't I K-LhE J U, Ni
'? TED--BY THE. WORKING COMMITTEE OF
AFRICAN FOLK-LOPE SOCIETY.
S'e- p-.er dovi .q,.
OL. T.-'PART. III..
S iMAY, 8'7 9
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SOME CUSTOMS OF THE OVABERERO,
DARTER BROTHERS AND WALTON.
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THE WORKING COMMITTEE OF THE SOUTH
AFRICAN FOLK-LORE SOCIETY.
Semper novi quid ex Africa.
VOL. I.-PART III.
1 8 7 9.
SOME CUSTOMS OF THE OVAHERERO.
DARTER BROTHERS AND WALTON.
CAPE TOWN :
SAUL SOLOMON AND CO.,
SOME CUSTOMS OF THE OVAHERERO.
IN introducing to students of South African Folk-lore
an account of some Herero customs, recently furnished me
by the Rev. G. Viehe, it may not be out of place to say a
few words about the very singular people who practise them.
The Ovaherero, or Damaras, as they are more commonly
called, are the first of the black races we meet after passing
through the yellow races which lie scattered over that wide
tract of country which extends for two hundred miles north
of the Orange River, and includes Great Namaqualand and a
large portion of the Kalahari Desert. They belong to the
Bantu family, are a purely pastoral people, possessing
great wealth in cattle and sheep, and are not the less
'teresting because so much has still to be learnt respecting
them. The country they occupy is of vast extent and
varying richness, admirably adapted to their requirements.
Their neighbours to the North are the group of tribes of
which the Ovambo is the most familiar to us, that should be
called the Avare, but from having first made their ac-
quaintance, we call Qvambo. These, like our own Kafirs,
are an agricultural people, and seem always to have been so,
whilst the Ovaherero, on the other hand, have no traditions
that point to their ever having been other than pastoral.
They are known to have migrated from the north or north-
east, but the period of their migration is not known. It
cannot, however, be less remote probably than two hundred
years. The name Damara is of comparatively recent
origin, and is applied alike to Ovaherero, Ovambanderu,'
and Ovatyimba. The Ovambanderu were original
Ovaherero, but on separating themselves either acquired
or assumed the name by which they are now known.
Many Ovaherero and Ovambanderu are destitute of cattle
and sheep, and live away from the others, existing very
much by the same means and in the manner of the Bushmen.
These, strangely enough, are not called either Ovaherero
or Ovambanderu, but Ovatyimba*. I am informed, on
authority that I am inclined to accept, that the name
Herero is an attempt to reproduce the whirring sound made
by their broad-bladed assegais in their passage through the
air, and was bestowed by the Ovambo who had such good
reason to remember this formidable weapon of the stranger
If we may be allowed then to conjecture that of the three
names these people are designated by, that of Ovatyimba,
or Watyimba, as it is undoubtedly the oldest, is that they
were originally known by, we are at once led to consider
whether the cradle of the race is not in the far away land
by the waters of the Muta Nzige, in the country of the
Wazimba, recently traversed by the intrepid Stanley. It
is very much to be regretted that he saw so little of these
people, but that little is strong evidence in favour of a
conjecture which, after suggesting as extremely probable,
I leave to the consideration of those interested in the
W. COATES PALGRAVE.
Rondebosch, May, 1879.
The derivative prefix va-, which in the word O-va-herer6 follows
the demonstrative particle o-, occurs as wa- in some of the languages
further to the north-east, and is a form of the plural prefix of personal nouns
ba- common to all South African Bantu languages.
In the following paper only such of the religious and
social customs and ideas of the Ovaherer6 are described as
are not connected with unusual events, such as wars,
droughts, sicknesses, &c. They are as follows:
1. Customs at Birth (Ongoatero) ; 2. Circumcision
(Osukarekero); 3. Filing of the Teeth ( Okuha), Shaving
of the Head ( Okukurura), Fastening of the False Hair, or
substitute for Hair ( Okusepa); 4. Betrothal (Ombarekero);
5. Marriage (Ongupiro); 6. Death (Ongokero); 7. Burial
(Ombakero); 8. Sacrifice for the Deceased (Ongondyozero);
9. Customs performed at the Graves (Ondyamberero);
10. Resurrection (Ombendukiro).*
An explanation of some of the Otyiherer6 words met with in the text
together with a few directions regarding their pronunciation, may be ofv
elango small piece of meat (used for certain religious ceremonies)';"
etando "simple lamentation for the dead;"
okluha "filing of the teeth;"
okutkurura "shaving of the head;"
oknumakera "to consecrate food by tasting it;"
otumakterisa to cause to oklunakera;"
oku ragera, "to perform religions ceremonies;"
oki.ruo place of the holy fire ;"
oausela fastening of the false hair;"
okutova "to consecrate food without tasting it;"
oklnovisa "to cause to okutova ;"
okuzera "to be sacred, not to be used as common food;"
o muari a woman who has borne children;"
onmduuru "ancestor, deity;"
onduoo the dismal lamentation for the dead (with religious ceremo.
ondurme "stick representing an omuIWuru" (i. e., "ancestor, deity"),
with which and the otyiza the holy fire is made;
ondyomberero customs performed at the graves;"
onganga doctor, magician;"
ongoatero birth, customs at birth;"
BIRTH ( Ongoatero).
After the birth of a child, an ox, sheep, or goat is
slaughtered. The ceremonies performed on this occasion
are the same whether the child be male or female. The
ongondyozero "sacrifice for the deceased;"
ongupiro, epando marriage;"
oruzo "caste, clan," or rather the system of dietaries by which these
clans are distinguished. The oruzo the children derive from the
father, whereas the canda is derived from the mother, and refers
more than the oruzo to the caste or clan. In case of inheritance,
the eanda and not the oruzo decides the right to the property.
otyiherer6 language of the Ovaherer6 (and everything done in or
looking like Herer6 style) ;
otyiondo "period of time (almost every year is a new otyiondo);
otyisenginina anything which represents an omul~uq (i.e., "ances-
tor, deity ") ;
oiyiletero "place where children are circumcised and soothsaying takes
ouari abstract form of onmuari (i.e., "a woman who has borne
IN Ht ERER WORDS
a is pronounced as a in German, or almost as a in English in father.
e ,, ,, c ,, ,, or almost as e in English in let.
i ,, ,, i ,, ,, or as i in English in pin.
