Part-time Engineer, Full-time Royalty: The New Ondonga King

20 Aug 2019

Part-time aircraft engineer. Full-time royalty. This is not the kind of job description one sees on a CV every day. Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo has recently been crowned the new Ondonga King in the north of Namibia. Although Tatekulu Shuumbwa has assumed his new duties as king, he still fulfils certain duties as aviation auditor for the Namibian Air Force when his services are required.

When Tatekulu Shuumbwa was nominated in 2002 by his uncle to become his successor, he knew that according to tradition, he would have to resign from his engineering job when the time came to take his place on the throne. But in a recent interview, he told Gondwana Collection that he was all for finding a balance between the old and the modern.

Tatekulu Shuumbwa succeeds Immanuel Kauluma Elifas who was known and loved for his humble character. As a child, the young king Kauluma usually had the honour of being carried home from school by his peers. One day, dark rain clouds were fast approaching and threatening to break at any given second. The boy carrying the king on his back was somewhat shorter than the king and started getting anxious about the looming storm. Anyone who has been caught in a thunderstorm will know the possible dangers of getting struck by lightning. In order to move faster, the king proposed that they switch positions, and carried the boy home instead.

An interview with the king

Gondwana Collection recently had the opportunity of interviewing the king the day before the coronation took place in Onambango Village, Ondonga in the Oshana Region. When we entered to greet the king, the king’s cousin and spokesperson for the weekend of the coronation, Nande Bamm, told us, “Guys, you have to kneel.” The king responded, “It’s okay, they don’t know.” This remark immediately made us all feel at home. Like his uncle, he welcomes everybody, even if they’re not from the same culture. When we asked him if he would like to have the interview in English or Oshiwambo (my colleagues and fabulous travel companions, Maria Mvula and Nela Shikemeni, were our translators for the weekend), he calmly announced, “I would like to do the interview in the Chinese language.” And with this, the ice was broken and the interview felt like a visit to an old friend. Even more so when he and Manni Goldbeck, Marketing Director of Gondwana, started talking about soccer.

When Nela asked him how he would go about his new reign, he stated, “If you walk slowly, you will get what you are working or looking for. If you walk fast, the vibration of your feet will chase it away – whatever ‘it’ may be.”

We talked a lot about the legacy of his uncle, so I asked him what legacy he would like to leave behind. “I want to leave behind a legacy of working strong and hard, and to be focused.”

The self-orientation of a culture

The following day at the coronation, dressed in traditional attire, we were pulled into the wave of bright pinks and reds to witness the inauguration of the new king. It was the first time in 40 years that this one-of-a-kind event had taken place. I left my own notions of culture behind to be immersed in another culture. At one stage we came across the king’s family who warmly welcomed us among them. Other community members made it clear that the coronation of a king was the self-orientation of an entire culture. The joy in the atmosphere was tangible. An Owambo king is the leader of his community and works hand in hand with the government.

The king’s speech

The king spoke from the heart, delivering a powerful, unifying speech aimed at reuniting young and old. He encouraged his people to continue building on the old, as a gesture of appreciation towards their forefathers. However, he also emphasised the importance of infusing it with the new in order to establish much-needed balance in a modern world.

One of the most important things I learned during my time in Owamboland was to take off my watch and not to rush to the next big thing. Instead of asking, “At what time does the event start?” pitch up and appreciate the moment. Relearn the art of slowing down in Owamboland.

Gondwana’s newest lodge is fit for a king

Our newest development, Etosha King Nehale, situated one kilometre north of Etosha’s King Nehale Gate, is underway and is planned to open in May 2020. Reservations can already be made online.

It is the perfect lodge from which to explore Etosha and the Owamboland. Connect your trip with the northern reaches of the country by also booking your stay at Hakusembe River Lodge and Namushasha River Lodge. The ideal vacation would lead you further east to Zambezi Mubala Camp and Lodge, and perhaps even Chobe River Camp.

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