9 December 2004

Namibia: Wanted: a Historical Approach Ovambanderu And Ovaherero Trace Their Origins


Makopong — "RISE ye folks!" "We pray to the Lord who saved our souls from our troubles." The community hall here absorbs what starts as wailing but turns into full-blast hymning, as this Batswana community of Ovambanderu/Ovaherero origin get it off their chests.

As popular as singing is and has been among this community and a means of their reclused solace in troubled times, on this occasion the hymning has a deep-rooted double meaning. Unlike in those days when the hymning constituted wailing and pleas for redemption from the troubles of an exiled life and the loss of ancestors, on this occasion it is a mixture of gratitude and happiness. Thankfulness for the fact that their ancestors have carried them through all these years. And their appreciation at being able to see this happy day when they connect with fellow descendants of the survivors of the displacement, uprooting and dispossession of their ancestors.

The hymning is a curtain raiser for two days of retracing and establishing familial bonds and cultural reawakening. After a long search stretching over three years to bond with their Namibian counterparts, this community is graced with the presence of their flesh and blood from Namibia. In their midst is an Ovambanderu delegation led by Senior Chief Erastus Kahuure.

The hymning also clears the way for the traditional leader in the area of Draai-hoek, one of the homes to Batswana of Namibian origin, Charles Mbimbo. He expresses his gratitude that after hearing of the existence of their kith and kin in Botswana they travelled all the way to meet them. He assures the Kahuure delegation that the Tswana government takes care of them well. Through Kahuure he extends his gratitude to Ovambanderu Chief Munjuku II for remembering his people and coming all the way to Botswana to meet them and see how they live.

Returning the warm welcome from Chief Mbimbo, delivering Chief Munjuku II's speech on his behalf as the former was unable to make the trip due to illness, Chief Kahuure says it is not the first time that Botswana is welcoming Namibians. He recalls the assistance, which the country rendered Ovambanderu and Ovaherero who were fleeing the 1904 genocide. He further emphasises the cultural nature of the visit, which is to exchange culture between Ovamban-deru in Botswana and those from Namibia. "Our culture refers to our ideas, values, norms and customs linked to Ovambanderu community. Every culture contains a large number of guidelines which direct conduct in particular situations," Kahuure explains. After all has been said and done, Kahuure proposes the establishment of two committees consisting of members of both countries: one to set up guidelines for cooperation among the Ovamba-nderu in Namibia and those in Botswana and the other to research into Ovambanderu history and culture.

Pastor Karihangana Hiskia Uanivi, a member of the Namibian entourage, shares with his colleague the origin of the Ovambanderu, tracing it back to the east, " the land of the wise" as he calls it, from where they reached Ombandua, the green pastures of modern day Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. They further advanced to the Great Lakes and eventually reached the Hill of Mbeti in Angola from where they entered Namibia.

According to Uanivi some Ovambanderu are still in Angola to date. "We, the Ovambanderu, we do have Otjimbanderu, which is confounded from all other languages and speeches of the Bantu languages of Africa and so left with dialectical variances and close-equality of Otjimbanderu with Otji-herero," he informs the audience.

"The Ovambanderu are a people and a nation also and their language and speech are Otjimbanderu. Ovaherero speak Otjiherero and the Ovambanderu speak Otjim-banderu. But both in Africa, they speak a Bantu language, Otjimbandu," Uanivi explains. He said they crossed the Kunene River at Ondoto-zu around Oruhakana (Ruaca-na) till they reached Otjita-mbi, Ongai, Epembe and many others till they eventually reached Epako (Goba-bis), Okeseta, Ovingi, Okou-panga, Okounduve, Otjunda, Otukuruvao (Omukuruvao), Okahandja, Okondjatu and Botswana.

He says the "Royal Ova-mbanderu Authority House of Nguvauva, son of Tjozo-hongo" had led the Ovamba-nderu since time immemorial and since "the edict of the popular Ovambanderu Conference of Authority at the Hill of Mbeti in the land of the N'Gola's."

A brilliant historical expose by Uanivi but naturally it invites questions for explanation, especially from Ba-tswana of Ovambanderu or Ovaherero descent. An elderly descendant of the Kavari clan, obviously stimulated by Uanivi, points out that all the years they have been known as Ovaherero and the Ba-tswana government has been registering them as such. However, it was only close to the death of his father that he learned he is an Omumba-nderu. Only then did he start to know of the existence of both the Ovambandeu and Ovaherero. However "if you have Omumbanderu who is an Omukwatjivi and an Omuherero who is also an Omukwatjivi what is the distinction between the two?" he genuinely wants to know. "Did they start as one and then parted or were they different people from the word go? "The oneness with the Ovaherero where did it start and where is it today?" "What are the roots of the others?"

Ovambanderu leaders both from within Botswana and from outside try to explain, among them Senior Chief Kahuure. One can tell an Omumbanderu from an Omuherero from his/her surname, the Senior Chief contends, adding that some surnames are inherently Ova-mbanderu and others inherently Ovaherero.

Brave explanations, one would say, by the various proponents. However, one thing is clear from the vexed questions. This is an issue that cannot be explained away simply but needs a concerted deep-rooted historical approach. This is crucial for the benefit of those who for long have been deprived of their roots and their cultural heri-tages, including their language. Now that there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, their leaders can only do justice to their cultural reawakening efforts if they approach the matter with the necessary sensitivity and an all-encompassing approach so that these Batswana of Namibian origin are not alienated at the time that they feel they are getting closer to finding their roots and connecting with their kith and kin.

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