When not followed by a vowel
u,, ,, ,, u ,, ,, or as u in English in full. When
followed by a vowel, u is
pronounced almost as w
g ,, ,, ,, g ,, English in go.
y ,, ,, ,, y ,, ,, ,, York.
s ,,. ,, ,, th,, ,, ,, think.
z ,, ,, almost as th in English in than,
ty,, ,, very similarly to the Danish kj.
animal must be found by the father of the child; and is
called oyowari. It can be killed by any one, and is (as are
almost all animals) suffocated, its face being turned to the
North. The meat does not zera; that is, it can be eaten
by people of both sexes, and all ages (excepting a small piece
which may be eaten by children only), but it chiefly
belongs to the mother (of the child), who mostly drinks of the
broth. The said small piece of meat (ondendu), is used to
rangera, i.e., to perform religious ceremonies. It is cooked
with the other meat, but is taken out of the pot before the
rest, and brought to the mother to be tovisina, which she
(the omuari) does by breathing upon it. After.this, it must
also be tovisina by the child, for which purpose it is put
upon its great toe. All of the meat may now be eaten,
excepting the ondendu, which is put away in a small ve~sel
and kept there until the navel string has separated, when it
is given to children to eat.
Immediately after a woman has given birth to a. child, a
small house is built for her, at the back of her own house,
where she remains until the navel string has separated from
the child. After this has happened, the mother takes her
child to the place of the holy fire (okuruo), to present it to
the Omukuru (forefather, deity), so that mother and child
may be admitted again to her (the mother's) house. On
this occasion at the okuruo, the father gives the child its
name. For this purpose, he takes the child into his arms,
and informs those who are present about the name that the
child is to receive.
Circumcision is a universal custom of the Ovaherers, as
well as of many other Bantu nations. All male children
are circumcised, and this is generally done between the
fourth and seventh year of their age. *
The Ovaherero always have a festival when they circum-
cise their children, and they prefer to choose for it the time
of some great event, for instance, the death of a great Chief.
If, at such a time, a Chief has a son of the proper age, he
arranges a festival of circumcision. A great number of his
cattle are brought into his werft. Other rich men, who
wish to have children circumcised at the same time, take
them, as well as some cattle, to the Chief's werft, and poor
people come, for the same purpose, with their children only ;
but they must all belong to the same oruzo as the Chief,
no others being admitted. Should it happen that people
belonging to different otuzo (pl. of oruzo) wish to have their
children circumcised at the same time, and about the same
werft, this must be done at different ovivetero (pl. of
otyivetero). The circumcision is performed with an arrow-
point, on one side of the werft (not in the werft), and this
place is called otyivetero. After circumcision, the children
are not allowed to return into the werft, but must stay at
the otyivetero until the wounds have healed. They may
not come into the werft until long after dark, and even then
they dare not go into a house, but must sleep at the back
of the otyizero (holy house).
At two such festivals which were visited, the Chief was
seen continually sitting at the okuruo, and some women
dancing before him. Hundreds of cattle stood in the kraals,
and once in a while one was driven out to be killed. As
often as this happened, a number of the naked blacks made
for it like hungry wolves, and caught hold of it by its tail,
horns, legs, or wherever they could. When they had
arrived at the proper place (for every ox or cow has its
own place where it must die), it suddenly lay upon the
ground, with its face turned to the North, its nose and
mouth were closed up, and in a minute or two it was
suffocated. The noise at the werft, caused by the raging
people and the bellowing cattle at one of these festivals was
really deafening, and one was glad to find that the otyivetero,
now to be inspected, was about 300 yards distant. * *
Between some large rocks a cowhide was spread upon the
ground, and upon this the children were, one after the other,
placed, by two young men who acted as assistants. * *
The operation was here performed by an old man, besides
whom and the two assistants only the children and their
mothers were present; the latter trying in vain to keep
back the tears that ran down their cheeks.
The meat slaughtered at this festival is holy (i.e., does
zera). It must be cooked at the okuruo. The holiest
portion is the left hind quarter (because the cows are milked
on this side), and of this a small piece, which, when appointed
for this purpose, is called ehango. This ehango is not eaten
with the rest of the meat, but is taken into the holy house
(otyizero), and there kept, often for several weeks. It is
eaten by preference when the Chief is visited by one of his
fellow Chiefs ; and this is a very sacred act, which is per-
formed in the following manner. The ozondume (sticks
which represent the ovakuru, i.e., "ancestors, deities ") are
taken out of the otyizero and placed at the okuruo, where
the two Chiefs, the first wife of the Chief of the place, and
such of his children and relatives as are entitled to partake
of this ceremony, are also assembled. The ehango is now
cut into small pieces. The Chief of the place takes one of
the pieces, and presents it to the ozondume (who are the
first in rank) that they may tova, i.e., consecrate without
tasting it. This being done, the local Chief presents a
piece to the mouth of the other Chief, in order that he may
makera, i.e., consecrate by tasting it. The other Chief now
takes a piece, and in the same manner and for the same
purpose presents it to the mouth of the Chief of the place ;
by whom pieces are subsequently presented to his first wife,
and to all others who are entitled to makera. These are not
very numerous, and can only be such as belong to the
oruzo* of the Chief. Not even all the children of the
Chief are entitled to maker. When this right is doubt-
ful, the person in question places himself after the
Chief, and bows down. The Chief puts a piece of the
ehango between the toes of one of his feet, and stretches
the foot backwards to the person in question, who catches
hold of the meat with his mouth.
SCircumcision is evidently a very important custom to the
Ovaherer6. This is to such an extent the case, that they
reckon their age from the time when they were circumcised,
not counting those periods (oviondo) which they lived before
it; and they are even called after the otyiondo of their cir-
cumcision. Almost every year is an otyiondo. The oviondo
(pl. of otyiondo) receive their names from great events that
take place in them. For instance, otyohange, or otyiondo
tyohange (from change "peace "), is the otyiondo when the
peace was made; and the people who were circumcised in
that period are the ovaotyohange, those of the period
of peace." All those who are circumcised at the same time,
are called omakura, "people of the same age."
