him with sand they than pulled him out by his outstretched arms and thereafter sealed closed the symbolic grave with sand. This meant that Uapakua had been buried and thus dead and death would not come looking for him. Uapakua says this very ritual destined him for the traditional diviner that he is today, having been presiding over their holy fire for more than 20 years since the death of his father.
Since the age of about 12 years he has been under the tutelage of his father as a succession should his father pass on, and this exactly what has been happening to date. Traditional divining is the only language he knows as he has been anointed for this role. In this vogue his father chose not to take him to school as a child lest this would in his latter day life as a diviner interfere with his calling of a diviner, omupuee.
Traditional hardliners such as Uapakua and fellow ovapuee (diviners) strongly believe that the belief in the powers of the Almighty goes hand in hand with the belief in the powers of the ancestors. As diviners they believe there’s no way their beckonings for blessings can reach the Almighty, Mukuru, Ndjambi or Musisi Karunga, if not channeled or mediated by the ancestors. This is because they have never personally known Ndjambi other than through the ancestors. Thus it is only proper to try and reach them through the ancestors, the only people they have known physically and personally.
In the case of Uapakua, these are his late father and grandfather. “There is no way you can reach the Almighty (Ndjambi) if not through your ancestors,” affirms Uapakua. “Likewise there is no way you can ask blessings from your ancestors without asking them to plea with the Almighty for such blessings on your behalf,” he adds pointing out that so far Ndjambi(Almighty) and Ovakuru(Ancestors) or Ootate(Our fathers) has been answering every plea, something that has affirmed him as an Omupuee.
In the plea for blessings Havarua distinguishes between ongambui, good fortunes, and everlasting good fortunes, otjiyangapara. While the ancestors may bestow good fortunes on one for such fortunes to be ever lasting one needs the blessing and protection of Ndjambi, he accentuates the interplays, syntax and synergy between the Ovakuru(ancestors) and Ndjambi(Almighty) and thus the compatibility and synergy between Christianity and Tradition and Culture. Thus those who says that Christianity and Tradition and Culture are two different matters opposed to each other, are no more than misguided and misinformed if not deliberate and malicious believers. PF