There stands a valid contradiction between what we have and what ought to be our cultural practices. Whereas some changes have been for the good, others have remarkably taken us away from who we truly are and what we ought to hold dear in terms of culture.” These are the words of Dr Petrus Mbenzi an academic and expert on culture and African languages. They raise a very interesting argument on the current state of our cultural values. They seem to be a fragment of the strong views held by many who either strongly stand for the many traditional practices that have lasted from time in memorial or are sympathetic with the trends of change and embrace the new ways of doing things, less by the book. Being an African should seem hardest in this era of conflict of identity on separating what things truly identify us and those that were merely practised for the gratication of those who were in authority. Some Africanists have argued that had there been a continuation to the story telling system of generational knowledge sharing between grandparents and grandchildren, most of the problems that have earned epidemic status in our societies would not be faced today.
To the contrary others argue that the perpetuation of some practices would entail a blatant violation of human rights. The Cambridge Dictionary denies Culture as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.” This article seeks to look at some of the unfamiliar cultural practices among our peoples; some have slowly fallen in the background while others are still prominent and widely practiced among members of various tribal groups. It takes us with an inquisitive nature to seek out the truths of our ethos and traditionally-true identity as was originally identified with our peoples. In olden times, to signify the maturity of a Khoekhoegowab speaking girl, initiation ceremonies were held in her honour. This was commensurate with when the girl has her rst menstrual cycle. Upon noticing the beginning of her cycle, a young girl would be placed in hut secluded from the rest of the people where she would be educated on various issues of sexual conduct – though done conservatively at the time. She would be advised on the various ways to care for her home and her family and guests. Simultaneously, the young men who would be identi ed as potential suiters would hold a feast outside of the hut, performing dances in competitive manner with the best dancer being the one that would betroth the young lady. This traditional practice was known as Kharu‡hûis and has since lost favour among the modern traditionalist owing to the various human rights enjoyed that allow people to choose the people they want to marry.
The Ovaherero community in earlier days accommodated a practice that allowed the children of a brother and sister to get married or engage in sexual activity. It was a necessary part of sexual education for young people by their peers. It is argued that the children of a brother and sister do not share the same bloodline and so cannot invoke any implications by having sex with one another. The Otjiram- ue as it is called has received less prominence in the practices of the Herero speaking people over time. Whereas some continue to acknowledge the validity of this cultural practice in that it enables the keeping of wealth within the family, many have departed from keeping up with this particular traditional engagement. With modern parents discriminating less and less against their daughters with regards inheritance, and with the widespread availability of information on issues of STD’s, rights and futures, the practice continues to have fewer endorsers. Among the Oshiwambo speaking people, detail was taken as to what procedures are followed during a funeral ceremony of a member of the household.
These rights were peculiar to the Oshiwambo and signed a respect for the departed. In the event of the death of a head of the household, the homestead was closed off at the entrance to illustrate that if ever death came again, it would lose its way. A new structure was erected all together. The father was buried within the homestead, and the wife was buried in the kitchen whereas the younger wives (polygamy was a known practice) where buried at the pounding place. It was strictly observed that the mourning period before burial for children was 2 days whereas adults took 4 days – done specially to maintain an even number to avoid the bad luck associated with an odd number. Also, the food prepared during the funeral was particularly associated with the mood of the event. Normal meat taken on any other days would be called Onyama, whereas that one cooked during a funeral would be called Oshinyama. The beer brewed for funerals was called Indllovu, normal brew was called Omalovu. This was evidenced even in the way the meat and beer was prepared. Very little care was taken in the preparation of such foods, it was necessary to avoid the use of various garnishes in the food and the beer would not even be covered. During the funeral, it was not permitted to pick up the garbage or clean the environment. This task was left specially for a relative of the deceased’s father who was responsible for that individual. This person would lead the procession and would also be the one to start the rst re at the homestead after the funeral. These practices were strongly adhered to. It however becomes difficult to maintain them with homesteads having permanent structures and people giving less attention to the period between death and burial. Moreover, matters of hygiene and good health also render strongly.
The task of drawing the line between what cultural practices may still remain relevant and those that may as well be buried in history is a problematic one. Given that the majority of the ‘born-free’ generation have not received the cores of information imbeded
in the rights to belong to given groups; it becomes difficult to certify the authenticity of traditions as they will be maintained tomorrow. It has indeed become much easier to be identified by ones regalia than by the values that may blossom from them on first contact. Once was a time when a people could be identified with a practice – one that they genuinely held with respect and practised resiliently; not only for the safeguarding of pride but also for the meanings attached with these practices. The concern of there being a people ahead of time that only consider themselves a part by what they wear or by the bits of dialect they can gather for a third language are rampant among those who wish to see tradition lasting 100’s more of years, maybe slightly tempered with butdefinitely not completely eroded. It is in this that we may find the last trace of actually being African and proud of the roots from whence we originate.