BREAKING AND SHAPING OF THE TEETH (Okuha),
SHAVING OF THE HEAD (Okukurura), DRESSING OF
THE HAIR (Okusepa).
These three customs of the Ovaherer6 are of less impor-
tance, but completeness requires that a short description of
them should here be given.
*Oruzo, not eanda.
When a child is about eight or ten years of age, its
four lower front teeth are broken out, and the upper front
teeth are shaped in this form A (okuha). The first is done
with a stick and a stone, which serves as a hammer, and the
other, by pecking and filing with a stone. It is not
performed by the ozonganga (i.e., "doctors, magicians "),
but may be done by any person who understands it. A
feast (omukandi) must always be made upon this occasion,
and takes place a day before the ceremony itself. The
latter must be performed at the place of the holy fire
(okuruo), which shows that it belongs to the religious ob-
servances. As a rule, several children (boys and girls) are
submitted to the ceremony at the same time; but they must
all be the children of persons belonging to the same oruzo.
To prevent serious consequences from the operation, a
sort of poultice is prepared from the root of the omuvapu
(a tree which acts a very important part in almost all the
religious ceremonies), and this is put on the heads of the
children. The meat of this festival is consecrated only like
common food, i.e., does not zera, and can be eaten by people
of both sexes and of all ages. *
The two other customs mentioned above are of still less
importance. It is not absolutely necessary that a feast be
made, nor are any particular religious ceremonies connected
with them. The shaving of a girl's head (okukurura) takes
place when she is about seven years of age, and the dressing
with false hair (ohnsepa) some time later.
The Ovaherer6 have three different fashions of shaving a
girl's head, which is done with a sharpened piece of iron.
Some shave the head all round, so that only a small tuft of
hair is left on the top (ondomba). Others shave only the
sides of the head in such a manner that the tuft of hair is
It may be remarked here that the Ovamnbo have also the custom of
breaking the teeth, but they only break two of the lower teeth.
narrow at the top, and widens towards the brow and the
hind part of the head (omuruva). In the third fashion, the
upper part of the head is shaved, so that only a stripe of
hair is left around the head (otyihika).
The false hair is prepared from the sinews of the backs
of animals; and is nicely twisted, and fastened to the
natural hair. It is about one or two feet long.
Children, especially Ovaherer6 girls, are frequently
betrothed in the earliest days of life. Special ceremonies,
of a religious nature, are not performed at the betrothal.
All that is required is that the father of a son should go to
the parents of a daughter, and inform them of his intention
to choose their daughter as a wife for his son, to which they,
in most cases, give their consent. An old man, not seldom,
in the same manner, chooses an infant girl as his own wife.
It may even happen that the child is delivered over to him,
at once, for a wife; in which case, he takes her to his house,
to have her brought up with his own children, and to marry
her whenever he pleases. But, this is an exceptional case.
As a rule, the bridegroom never sees his bride. This is the
case when the father has betrothed him when still a child,
as well as when he has chosen for himself. Nor is the
bridegroom allowed to see the mother of his bride. The
Missionary Mr. Baumann lately stated, that, when at the
place of the Chief Kambazembi to preach the gospel, the
prospective son-in-law of the Chief was also present. It
unexpectedly happened that Kambazembi's wife (the mother
of the bride) also made her appearance. As soon as this was
noticed, the young man lay flat down upon the ground, and
was completely covered with skins by his friend; under
which he had to perspire, until the lady had left the place.
It may hardly seem necessary to mention that the inclina-
tion of the girl is very little consulted.
At the betrothal the young man gives no present to the
parents of the girl. He only presents a small token of
betrothal to the intended, which is, in most cases, an iron
bead. When this bead is accepted, he has a claim upon the
girl as his future wife. The iron bead is fastened to her
apron, where it is left until they marry.
The betrothal can be annulled by either party, but the
young man and his parents hardly ever make use of this
right. Should the parents of the bride wish to annul the
:contract, they simply return the token of betrothal.
MARRIAGE (Epanda, Ongupiro).
It has already been mentioned, in speaking of the
betrothal, that girls are, in some exceptional cases, given
into a sort of marriage when they are still children. As a
rule, marriage takes place in the earliest time of maturity.
In similar fashion to the betrothal, which is mostly per-
formed without the girl's even being aware of it, so is her
inclination very little taken notice of when she is to be
married. The business, for as such the marriage really
appears, is effected solely between the bridegroom, or his
parents, and the parents of the bride; but it is not correct,
as has sometimes been said, that parents look upon their
daughters only as their property, which they give to that
man who pays most for them. This will be seen when we
state that the price (if we may so call it) which the bride-
groom pays to the father of the bride, is always the same;
so that, whether he be rich or poor, a crown-prince or a
herdboy, there is no difference. A young man who wishes
to choose a wife for himself, has, in most cases, not a very
ample field for his choice, as he is bound by many social
circumstances and regulations* which it would take too
much space to explain here.
The said price, which is to be paid to the bride's father,
consists of six head of cattle and sheep; viz., one large ox,
one heifer, one large fat sheep, one ewe, with a lamb, and
one young ewe. These six cattle and sheep are paid before
the marriage takes place. It is here presumed that every
young man, when of age, possesses as much as this ; but
this is, of course, not always the case ; for, although the
Ovaherer6 are rich in cattle, the young men cannot dispose
of very much, as the riches are to a great extent
common property, under the charge of the Chiefs, or the
head of the family, and young people are allowed to possess
only a limited number of cattle ; receiving more by degrees
as they are thought to have proved worthy of it. Under
these circumstances, however, young men, when they wish
to marry and have the consent of their superiors, can easily
be furnished with the necessary number of cattle and sheep.
Matrimony, among the Ovaherer6,'is not indissoluble.
A man frequently sends away his wife when he feels tired
of her ; or a wife leaves her husband. In the latter case,
her father is to return the cattle which he received from his
son-in-law, in so far as they have not yet been slaughtered;
but this is, however, often not done, in which case the man
who now marries the woman must pay the price to her first
As regards the many ceremonies at an Ovaherero
wedding, only the most important can here be mentioned.
Here, as well as in Europe, the feast (omukandi) is of course
* Eanda and perhaps orzo,
looked upon by many as the chief part of the whole, nor
can dancing be dispensed with. The above mentioned ox
and fat sheep are the first to be slaughtered at the wedding.
