Ancient Customs Held Sacred In Kunene

02 May 2016 11:50am

By Uerikoha Tjijombo
OPUWO, 02 MAY (NAMPA) – Nestled neatly among the hills of the Kunene Region is the Okangundumba - a common name for a number of tiny villages in the area, but this is not just any cluster of villages; it is where numerous ancient customs, traditions and beliefs are still practiced and respected.
The villages forming part of Okangundumba are Otuani, Omao, Epunguwe, Otjahorovara, Otjite and Okazeuana, of which most are situated along the Sesfontein - Opuwo road and are in the newly demarcated constituency of Opuwo Rural.
These are no ordinary villages, as they hold some of the Ovahimba peoples’ most sacred norms, traditions, beliefs and customs.
At Okangundumba, it is forbidden to fetch water from the water point or collect wood from the field after sunset, unless there is raw meat at home that must be cooked - only then would the deities understand.
If someone asks you to go somewhere and you refuse to do so, don't change your mind. If you do change your mind and decide to go, the belief is that something strange will happen to you.
Having sex during the day is also not permitted. Such needs can only be satisfied after sunset, under the cover of darkness and a star-studded sky.
Foul language is another no-no in this area, as is “undue” criticism of nature, such as referring to natural structures as being ugly, bad or deformed. Delivering such comments could earn you big misfortune.
As out of the ordinary as this may be to some living in urban areas, those residing here hold these customs and beliefs in high regard, and no one dares to question the logic behind it.
Mutindi Muteze, a traditional councillor who also serves as a 'judge' in the traditional court here, says such traditions have existed for centuries and have been passed on from one generation to another.
“You can try it yourselves if you don't believe me,” was all Muteze said when asked if refusal to heed the set customs could really result in calamity for those who dare.
Not part of Okangundumba but in the vicinity is another village, Ombombo, where similar traditions, beliefs and customs exist.
Here, a certain road is off limits. No one is permitted by local custom to travel this road, as fears of bad luck and misfortune for those who dare to defy the custom lie in waiting.
“Those before us and some during our time have tried driving along that road. There was also a certain white man who tried it out of disbelief and the car broke down beyond repair,” recalls Shake Matundu, a local elder.
Ondundu ya Tjinguindi (Tjinguindi's hill) in the area of Otjerunda also has its way of dealing with people who defy set traditions, especially the hunters.
Whenever someone hunts close to this hill and finds an animal to shoot, such hunter should ascertain that the gun used for shooting at the animal is not fired towards the hill.
Simply put, the hill should be behind the hunter whenever a shot is fired at the hunted animal.
Defiance of this rule could result in major misfortune for the hunter.
“You also don't kill an animal in this area and mention how fat it is, neither do you hide your items somewhere in the field in this area because you won't find it when you come back to look for it,” warns Matundu.
Alex Kaputu, a renowned local historian, says such cultural heritage has been in existence for many years, urging modern-day generations to respect such customs and traditions.
“European cultures have influenced us in such a way that we feel our own doctrines are meaningless,” Kaputu says.
Singing the same tune, another elder in the Ovahimba community, Kautoora Tjiposa, is of the opinion that some cases of mortality among the youth in the area can be attributed to ignorance of cultural doctrines and disrespect shown to sacred places such as those at Okangundumba and other villages.
Traditions such as these may be meaningless when applied in the context of modern science, but it remains clear that those residing at Okangundumba and other similar villages know better than to tempt fate.
During the Easter weekend a church group visited Omao, a village in this cluster. Forgetting that they had been told about disposing of water at night, two women poured out the water they washed themselves with. The belief is that such water should be thrown out over burning coals or else, should be kept until the morning.
Seconds after throwing out the water, a snake appeared in front of the women’s tent.
One of the women, Ngurimuje Hengari said she learned her lesson that day.
“We in central Namibia are not used to beliefs like what they have in the Kunene Region, but that was the biggest lesson I've ever learned. I will never undermine local beliefs again,” she said.
As shrouded as they are in mystery, it appears as if the ancient customs won’t die out soon. Even the younger generation know better than to disregard what has been passed down through generations.
Uekeritiraije Humu, a young woman who grew up in this cluster of villages, says these beliefs were instilled in her as a child.
“It is what I have done since childhood because I have so much respect for our tradition,” she says.