Celebrating Love – the Owambo Way - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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Celebrating Love – the Owambo Way

Avatar of inke inke - 11. October 2018 - Culture

The bridal couple Nande and Rosalia Bamm. (Phtoto: Sparkle Studio)

In the northern reaches of Namibia, seven-day weddings are the cultural norm...

By Ron Swilling 

“Iyaloo, Iyaloo!” The elder called out her thanks after delivering a torrent of prayers and blessings to the wedding couple seated in front of her. The women around her, dressed in bright cotton traditional dresses, ululated and swished their cow-tail switches in celebration.

Photo: Sparkle Studio

It was the final day of the week-long wedding when the bride and groom were allowed to enter the groom’s family grounds. The white flag, indicating that a marriage was underway, waved gently in the breeze from the top of a marula tree, accentuated against a stormy sky.

This gift-giving ceremony marked the end of the traditional part of the seven-day wedding. The cows in the adjacent enclosure, presented as gifts - and having survived the pot - observed the proceedings indifferently, seemingly oblivious to the 38-degree heat. A wash of sunset colours painted the sky above the makalani palms as guests entered the traditional homestead through the entrance in the mopane-branch palisade, and made their way to the outdoor wedding venue. Here, under the trees, tables had been elegantly laid with white table clothes, a delicious feast was being kept warm and a DJ had begun to play his lively wedding repertoire.

Photo: Sparkle Studio

The seamless leap from days-of-old to the 21st century in a heartbeat was totally acceptable to the contented crowd. For a first-timer like me, it was a surprising and wonderful merging of age-old customs, a fairy-tale church wedding and modern-day celebrations. And, somehow it all made perfect sense.

Many young Owambo couples, living in the towns or city make their way to their family homes in the O-regions, which stretch above Etosha National Park like a series of interlinking jigsaw puzzle pieces, to celebrate their union with their families.

I wondered about the relevance of it in today’s world – and soon found out. A young woman explained her sentiments, clarifying my blurry musings into focused thought. “Our traditions are who we are, our identity, the core of our culture,” she said, adding that she too intended to make the journey one day from her modern lifestyle and job in Windhoek to return to the north for her wedding ceremony.

Photo: Sparkle Studio

Continuing with my wedding queries during the festivities, under the welcome shade of trees at the homesteads and outside the church while waiting for the bride and groom to arrive, I quickly got to the crux of it. “It’s about receiving the blessings of the elders, so that our marriages will be blessed,” I was told. I heard it repeated again and again. It seems to be the tried and tested recipe for a healthy and happy marriage.

From the initial announcement of the wedding and the placement of flags outside the homesteads, the week had unfolded with a series of traditions that were punctuated mid-week by the lobola ceremony, when a delegation from the groom delivered a cow as a gift to the bride's family (oyuunda in Oshikwanyama, iigondo in Oshindonga and commonly known as lobola in southern Africa). Despite the vast distances between the homesteads in the different towns and the long, sandy tracks that needed to be negotiated to get there, the bride’s family kept the groom’s party waiting outside the homestead, as is the norm. The groom’s delegation ululated and sang announcing their arrival before being greeted and allowed to release the cow into the kraal (animal enclosure), and being invited inside to complete the ceremony in the oshoto (reception area) and to share the traditional grainy sorghum drink.

The "lobola", cows as a gift to the bride’s family. (Photo: Nela Shikemeni)

Traditions continued in the subsequent days according to wedding protocol with the dressing of the groom by his namesake (a role model after whom a new-born child is named) and a presentation of items for his wardrobe; and the delivery of a suitcase to the bride (with the wedding dress and other important and appreciated items). Friendly banter between the families is an accepted part of the events, as is the waiting game.

Finally, on day five, the bride and groom entered the modern world, dressed in their wedding finery, with an entourage of exquisitely dressed bridesmaids and groomsmen for the church wedding and nuptials.

As is custom in Africa, everyone was welcome to attend the wedding and everyone contributed to the events – by delivering livestock, by adding their donation for the church and their contribution at the gift-giving and prayer ceremonies, which took place at both homesteads on the final two days.

These ceremonies gave way to elaborate dinners, first at the bride’s family home and the next night at the groom’s, after which the bride and groom could finally remain together as a married couple.

On this special night, everyone waited in anticipation for the bride and groom to enter the dining area. The tables - bedecked with crystal and roses, the soft lighting and the delicate decorations that dangled from the trees transformed the simple homestead yard into an enchanted outdoor venue. When the wedding song began to play, the crowd turned to the entrance, eyes transfixed, and cheered as the handsome group of bridesmaids and groomsmen danced their way between the tables in an Owambo-Bollywood style. The bride and groom followed, gracefully dancing their way to the main table to sit like the queen and king of love, radiating happiness.

This lovely and lively rendition of a formal wedding will always stay with me; a moment of beauty and energy to carry forward as a bright light of inspiration. While the fresh night breeze cooled down the scorching day’s heat and the stars shone through the clouds, presided over by a buttery waxing moon, champagne bottles popped in unison at all the tables. The guests raised their glasses to toast the happy couple, wishing them well on their journey through Life.

I could feel those blessings bobbing about on the breeze and circling the jubilant pair. And, I could, without much effort, imagine those ancient ones looking on – and smiling down.

Congratulations to Rosalia and Nande Bamm. We wish the lovely couple joy, blessings and celebration.

Rosalia and Nande Bamm in their traditional attires. (Photo: Sparkle Studio)

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