To these, the father of the bride adds as many more as he
In the beginning of the festival the bride is brought to
the place of the holy fire (okuruo), where she must submit
herself to different ceremonies. She is here well greased
by her parents from head to foot. When this is done, her
father fills his mouth with water, and spatters it upon her.
When the ceremonies with the bride at the okuruo are
finished, the slaughtering of the cattle begins. All the
meat is brought to the okuruo, and is here consecrated by
tasting (makera) by the parents -of the bride. The right
fore-quarter of the ox is separated from the rest of the
meat, and is taken behind the house of the bride's mother.
It can be eaten by young girls only, but the bride herself
eats of the other meat with the guests. Other ceremonies
are now performed to the bride. The young girls dress
her head with the net-fat (i.e., the fat surrounding the
paunch) of the ox. She is not allowed to enter into a
house during the wedding days, but sleeps with the young
girls behind her mother's house. After about four days
(when the festival is almost finished), the young girls tear
the fat from the bride's head, and her mother comes with
the hood (ekori), which is worn by married women only,
and puts it upon her daughter's head.
The bridegroom is not allowed to see his bride, nor even
to come into the werft as long as all these festive days
are enjoyed by the people of the werft. He must stay
somewhere behind the werft, whither the father of the
bride sends him some sheep or cattle for slaughter, in order
that he may also enjoy himself with his friends (the people
of his werft). When all is finished, he comes with his
friends to receive his bride, and to take her to his home.
Her mother and some other women accompany them to see
the bride safely to her new home. Arriving here, other
ceremonies are performed at the ok uruo, which shows that
they are also of a religious nature. The newly married
pair here act the part of a priest, as did the parents of the
bride at the other werft. A sheep is slaughtered, and the
meat is put upon the omuvapu bushes at the okuruo. The
newly married pair consecrate it, not by okumakera, but by
okutova, that is to say, a piece of meat is presented to them
of which they do not really taste, acting in the same manner
as has been already described with regard to the ozondume
(i.e., "sticks representing ancestors, deities "), the newly
made mother, and her infant. In the present case, the
meat is not presented to the mouths of the young couple,
but to their feet. After this has been done, all the meat
may be eaten by every body. At the end of all the festive
time, the newly married pair take a walk to visit all the
houses of the werft. The husband goes first, and his wife
closely follows him, taking hold of the after part of his dress
with one hand, and carrying a small vessel in the other. At
every house the inhabitants put some perfume (otyizumba)
into this vessel.
If the abridgment of human life were identical with
murder, then it might be said that murder is done to almost
every Omuherer6 (sing. of Ovaherer6). When a person is
ill, and there appears to be little hope of his recovery, the
Ovaherer6 feel sure that he will die, and they are hardly ever
mistaken. Let the position of such an unfortunate patient
be for a moment considered. There he lies, on the ground,
in his narrow hut, which is wanting in all means of ventila-
tion, where the smoke of a small fire, for which there is no
chimney, and from the pipes of sympathising visitors,
envelops every thing in the thickest darkness; the small
room being crowded with friends, who, besides smoking
their pipes, are covered with rancid butter and ochre. This
must be almost too much for sound lungs, even for those
of an Omuherero. But there is still more to increase the
poor patient's sufferings. Not to mention the many re-
ligious ceremonies, such as being carried to the okuruo*, to
which he must submit himself, he is, when not expected to
recover, covered, face and all, with a skin, underneath
which he of course soon expires.
Before his death, the man informs his relatives regarding
what will happen after his decease.t This may be good
(okusera ondaya onmbua), or bad (okusera ondaya ombi). The
last is done in the following manner: If the dying man
sees a person who is not agreeable to him, he says to him:
" Whence do you come ? I do not wish to see you here"
(or something to this effect) ; and, so saying, he presses the
fingers of his left hand together in such a way that the
point of the thumb appears between the fingers. The
person spoken to, now knows that the other has decided
upon taking him away (okutuaerera) after his death, which
means that he must die. In many cases, however, he can
avoid this threatening danger of death. For this purpose,
he hastily leaves the place of the dying man, and looks for
an onganga (ie., doctor, magician "), in order to have
A pot is cooking on the okuruo fire, containing meat killed for the
purpose; and, as the pot boils, the sick man is carried round and round by
the friends, who chant something like the following supplication to the
See Father, we have come here,
With this sick man to you,
That he may soon recover," &c., &c,
f i.e., sera ondaya.
himself undressed, washed, and greased again, and dressed
with other clothes. He is now quite at ease about the
threatening of death caused by the deceased ; for, says he,
" Now, our father does not know me" (Nambano tate ke
ndyi i). He has no longer any reason to fear the dead, but
he is not quite so sure about those who are alive, for, he
has reason to suspect that some one of them may choose to
carry into effect the last will of the deceased.
The lamentation for the dead begins as soon as it is
thought that he will not recover, although, in many cases,
by proper treatment, his life might be saved. The Chief,
Christian William, alias Zeraua, then thought to be near
his end, was baptized by the Rev. Mr. Viehe on the 15th
of November, 1876. The lamentation for the dead had
already begun, and was so loud that it was almost impossi-
ble to perform the sacramental ceremony. From that time,
however, the patient was properly taken care of by Mr.
Viehe and other Europeans who took aninterest in the old
Chief, who had always been a friend to the Missionaries,
and, although there was no hope of recovery, he did not
die until the 29th of November. But for the watching, he
probably would have died long before.
The Ovaheerer have two different ways of lamentation
for the dead. The simple lamentation, without religious
ceremonies, is called etando; and the lamentation with
religious ceremonies, ondoro.* The howling at the lamen-
tations for the dead is often heartrending, although, as a.
rule, it does not proceed from the depth of the heart. In
the year 1868 the Rev. Mr. Viehe first had an opportunity
of being present at the lamentation (etando) by women for
the dead, and states that his very heart was moved when he
observed how the tears flowed down the cheeks of the loudly
At the ondoro the writer never had an opportunity of being present, but
says that the Ovalircrd themselves give a horrible (dismal?) description ol it.
howling women, who, however, on observing him, looked
up, some of them even with a smile, and uttered their well-
known To pa o omakaya (" Please give us tobacco").
