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Getting married : Oshiwambo customs and traditions

Getting married : Oshiwambo customs and traditions


I have been planning my wedding alongside my then fiancé, now wife, for the past 11 months and I have made some crucial observations that I want to share about oshiwambo customs when getting married.

When a man makes his intentions known to a woman about marriage and she is in agreement with the proposal, the woman immediately has to inform her parents. The parents will then arrange for a meeting where the man will be expected to explain to them (parents) why he wants to marry their daughter etc. He is subjected to intense drilling where he has to disclose his lineage and totem roots. The man doesn’t arrive alone. He arrives with two ladies and a male who can speak on his behalf as needed. Usually from his family. The man cannot hide as he will be required to speak at certain parts of the meeting. The totems are crucial as the couple might be related or distant cousins. And if it is found that the totems between the couple interlink, then the marriage intentions are nullified with immediate effect. After the intense drill the woman’s guest I.e., the man & his family are served with a buffet of foods and drinks. The couple may only partake in the traditional spinach (ekaka/evanda), traditional Aawambo chicken and Mahangu porridge. Everyone else is free to eat what they want. After they have eaten, they need to leave ASAP before the sun sets and they shouldn’t take anything with them. For example, a cool drink can or drumstick etc. everything must remain. Plus the food should be eaten in such a way that there’s some left over. You can’t eat like a pig at these meetings. You are closely monitored.

The man and his family then have the responsibility of proposing a wedding date. This date is taken by an elderly woman who’s sole mission is to bring the date. This individual plays a very crucial role in the whole ceremony as she must be present when the lobola is paid or whenever there are any instructions that need to be conveyed from the woman’s family to the man’s family or vice versa. Tip: Someone with loads of time on their hands please. She carries with her a basket of Mahangu every time she goes on a premarital mission. After the date has been given the woman’s family assess the date and makes a decision. If the date is too close or too far, they will send her back without success. This keeps happening until both parties are completely in unison regarding a suitable wedding date. The woman’s family will also give clear instructions on what they need to receive i.e., Lobola.

If the date is agreed upon then both families start inviting their friends and family and it becomes a public affair. The atmosphere is filled with excitement during this time as everyone is anticipating the big day. Once the big day has been established the man and the woman are prohibited from traveling a lot and should not sleep at family/friend homesteads where there’s a funeral. Both the man and woman are expected to build a structure at their homes. This is very crucial as this structure becomes a storage for all the foods and drinks that will be used during the ceremony but also it allows for both the man and woman to accommodate their friends during this time of celebration. The man’s structure is very crucial as the marriage is consummated in that structure. The structures do not cost peanuts, but they are very necessary. As the day is getting closer, the man’s family will invite the woman to come to their homestead with her family. The purpose of this meeting is to confirm that they indeed have sent their son and that they do approve and accept her as the wife to be of the man (Their son). A buffet is also served here, and the couple is expected to stay within their boundaries. 

The woman and her family have to leave ASAP before sunset. After this process, the couple have to get their church documents from their pastors and exchange them. These docs are required so that a completed audit is done on their church responsibilities and payments. Any mishap in those documents and the whole thing gets cancelled. The man will then have to go to his church three weeks before the wedding (Sunday) so that he can be blessed/released to go and get his wife (to be). A week before the wedding the couple must go for marriage counselling where they are given intense relationships advice. The wedding is then announced at the woman’s church on the Sunday before the wedding. NB. The first part of Lobola is to be paid before the Sunday. Early in the morning both the man & woman must eat porridge and spinach at a designated area in the house before leaving for church. That Sunday is very special as the white flag is erected on the roof at her homestead &the man puts a ring on the woman’s finger(engagement). This is a prelude to the wedding day. Here a buffet is served at the woman’s homestead but as per tradition the couple will only partake in the selected foods and beverages. After enjoying the buffet, the man’s family leave with immediate effect before the sun sets.

The man comes home to a hero’s welcome as he is victorious. The atmosphere is ballistic and electrifying. He has won!!!! He is a champion!!! We have gained a daughter!!! Are some of the chants you will hear. The man and woman then must be smeared with a red oil for blessings from their father’s lineage. This is usually done during the late hours of the afternoon. After being smeared and blessed. Both the man and woman are free to catch chickens. This is code for gifts. When you go to catch chickens you will receive cash, goats, cows, chickens, Mahangu etc. A lot of people show support during this part. E-wallets and Blue-wallets everywhere. The man then has the responsibility of sending the second part of the lobola which is a cow. This is done at least two days before the wedding. The crucial lady that I mentioned earlier. The one that moves with a basket of Mahangu during premarital missions. The one who sends the date. She must be there when the cow is taken. Otherwise, there could be problems. The day before the wedding the groomsmen and bridesmaids have a responsibility to take the brides suitcase. This suitcase has a wedding gown and other stuff that the bride will be using. 

The suitcase is accompanied by a lamp that should be able to shine if the need arises. This is the wedding day. The Groom and bride rise early with their bridal party to prepare for this special day. The bride and groom will eat porridge and spinach at the designated area at home before leaving for church. Once they get to church, they meet with the pastor in his office with their parents & God parents. They then meet at the altar to exchange vows in front of friends, family and haters. Lol. Family usually rocks matching clothes/oshiyata it looks so cool. The rest is history. There’s more that happen that I might have missed. I would like this to be a memoir of what Suoma & Myself went through to get married. It is extremely frustrating, fun and overwhelming process. But we chose to do it because we respect traditions & love each other.

Contributed by : Mr Johannes Andreas

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