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


Ovaherero Wedding Proceeding

This momentous event is preceded by so many activities starting from 6 – 10 months before the actual weekend. Yes, this event takes place for three days on end. It starts Friday and lasts for Saturday and Sunday. The bride is already at home the Monday, carefully covered and being oriented to enjoy her homestead for a very last time. It will be very hard for her to come back here again unless the elders of the groom’s permission is solicited in good time.


Many homesteads allow the groom to come clean the area from which they will wait for the bride and usually that is at the back of the main homestead. In this sense of the word, cleaning means confirmation that the groom’s relatives as well as the groom will come to wait for the handing over of the bride for 3 days starting Friday. That also means that they will come to set up camp (as it is known these days) and also gives them enough time to prepare the details in case there are numerous grooms looking for brides from the same homestead. Once that is confirmed the owners of the homestead will hit the final nail in the coffin which will include officially starting the celebrations.


On this day each and every one arrived. Remember the bride is already home since Sunday. The groom just arrived the Thursday. The invited guests for both the bride and the groom have also arrive on the Friday. The camp at the back side of the homestead is erected by the relatives of the groom and ready to the start festivities. Those at the back of the homestead are very mellow in the behavior. Since they came to back for the hand of the bride they are required to behave to the fullest else, consequences will be heavier. That will include and not limited to the refusal of the bride on Sunday, the last day of the wedding ceremony. That is an extreme measure. The Friday is the biggest of the two days because it includes too many important activities. The team of the groom brings Ovitunja (lobola) and that is two heifers and an ox. In the absence of an ox the groom will bring an equivalent in monetary value in the market around that time. Usually it is not an excessive amount of money and it is also not a price for the bride since this tradition does not sell people. Around 17h00 all the important people in their family ranks from the groom side will go to the kraal at the bride’s home. They will bring the gift in the forms mentioned earlier including money in the absence of an ox. The relatives of the bride usually the paternal side if her parents were not married receive these gifts. The cows are also brought to the kraal at which traditional performances take place in a form of the groom’s relatives praising their gift in the form of the ox. The bride’s relative’s critic the ox and some even refuse to accept it since it is either not dehorned or it has long horns or the color is not in tune with their ritualistic nobles.

If the cows and the ox are accepted by the family of the bride and finally entered the kraal it means the first hurdle is over. Now, the invited guests are going to have fun all night with singing traditional songs and drinking and eating. What is the use of being at a wedding where there is no drinking and eating?

The same night, the groom will go to his bride and meet her once more until as early as 04h00 AM. This traditional ceremony is for the purposes of granting permission to the groom for him to note that he is accepted in this homestead. Many people have interpreted it differently and it has got too many casual meanings. The groom is accompanied by his circumcision peers. These people are critical to the ceremony for they are completely necessary and also helpful in executing the rituals required by tradition. The groom is back and remember festivities started very mellow the Friday at the back of the homestead and the guests have been having fun thus, there is a likelihood that some are not asleep this is why he comes back that early. His circumcision peers will go get him that early and deliver him to his omuramue – cousin. She is the person who is very helpful with grooming him in the absence of the bride until they are re-united the Sunday and going forward.


This day is loaded with too many activities starting with slaughtering of cows both in front and at the back of the homestead. The groom slaughter for consumption but there is a particular part of the slaughtered cow that goes to the bride side and they bring that same part called (_) to the back of the homestead. It is on this day that they share gifts from both sides as well and by 14h00 to 15h00 the event is elevated to celebrations in front of the homestead. They both had invited singers who dance the bride then does rituals in between the houses and the kraal where everyone from both sides will gather. Now mind you, the two families of the bride and groom have met officially through the dance and song happening till 17h00 or so. After that each of the families retreats back to front and back of the homestead until 20h00 or so for the next round of the singing and dancing session. Remember the wedding started with an amount of plastic hostilities towards the family of the groom which is staged because the male cousins of the bride are not happy with the idea of her going so that are acting hard to let go. After the ritual events from 14h00 to 17h00 the two families can intermingle and chit chat. They can great each other and send regards back home since usually these people used to marry people who are known to each other or who are extendedly related e.g. matrimonially and patrimonial or matching totems or even children from a brother and sister. Since the totem do not match it is allowed thus there is a lot for them to catch up about since they are either from the same previous high schools, churches, soccer and netball clubs, etc. There will be singing all night and even those who do hymns will join in and sing through the early hours of the Sunday morning.


This is the last day of the wedding and trust me by now everyone is very tired and can’t wait to go back home. Sunday program ends as early as 11h00 latest. Deducing from events last night activities it goes without saying that the bride is going with groom because the events last night went very well. The family from the back of the homestead behaved very well thus the bride’s family and her seniors will hand her over. The groom and everyone at the back of the homestead are getting very ready and dressing to kill in recent times. They are derigging the tents and everything else that was brought there since Thursday. They are ready to be told to come to the side of the bride. Once there, the seniors or the elders of the bride and groom are the critical people here. The elders of the bride will hand over their daughter but not just like that. The elders of the groom must hear them. Usually she is handed over to some assurance that he is going to be very responsible with her. This session that stipulates his assurance lasts about for about an hour or so. The elders of the groom also assure their counterparts that she will be taken care off very well and the groom knows where he stands with his elders thus he knows his place around her. This is the shorter day but the most important day since they have achieved the objective – to get the bride.

From there on all are going to their destinations but the bride and groom will go his father’s homestead. At this place ritually she will be welcomed at her new homestead and join the clan ritually. She will relinquish so much of her maternal identity also.  At times she will have to get his surname. She will have to get his patrimonial oruzo and also officially gain his birth place praises (mukaa katjikuatjike). That is on a second Monday already. The new family unties will take her to the kraal which is done to test her abilities to milk cows and also identify one that will be hers going forward. A sheep will have been already slaughtered the Monday morning. This signifies the arrival of someone new and also they will take her to the Holy Fire place where she will be announced to the ancestors as such. They should protect her as their own and new here and also for their information only. Wednesday they will go back where the bride came from for another ritual activity which will mean that the wedding is officially over thus this newlywed couple can go start a life of their own.

Contributed by : Ms Undamuje Hambira


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