Their lamentation was now seen to be only a form of duty,
which they fulfilled, as so many other ceremonies, simply
because it must be done; and it was not doubted by the
observer that many of them would have been at the same
time prepared to laugh, instead of crying. The greatest
lamentation (etando) for the dead at which the writer was
present (with the exception, perhaps, of one at Otyi-
mbingue after the severe attack by the Namaquas in 1867)
was that at the death of the Chief, Christian William, in
November, 1876. Thousands of people who were present
raised a really deafening howling. At one place, where an
old female mourner distinguished herself, the following words,
repeatedly uttered in a voice of lamentation, were heard:
Namnbano u wkoa, Now he is dead,
Ngua ri naa aruhe; He who was always so good;
Ozongonnbe ua ze ~ a'ukhe, Always he slaughtered cattle, ,
A47ulk wta tycre: Always did he say :
Eamlburee tri, kambbree ui. "Take only, take only."
It is not intended' to be inferred by all this, that the
Ovaherer6 never earnestly mourn for their dead. The
lamentation as a public ceremony is here spoken of. Their
unuttered mourning can also be very intense. This is
especially the case with children when they have lost their
mothers ; but, at their fathers' deaths too. Wives earnestly
mourning the death of their husbands have also been seen,
and husbands the death of their wives, as well as parents
mourning at the death of their children. In an article on
this subject, published several years ago by a friend
of the writer's, it was stated that not infrequently
children mourn so intensely at the death of their
mothers as to commit suicide. A German traveller,
who published a superior work on .the Natives of
South Africa, cannot believe this, and the more so,- because
according to his statement, cases of suicide among un-
civilised nations very seldom occur. An experience of
twelve years among the Ovaherero has shown that the first
writer was perfectly right. In the part of the country in
which Ohozondye is situated, and which is inhabited by about
7,000 souls, one case of suicide per annum has, during the
last six years, come under observation. The causes of these
appear to have been as follows:-Two were committed by
young men at the deaths of their mothers ;. one by a man
whose illegal intercourse with the wife of another was
discovered; one by a man who was in danger of losing his
cattle ; one by a woman who, intending to join the
Christian Church, had therefore put away her hood (worn
by all Ovaherero women who adhere to their heathenism
and by them alone), and whose husband, who was against
her conversion, put the hood back on her head by force;
and one suicide took place on account of religious doubts of
conscience. All these acts of suicide were committed with
guns. There are, of course, also cases of suicide committed
by other means, especially.by poison, but they do not so
often come to the notice of the Missionaries.
The Ovaherer6 wear different signs of mourning, the
most remarkable of which are the otyipiriko (a cap made of
sheepskin), and the otyimbe (i.e., the cutting off of some
hair on each side of the head). The last-mentioned is done
by women only. The otyipiriho is worn at the death of a
great man by all his relatives. Otyimbe and otyipiriko is
the holiest oath of the Ovaherer6 (who swear by heaven,
by earth, by the tears the mother shed when they were
born, and by bones). When, at the time of war in 1867, it
was suspected by the Missionaries that the Ovaherer6 would
withdraw from Otyimbingue and leave them to the mercy of
their Namaqua foes, their Chief, Kamaharero, was called by
the Rev. C. H. Hahn, and asked if this was the case. The
Chief denied it, swearing by otyimbe notyipiriko that they
would not leave the place. But his oath could not bind
him; shortly afterwards he had left, with all his people.
The Ovaherer6 bury their dead in the ground, from
which rule they only depart when the deceased has deter-
mined otherwise. The grave diggers are old men, who
on this occasion wear an ornament of beads around the
head. It is astonishing in how short a time they finish the
grave with their wooden shovel (otyihupuro) and sharp
stick (epingo). The grave is made very deep, about
eight or ten feet. Sometimes, they make on one side at
the bottom of the grave a sort of niche, where the corpse
is placed; but this appears to be a modern custom,
and is perhaps adopted from the Namaqua. The grave is
made near a tree, and they choose, if possible, a giraffe-acacia
(omumbonde) for this purpose. The omumbonde is on this
account also called omuhivirikua, i.e., The praised one," and
omuseramayendo, from omayendo "graves."
As soon as a person is dead, his backbone is broken,*
and he is bent together in such a way that his head is put
between the legs. He is, in this form, wrapped up in skins,
tied fast with skin straps, carried to the grave, and so laid
down (not in a sitting posture, as has sometime's been stated
in print) that his face is turned to the North. The tree near
The Herer6 say that in the spinal cord lives a small worm (maggot)
which becomes after death the ghost of the deceased. This can be killed by
fracturing the backbone;-hence the proceeding here mentioned.
the grave is adorned with the horns of the oxen,* which
yondyoza (see ongondyozero) him.
When a person, who was buried in the ground, rises
again, his body is like that of an animal (mostly like a cat),
about the size of a small dog, and his skin has the colour of
the skins in which he was wrapped, which have become his
skin; and he has his eyes in the hinder part of his head;
but his capacities and passions are the same that he had
before he died.
It has already been mentioned that not all Ovaherer6 are
buried in the ground. Some express their wish to be buried
(or rather to be placed) above the ground, in which case
the corpse is put into the deceased's house, or into his cattle
kraal or some other place. In the first case, the house,
which is well shut, gives protection against wild beasts and
dogs. In the second, the place is surrounded with palisades.
When buried in this way, the backbone of the deceased is
not broken, and when he rises again he appears in human
stature, wifh the exception that even in this case the eyes
are situated in the hinder part of the head.f
[With regard to this decoration at or near the grave, it may be remarked
that Among the Isandra and IArindrhno the chiefs were buried, as they
still are in the Ibara, in holes in the faces of the rocks. * The body
was * deposited at the innermost extremity of the hole, the entrance
filled up with stones, and on the stones were fixed the skulls of cattle killed
during the funeral festivities. In some of the bold smooth rocky heights
dozens of these tombs may. be counted, each with its bleached ox skulls
shining in the sun."-From Mr. G. A. Shaw's Paper upon the Religious and
Social Customs of the Betsileo, published in the Antananarivo Annual and
Madagascar Magazine, No. IV.-Christmas, 1878. pp. 2-11.]
t [As the Antnananarivo Annual may not be generally accessible to our
readers, it will be of interest to note here, that, from the paper just quoted,
written by Mr. Shaw, it appears that among the Betsileo in Madagascar,
the "chiefs of lower rank are supposed to change into crocodiles," * *
and that it is thought by them that the spirits of the common people after
death assume various shapes, of which the commonest are the kinbly, men
with sunken eyes, long arms and legs, but no stomachs; hAko, people
covered with hair like a dog and with red eyes; Anakinhla, dwarfs; the
last two being re-embodied spirits of these lost in the forests."]
