29 Aug 2023
Tentatively and smokily, small flames licked at the logs in the centre of the circle of white-coloured stones. The cool air smelled smoky. The clatter of pots and shouts echoed from the tents and cars at the edge of the large rectangular square. Individually and in small groups, men and women approached the circle. Men in khaki uniforms. Women in sweeping black dresses and deep red, cow horn-shaped headscarves. Thundering hooves suddenly made everyone look up: uniformed horsemen rushed up, following a red flag...
Kick-off of Red Flag Day, also known as Herero Day, last Sunday morning. Hundreds of OvaHerero from all over the country gathered for their annual commemoration in Okahandja. This time it was a round commemoration: 100 years have passed since the remains of the Paramount Chief of the OvaHerero, Samuel Maharero, were brought back from exile to his home town and buried (more on the historical background in this article).
Procession of traditionally dressed women and young troop players of the OvaHerero on their way to the grave of Paramount Chief Samuel Maharero in Okahandja during the centenary commemoration. Photo: Willihelm Johannes, Gondwana Collection Namibia
The men wore uniforms, but no weapons. They marched in sections across the square, directed by loud orders or sounds from boatswain's whistles. One by one, they all formed a procession. The horsemen led the way, then the detachments of 'foot soldiers', and finally the women in rows of two or three. A procession in khaki, black and red. Some men wore kilts. Here and there you also saw red T-shirts and black jeans.
Some women in green and white and in black and white traditional dresses caught the eye. Green and white is the colour combination of the OvaMbanderu from eastern Namibia, black and white stands for the Zeraeua Herero from Omaruru.
The destination of the procession were the graves of the chiefs on the eastern edge of Okahandja. First, the graves of Samuel Maharero, his father (Ka)Maharero and grandfather Tjamuaha were visited. Within shouting distance of the graves, the front of the procession stopped, the pedestrians went down on one knee, those still on horseback bent low. The ancestors were invoked in a loud voice and asked for permission to approach. Then the procession led in single file in a U-shape around the gravesite. Each participant laid his or her hand on the wall surrounding the gravesite in silent remembrance.
The next stop was the cemetery of the Rhenish Mission Church about 800 metres away. There is the grave of Hosea Kutako, the successor of Samuel Herero. Kutako had organised his burial at the time and founded the annual Red Flag Day. This proved to be a decisive contribution to the re-formation of the OvaHerero after the genocide of the German colonial power from 1904 to 1908. In addition, Kutako later played an important role in the struggle for Namibian independence.
After visiting the cemetery, the procession dispersed. Everyone returned to the large square of 'Commando No 1' of the Red Flag. There, from noon onwards, an extensive commemoration programme took place, with speeches and traditional songs of praise.
The historian Dr Jeffress Ramsay from Botswana informed about the life of Samuel Maharero after he fled to the British protectorate of Betschuanaland. In addition, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, McHenry Venaani, the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, Frans Kapofi and the Charge d'Affair of the German Embassy, Andreas Götze held speeches. The event concluded with messages of greeting from six traditional leaders and a parade of troop players.
The motto of the centenary commemoration was "Celebrating the past, embracing the present, and leveraging the foundation for future generations". Because of the special occasion, the Samuel Maharero Heritage Foundation had designed the entire programme to be particularly extensive. It started on 23 August with the lighting of the Holy Fire and the slaughter of a calf. In addition, the train station was visited where the train with Samuel Maharero's coffin had arrived on 23 August 1923.
On Friday and Saturday, cultural performances were held throughout the day. Saturday was also used for private reunions by many of the participants who had travelled there. In the evening, lectures and a panel discussion dealt with political aspects of the centenary commemoration: the so-called Joint Declaration between the governments of Namibia and Germany on the genocide of OvaHerero and Nama during the colonial period.
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