12 Jun 2023
Crowds of people began gathering at the homestead of Ombalantu Chief Oswin Mukulu at Ohamautsi village in Outapi on Friday, 2 June 2023 to celebrate the annual Omagongo Cultural Festival (Omaango Cultural Festival in Oshimbaanhu, a dialect of Oshiwambo) hosted by the Ombalantu Traditional Authority this year.
The hosting of the festival has been rotated annually between the eight Aawambo traditional authorities since the early 2000s, but was postponed in 2021 as a result of COVID-19 and a poor harvest in 2022. The festival was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015.
Saturday’s main event was preceded by Oshungi (story telling) under the theme ‘Omagongo Oufia Wetu’ (Omagongo our Heritage) on Friday afternoon and evening. The programme included cultural performances, a depiction of Oshiwambo family clans/totems and stories narrated around the fire in the evening.
Several dignitaries attended the main event on Saturday, 3 June 2023, including the Founding President and Father of the Namibian Nation, Dr Sam Nujoma, who is also the Patron of the Omagongo Festival, Vice President Nangolo Mbumba, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa and Omusati Regional Governor Erginus Endjala.
Founding President of the Namibian Nation and Patron of the Omagongo Festival, Dr Sam Nujoma, said cultural heritage is an integral part of the identity of Namibians and went on to say children must know how to preserve the marula tree. He also encouraged traditional leaders to promote culture and heritage to build a strong Namibia.
UNESCO Representative to Namibia, Djaffar Moussa-Elkadhum, said in his speech, the festival "… aligns very well with the spirit of the 'Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity' and serves as a shining example of the vibrant cultural heritage of Namibia that our humanity holds, and it is a testament to the power of preserving and celebrating our rich intangible cultural heritage."
In a speech read by Vice President Nangolo Mbumba on behalf of President Hage Geingob, the president appealed to all Namibians, especially the younger generation, "… to become active participants in this Festival and other cultural events so that they can learn and embrace our culture and traditions, because the lack and absence of proper cultural guidance leads to not knowing who they are, where they come from and where they are going."
At the conclusion of festival, it was announced that the festival would be hosted twice next year: first by the Ondonga Traditional Authority and then by the Ombadja Traditional Authority.
Omagongo, a refreshing white coloured wine made from the fruit of the marula tree, is brewed in most households during the fruiting season. The first brew was traditionally presented to the king or chief and is also served to guests.
The collection and processing of the fruit is an occasion for women to socialise and to pass on knowledge about the process to girls to keep the culture alive. The marula trees usually produce fruits for four to eight weeks between late January and April/May and the fruit is still green when they fall off the trees. Groups of women and girls over the age of five collect the fruits into small heaps under the trees and sort them according to their quality once they have ripened after two to four days.
Neighbours are invited to help with the extraction of the juice which usually takes place in the early afternoon. The sharp edge of a cow horn was traditionally used to fierce the fruit’s leathery skin and is then twisted around the nut to squeeze the juice into a container. It is a time-consuming chore which is nowadays increasingly being preplaced by mechanical presses.
The juice is transferred to a clay pot which is covered with a cloth and stored in a cool, dark place to ferment for between one and four days, depending on the required strength. The juice can be preserved for almost a year when stored underground in clay pots.
Juice made from the pulp and water is drunk as a refreshing beverage by women and children. Ripe marula fruit is eaten as a snack. It is rich in Vitamin C (up to 180mg per 100g) and also contains citric acid, malic acid and sugar. The nuts squeezed out of the skins are dried in the sun, stored in bags and processed after the main mahangu harvest. The nut is opened with the sharp edge of an axe, while the kernels are opened with a flattened nail or a needle. The skins are later used as a fertilizer in the mahangu fields.
The kernel has an oil content of close to 46% and a protein content of about 28%. The kernels are pounded in mortar with a pestle to extract the Ondjove (oil) which is used for cooking, eaten with porridge or used as natural skin care products. Eedi, the oil cake that is left, is an important nutritional supplement, especially during the late dry season and the early rainy season. It is used as a food additive or eaten as a snack. The Omugongo (Marula) tree also has a variety of traditional medicinal uses. A root extract is used to relieve toothache, while ear infections are treated with the bark and marula oil.
The richly illustrated book 'Discover the Colourful World of Owambo' (see book review ) tells more about everyday life, culture and tradition of the Owambo. It also offers route suggestions for tours through the realm of the Owambo, the densely populated north of Namibia. The book was published in 2020 by Gondwana Collection Namibia and can be ordered in the online shop The Narrative Namibia.
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