FOLK-LORE JOURNAL. 57
When an Omuherer6 dies far from his home, for instance,
in a war, the people at his werft select a place at home,
where they make for him a monument of stones, which are
put together in a peculiar manner, and at these monuments
they perform the same ceremonies as at the graves. Such
a monument is called otyisenginina, which word means
something which represents an ancestor or deity.
It may just be mentioned here that the Ovaherer6, like the
Namaqua and Bergdamara, show adoration to their deities
at certain artificial stone heaps.* The Ovaherer6 call such
a stone heap ombindi (pl. ozombindi), and the Namaqua
Heitsi-Eibib. At these ozombindi, the same ceremonies
are also sometimes performed as at the graves, and at the
said ovisenginina'(pl. of otyisenginina).
[A reference to Kafir and Zulu dictionaries will also shew the existence of
stone heaps,callea by the Kafirsisiiviane(Zuluisivivane Colenso, and isivivani,
pl. izicivani Dihnc), regarding which further information is much to be
desired. Mrs. B. L. Key was informed by a Gealeka woman, of the name
.of Elsie Ciayii, that an isivivane is a place of rest. When youthrow a
stone, you say, Isicivane Let me have strength until I reach that place to
which I am going." Another informant, a Fingu woman, also said a few
words to Mrs. Key on the subject, which she has thus translated : What
I do know is, that stones are put where there is an isivivane belonging
to our old forefathers. As you are travelling, whether it be a child, or
whoever it be, you throw a stone on it (i.e., on the heap), and, while you are
throwing it, say, 'Isinians of our Forefathers! Take care of me.'"
See also Callaway's Religtios System qf the Amazulbl, Part I. pp. 65 and 66.
It is curious to note that also among the BAtsileo, in Madagascar
(in the paper already referred to), a somewhat similar custom
is said to exist. Mr. Shaw writes regarding this as follows :
'*There is another mark of the superstition of the Betsileo that every
traveller will have noticed, in the form of larger or smaller heaps of stone
and rubbish at the.cross-ways, and other conspicuous spots along the road.
These are called tatho, and have been added to at various times by people
carrying firewood or dried grass, &c., to market. They throw on a piece for
luck," repeating a form of words signifying that if they are fortunate in
getting a good price for their goods, when they return they will add another
piece to help the tatlo to grow large. Men driving cattle or sheep, pigs or
poultry, throw on stones with the same speech, often spoken mentally only."]
58 FOLK-LORE JOURNAL.
SACRIFICE FOR THE DECEASED (Ongondyozero).
Some Ovaherer6 say that itkuondyoza is in itself not a
religious ceremony.* Although this appears in some sense
to be true, okuyondyoza is doubtless one of the most in-
teresting and important customs of the Ovaherero.
When an Onmuherer6 is asked, "Why do you not sell or
slaughter your old oxen, as they are full-grown and increase
no more in value, and you will probably lose them? the
following answer is often heard: We let them live, in
order that they may yondyoza us."
The ceremony of okuyondyoza is performed on the werft
of the deceased, immediately after he is buried, near his
grave. When a man has died far from his home, or when
the place of his death and grave is not known, the people
of his werft choose a place where they yondyoza for him.
Every rich Omuherer6 has some favorite cattle (pzohivi-
rikua). These are the first in rank to yondyoza him. Every'
animal killed for this purpose (i.e., to yondyoza) is called
ongondyoza. It must be remarked, as a circumstance of
particular importance, that the cattle slaughtered to
yondyoza are not suffocated, as is the case with all other
cattle, whether slaughtered for a religious purpose, or for
common food, but are stabbed with assegais while chased
about until they fall. Then the head is hurriedly cut off,
and the body, without being skinned, is hastily cut to
As for the question whether a custom is of a sacrificial nature or not, it
may be well to mention here that the christened Ovaherer6 are, as a rule,
very careful not to eat any meat which is consecrated for a religious pur-
pose. Besides this, it appears certain that all ceremonies which must
necessarily be performed at the place of the holy fire (okuruo) may be
looked upon as religious; and the word okurangera means to perform
religious ceremonies. It is, for these reasons, not difficult to judge whether a
custom is, by the Ovalwer6 themselves, looked upon as religious or not.
pieces, and cast away. The meat is not to be eaten. Poor
people and children generally pick it up and eat it, but this
is againA;t the rule. As soon as the head is severed from
the body, the horns are carried to the tree near which the
deceased is buried. Besides the ozongondyoza (i.e., cattle
which yondyoza "), there are other cattle slain on this
occasion, which are called those of the fat" (ozomaze),
because the relatives of the deceased anoint themselves
with their fat. These "cattle of the fat are killed in the
usual manner, and their meat is used for food.
Not all of the Ovaherer6 nor even all of their Chiefs are
yondyozeui (passive form), some determining before their
death that this shall not be done.
With regard to the meaning of the custom of Ongondyo-
zero (which is here called Sacrifice for the Deceased ")
there are a variety of opinions. The Ovaherer6 themselves
perform almost all of their religious customs and ceremonies
without reflecting upon their meaning and design, but it
would be of great interest to be able to shew convincingly
what their original meaning, and especially that of
okuyondyoza, is. To attempt to decide this question now,
would, however, be premature. Only a thorough inquiry
into and comparison of the customs and languages of the
various Bdntu nations, may enable this to be undertaken.
A few remarks upon the question, as far as it concerns this
particular custom will, however, not be premature, and may
serve to throw some light upon it. The singular custom
that the blood of the animals is in this instance shed, and
that their meat is not used for food (both of which do not
occur on any other occasion) has already been pointed out.
