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The cultural symbolism of the OvaHerero walking stick, Ongunya/Okati or Cane.

The cultural symbolism of the OvaHerero walking stick, Ongunya/Okati or Cane.


The OvaHerero people have always been a population of pastorals and with this came the responsibility of the men caring for their livestock. This meant having to carry with them a cane as part of armament and to steer the direction of the herd and to protect the livestock from any looming predators.

Cane and status:

In addition to the above, a cane is carried by a man as a steady symbol that he is married and of nobility. It should be noted however that men who are of age, that are unmarried may carry a cane but it is not to touch the ground and not to be used as a walking cane. This conditions may change when the young man’s father is deceased.

Cane at a wedding:

It’s mandatory for a groom to have a cane at his wedding. Strictly, his cane is not to touch the ground as he is in transition to get married and not show off to his in laws.

A bride is given her father’s cane to escort her to her new homestead as a spiritual symbol that her fathers are with her, this cane is ceremonially  returned back (Okuyarura okati) to her father by the  wedded couple with a period of three days from wedding ceremony, upon which the bride receive a symbolic heifer/cow  (Ongombe yokati).

Inheritance of Cane:

The Cane is passed down from the father to their eldest son or their oldest surviving son or to the deceased younger paternal brother. The canes of the fathers and their forefathers ( beacons of authority as head of family) are often collected and remain within the family as heirlooms called ‘ozohongue’ which are kept in the main house which is fondly referred to as ‘ondjiuo jo kuruuo’.

Within the Namibia tribes, the cane, ‘ongunya/okati’ is synonymous to the OvaHerero, OvaHimba and the OvaMbanderu men.

Contributed by : Ms Nanguei Tjipura

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