Chief Hijangua - Standing Ovation For Namibia's First Opera

14 Sep 2022

The opera "Chief Hijangua" by Namibian composer Eslon Vakomboka Hindundu was performed with great success in Windhoek. "Both evenings were sold out," says project manager Anja Panitz. "What we are most pleased about is that the audience was very mixed in terms of ethnic groups and age."

The visitors' comments during the interval and after the performance were positive and enthusiastic. Concerns that the European art form of opera would not appeal to the African audience proved unfounded.


Title page of the programme for Namibia's first opera - "Chief Hijangua" by Eslon Hindundu


With "Chief Hijangua", composer Eslon Hindundu and librettist Nikolaus Frei have set a story to music and lyrics based on Namibian narratives (see also the official website

It is about the younger son of a Herero chief who sees no future for himself in his community. He leaves the village, crosses the desert and ends up on the coast in a village of German settlers.

Manipulated by the German church and army, he returns to his village after some time. To take what he thinks is rightfully his. With tragic consequences for himself and his community.

Coming to terms with the past without apportioning blame

Chief Hijangua" is thus also a story of German colonialism in Namibia. A contribution to the collective processing of the divisive past, pleasantly without apportioning blame.

Hindundu incorporates African melodies and rhythms into his composition. Unusual for an opera is also the wedding scene in the village, where some of the orchestra musicians (from the Namibian National Symphony Orchestra) stand up and dance in place.


Morning awakening in the village of Hijangua, the younger son of Chief Hangane. Photo: Sven-Eric Stender


The soloists are from Namibia, South Africa and Germany. The casting of the two soprano roles also shows how music and drama playfully transcend the boundaries of cultures and nations. Deliberately contrary to expectations: Henrike Henoch as the young Herero woman Matijua, Natasha Ndjiharine as the missionary's daughter Marie. Both have practised the foreign language.

They sing in Otjiherero and German. To ensure that all opera-goers understand the texts, they are translated into English and projected onto a screen above the stage. This contribution to international understanding was also well received by the audience.

Composer and conductor Eslon Vakomboka Hindundu and director Kim Mira Meyer.
Screenshot of the backstage video


Performance in Munich not yet assured

The only downer: despite the two sold-out evenings and generous support from sponsors such as Siemens, Bank Windhoek, the German Foreign Office and the German Embassy in Windhoek, there will probably still be a loss.

Composer and conductor Hindundu, librettist Frei, director Kim Mira Meyer and project manager Panitz have already waived fees in advance in order to realise the dream of the first Namibian opera. Whether "Chief Hijangua" will be performed in Munich next September as planned depends again on sponsors.

Sven-Eric Stender

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