By By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
September 2010
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The future of Ovaherero and Ovambanderu traditional dance and song called Outjina and Omuhiva is dying a slow death.

Names of accomplished yesteryear traditional artists like Menesia Puriza, Joas Kamberinjeke, John Katjipi and Alfons Ndjoze are barely known despite their immense contribution in the preservation of their culture. And so too the names of their successors among them Jota Hengua, Uanongua Tjongarero, Ndauoo Tjituka, Magdalena, Katjipi, Justine Mutanga, Erika Kaputu, whose efforts are vanishing into oblivion.

Once, Outjina/Omuhiva was one of the hallmarks of Ovaherero/Ovambanderu culture.

Nowadays such comparisons are few and far in between, ominously signalling the slow demise of this traditional music.

Once popular at almost every traditional gathering, it seems now to be relegated to the doldrums of cultural happenings, in an era of constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Despite the zeal to take over from where their latter-day predecessors like the Tjongareros and Kaputus stopped, today’s Outjina and Omuhiva artists are finding the road ahead bumpy and difficult to walk.

Outjina is the female traditional music and dance mostly performed at traditional weddings while men’s Omuhiva is usually staged at traditional commemorations of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu, when paying homage to fallen heroes and heroines at traditional shrines in Okahandja, Omaruru, Otjipaue and Okeseta.

That’s all history now. Oviritje has taken over and attracting better crowds. Outjina has been left for the elderly.

The youth seem not to have interest in it.

Those performing this cultural music-dance today, the Muuondjos, Mbuendes and Viakondos pin their hopes on invitations to events like traditional weddings to showcase their talents and indulge their cultural passion.

At the Okakarara Annual Trade Fair last year, traditional music performers cut lone figures on the fringes of the fair. Their presence was more a ‘by-the-way’ gesture rather than a purposeful act to focus on this aspect of culture.

The reasons are as manifold as they are ominous.

One apparent natural agent in the preservation, if not promotion of Outjina and Omuhiva, is the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Otjiherero Language Service.

However, the NBC Otjiherero Language Service seems is equally guilty in the apparent neglect. There is no permanent slot for traditional music in its programming. It is only aired occasionally depending on the mood of individual presenters or producers.

The station’s head, Jarimbovandu Kaputu, however argues that most Ovaherero traditional music is on vinyl records and since they have switched to compact discs, it has become impossible to play this music and dance other than those recorded lately on compact discs.

Muuondjo, a leading male Outjina performer, agrees that life is slowly but surely ebbing out of this traditional music-dance. The little audibility and visibility left of outjina is owed to traditional weddings.

Tepenii Mbuende, a veteran whose theatrics in Outjina dates back to her primary school days before independence concurs that performing opportunities, in between weddings, are becoming non-existent.

She says even when such opportunities beckon at weddings they are flippant in nature.

“In the old days we would perform at weddings until the wee hours of the morning. Today we perform a few minutes or never at all,” she says.

Sunday was normally the day for Outjina known as Outjina woviuru (dance of the cow head) at a wedding. But this rarely takes place now.

Besides weddings, special days known as, outjina womuhoko, used to be staged where leading dancers would be invited to entertain the community.

Pilgrimage to historical shrines at Okahandja would also be occasions for Omuhiva where renowned dancers from across the country would feature.

But times have changed. Muuondjo partly blames the intermingling of politics and culture for the seeming demise of the Outjina and Omuhiva.

Muuondjo had a cultural tour overseas where he showcased Outjina in Germany and Austria, and did a display of the Otjiherero women gear.

He plans to mobilise, with fellow villagers of Ozonduno in the Otjinene Constituency in the Omaheke Region, a revival cultural gathering.

Attending a ceremony where there is outjina is almost sickening. Since chorusing is essential to a good performance, they cannot do it alone without others joining the chorus of clapping and singing along. Most of those attending weddings are moderners and become spectators.

There is however a flicker of hope with renewed efforts by the Ovaherero youth group in Swakopmund. In July, the group staged the first ever Outjina and Omuhiva evening at the coast.

At the recent 40th anniversary of the death of Chief Hosea Kutako, Omuhiva also featured high on the programme, giving a glimmer of hope about the future of this unique form of music and dance.PF