Very remarkable are also several sentences which are
frequently heard; for example: ozongombe maze yondyoza
omukoke the cattle yondyoza the deceased ;" omundu ma
yondyozeua (passive) i ozonaombe man is yondyozeua by
oxen ;" &c., &c., which shew that okihyondyoza is something
which is done for the deceased, and that this is done by the
cattle which are slaughtered to yondyoza. With regard to
the original and literal meaning of the verb okuyondyoza,
those who are acquainted with the Otyiherer6 language are
of different opinions. Okuyondyoza is the causative form
of another verb, which appears to have been okuyondya, -za
being the causative suffix, but it is not impossible that the
original has slightly varied with time, or that it no longer
exists, or that it now is represented (as has been supposed)
by the noun ondyo "debt, moral debt, sin." It has also
been supposed that okukoza "to torment to death," is the
original verb ; but the letter k, after the prefix oku-, un-
doubtedly shews that this cannot be the case ; and it would
give to the above sentences an almost absurd meaning.
Nor, for the same grammatical reason, can the opinion be
adopted that okukondya to trouble one's self," or "to
labour hard for something," is the original verb. The
suggestion that the noun ondyo is the essential part of the
verb okuyondya has already been mentioned. In this
case the original meaning would appear to have been that
the cattle which are slaughtered for the deceased, are given
in his place, to release him from his sin (ondyo). Such was
the opinion of the Rev. J.'Rath, who possessed a great lexico-
graphical knowledge of Otyikeerer6. Although this opinion
would give a meaning to the ceremony of okuyondyoza
almost too profound and spiritual to be expected to be
met with among a nation like the Ovaherero, it must be
acknowledged that the Otyiherer6 grammar allows of it,
and that the singular customs and sentences mentioned
above would support it. For these reasons this opinion was
also adopted by the writer and believed to be correct, until
another, now preferred, was found. It has already been
mentioned, that, if the verb okuyondyoza is regularly formed,
and if time has not altered the essential part of it, then this
was the verb okuyondya, which means "to go on, to lead
the way," and okuyondya [okuyondyoza ?] means to make to
go on," or "to accompany." There can be little doubt
that this is the meaning of the verb, and thus the above-
mentioned sentences might be understood to mean that the
favorite cattle of the deceased are slaughtered to make
him go on, or to accompany him, after death.
TO APPROACH THE ANCESTORS OR DEITIES*
When an Omuherer6 is asked regarding the meaning of
okuyambera, he often replies that okuyambera means to
approach the ovakuru. The above definition has therefore
been given, as it is very difficult properly to define this
word. The ceremony is performed at the graves of great
men, long after their death, when the general opinion has
styled them ovakuru.
When a person has died in a werft, the place is left, and
the werft built on another place. If the person has been a
great man, he is generally buried in the cattle kraal. When,
after a length of time, the people return to build the werft
again on the old place where a great man is buried, they
always yamnbera ; but they also yambera at other times ; for
instance, in time of war; of great sicknesses; of drought; &c.
When the Ovaherer6 return to the said old werft, the
holy fire of the werft where they have been living is ex-
tinguished, and, as a rule, they take no brand of the holy
fire with them to the old werft whither they return, but holy
fire must now be obtained from the omukuru. This is done
with the ondume and the otyiza. The meaning of these two
words plainly shews that the first represents the omukuru,
and -the other, his wife. When the people have arrived
near the werft, they make the dismal lamentation for the
dead, called ondoro. Arriving at the grave, they speak to
the omukuru, beginning in this manner: See, Father we
are here, we, thy children. See, we have done as thou
hast ordered us. We have brought the cattle thou gavest
us here," and so on. When the fire is made on the old
okuruo (place of the holy fire), a sheep is slaughtered near
it, which is called "that of'the fire (oyomuriro), of
which persons of both sexes and all ages are allowed to eat.
It must be remarked here, that, in the werfts of the
Ovaherer6, the houses of the Chief are on the eastern side.
Next to these, towards the west, follow, one after another,
the holy house (otyizero), the place of the holy fire (okuruo),
and the kraal (otyunda); thus the otyizero is on the cast,
and the otyunda on the west side of the ohuruo.
Every son of the man buried in the otyunda approaches
the okuruo with a branch or a small tree, for which they
prefer the tree called omusaona. These they set up in a
row, on the south-west side of the okuruo, about half way
between the okuruo and the otyunda. An ox (or sheep) is
then slaughtered for each of the sons. The meat of these
cattle is tovisina at the grave ; that is to say, it is presented
to the onmukuru that he may consecrate it, for which purpose
it is put on the grave. Then it is taken to the okuruo, and
makera (consecrated by tasting) by the sons of the omukuru.
Only married men, who have children, are allowed to eat
of this meat. As long as the ceremony of okuyambera goes
on, all milk must also be tovisina at the grave, in the same
manner as the meat; and a little of the milk is always left
standing on the grave, in a milk pail (ehoro).
It is only to be expected that the leaders of the people,
especially the magicians (ozonganga), will make use of the
time, when all the people are assembled to yambera, to
carry out their plans. In the time of the war of emancipa-
tion, the ozonganya caused Kamaharero and his people to
remove, in 1868, from the Mission Station Otyimbingue to
Okahandya, to yambera at the grave of Katyamuaha, the
father of Kamaharero. When they were assembled at
Okahandya, the ozonganga knocked on the grave to awaken
the omukuru, Katyamuala, and then they declared that he
(Katyamuaha) had told them that he was no longer here,
but had withdrawn from Okahandya to the Omaheke,
because his feet had been burned by the fire which had been
set to the grass about his grave. They would find him in
the Omaheke. It is most likely that the grass had been set
on fire by the ozonganga themselves, for the purpose of
leading the people away from the seat of war, and the
Many intrigues are played out when the Ovaherer6
yambera, and persons, especially such as are rivals of the
Chiefs, are then often doomed to death. To show how this
is done, a few remarks are here added regarding an
ondyamberero which took place not far from Okozondye
last year. When all the people were assembled at the
grave of the onmhuru, his eldest son placed himself at the
grave, to act the father's part. He first acted as if angry,
and began to throw stones at the people, who showed very
frightened faces, and began to call out: Tate ua tu
omazenge! Tate ma ru (" Our father is angry Our father
fights ) and they all fled from the grave. They soon,
however, regained courage, and returned to the grave with
stones in their hands. They shouted, and howled, and
threw the stones at the grave, as if they were fighting.
They ran away and returned again several times in the same
manner. At last they called out: Tate nambano ua uoka
(" Now our father is quiet") The man, standing at his
father's grave, now began to speak in his father's name. He
asked about the cattle, calling one after the other by its
name or colour, and the people answered all the questions.
Then he inquired about many of the people, and to every
question the people answered: Ome ri (" He is still there,"
i.e., he is alive). At last he called out the name of a man
who was also presefit, but the people answered: Ke po (" He
is no more ").. He then asked: Ua pandyara (; Is he lost ?"
i.e., has he died) ? They answered: Ua pandyara (" He is
lost "). The man in question now knew that his death was
decided upon; viz., that the people had given him over to
the omukuru to take him away,* i.e, to cause him to die.
In such a case, the person who is doomed to die will try to
withdraw himself from the multitude, and when they have
all departed, he will return alone and place himself at the
grave, in order to present himself to the onmukuru, to prove
that what the people said is not true. He now feels at ease
with regard to the danger of death, caused by the dead;
" For," says he, "the omukuru has now seen me, and knows
that I am not dead;" but he is on his guard, respecting
those who are alive, lest some one of them should undertake
what the omukuru himself will not do now.
The religious customs and ceremonies of the
Qvaherer6 are all rooted in the presumption that the
deceased continue to live, and that they have a great in-
fluence on earth, and exercise power over the life and death
of man. This influence and power is ascribed especially t
to those who have been great men, and who become ovahuru
The numerous religious customs and ceremonies are a
s o Okunnatwalcrera.
t [From this it would appear that all dead ancestors do not become
worshipping of the ancestors. If the Ovahlerer be asked
whether they really believe that the deceased continue to
live, most of them will answer "No;" others will say:
"We do not know;" and a few will confess that they feel
sure that they [i.e., the dead] do continue to live. But
daily experience shows how indubitably sure they all feel
about the influence of the ovakuru, and how much this
influence is feared by them. When a dying man speaks of
evil that will befall one of his relatives, then, no Omuherer6
will doubt, that, after death, he will fulfil his word, provided
that the threatened person be not able to guard against it by
disguising himself. When one Omuherer6 insults another
and the insulted one says to the other: Maa munu (" He,"
namely the amukuru, "will see it "), or Mee tyi tyiti ("He
will do it "), then, he has cursed the insulter ; that is to say,
he has delivered him to the wrath of the omukuru, and
nobody will doubt that the omukuru will take vengeance
on him for the insult.
Concerning resurrection, it has, in speaking of burial,
already been mentioned that the Ovaherer' believe some
dead to ride again; and it has likewise been stated that a
person who was buried in the ground, when he rises again,
does not appear in stature as a human being, but is almost
like a cat, but bigger, about the size of a little dog, and is
called otyiruru. This ghost has its eyes on the hinder part
of the head ; its hairy skin is of the same color as the
skin in which the corpse was wrapped; for it is this very
skin which has grown to be the skin of the ghost. Those
who have not been buried in the ground, when they rise
again, appear in stature like human beings ; but their eyes
are also situated on the hinder part of the head.
The ghost, although appearing like an animal, has the
same passions and abilities which the person possessed
before his death. He speaks to the people goes into
their houses ; drinks their milk ; takes the meat of their
cattle, that have been slaughtered, from the trees ; steals
sheep and lambs out of the kraals, &c. The ghosts are also
believed to be very fond of waylaying * women and
girls; and they even marry, without the latter being aware
that their husband is a ghost. An extract from one of the
many ovimbaharere* [which touches on the subject of
ghosts] is here given.
A man marries, and both he and his wife die in the same
werft, before their first child is born. After some time they
both rise again, with their child, which has in the mean time
been born, About the same time the people of their
werft have made an omukanldi (have slaughtered cattle for
a feast). The two oviruru now go out by night to steal
from the meat which is hung on trees. The man, seeing
that his wife has left the child alone, goes and finds it crying,
and takes his wife and child and hides them. Then he goes
and steals a whole sheep, and returns with it to his wife and
child ; whereupon they all return into their hole (i.e.,
grave). Here the man eats the meat, but refuses to give
any of it to the woman, and finishes the whole sheep alone.
The vife, being refused a share of her husband's meat, goes
and steals meat for herself, brings it to their home (i.e., to
their grave), and eats it alone with the child. Upon this
the man becomes. angry, takes his ombani (the long
" kirrie"), and pounds the woman to death.
In conclusion, a few remarks are added regarding a
conversation with Kaouua, a small under-chief, belonging
to the so-called Kaoko Ovaherero, who has had little or no
intercourse with Missionaries, or other Europeans. In
1876 he lived for a while near Onyati; and was here visited
by the Rev. Mr. Viehe and his colleague, the Rev. Mr.
bannert, to whom he told many things concerning the
religious ideas of the Ovaherer6, which were new and in-
* Fables, tales."
teresting to them, and some of which were even new to Mr.
Viehe's Ovaheerer servants. Kaouua, for instance, said that,
very, far from here, beside the country of the Ovatyaona
(Betshudna), is a very high mountain, on one side of which
there is a hole in the ground. Through this hole all good
people, who have died, rise again, and ascend on the mount-
ain into heaven. When asked what would become of
those who had been bad, Kaouua either did not know, or
would not tell. When asked about Karunga,* he said
that Karunga is the father of all Ovakuru. When asked
who had been the father of Karunga, he answered that
Karunga is supposed not to have had a father. Kaouua
put many questions to the Missionaries, which showed that
he reflected more on religious questions than do the
generality of the Ovaherero.
The Rev. Mr. Viche states (with reference to the Ovakuru) that the
Ovahererer have a slight idea of another being (Supreme being?) which
differs greatly from the Ovakuru, is superior to them, and is supposed never
to have been a human being. It is called Karonga." * Mr. Viehe
further adds, that the Ovalered * sometimes permute Karunga
and Eytru, which last meuns heaven;" also that Karunga does only
good; whilst the influence of the O vak lru is more feared than wished for
and, therefore, it is not thought necessary to bring sacrifices to dariMngd' to
guard against his influence." He is, says Mr. Vieho, situated so high, and is
so superior to men, that he takes little special notice of them; and so the
Ovaheeere,, on their part, also trouble themselves little about this superior