By Alphons K. Koruhama
I keep asking myself some questions, such as can our tribes still soar victorious, as they did before resisting change?
Let me give a bit background of who we are and what victories or battles our culture has survived, to resist change.
We are the Herero communities of the northwest of Namibia, who are known for shaping a strong identity for ourselves during a common history of fighting to sustain our herds, facing wars and exile, and most significantly through the importance of our ancestors in our daily lives and rituals.
In the mid-1800s, the Herero communities of the northwest of Namibia were impoverished by Nama cattle raiders and then forced to rely on being hunter-gatherers. Between 1904 and 1908, they suffered from the same attempt at genocide during the Herero Wars, conducted by the German Empire colonist government in German South-West Africa under Lothar von Trotha, which decimated notably the Herero people and the Nama people during the Herero and Nama genocide. Only in the 1920s did their cattle and goat herds really recover, due to a political change in Namibia, from a German colony to a mandate territory. Because of the difficult time without any livestock, during which they had to survive from the land, they fled to Angola, where they were called OvaHimba, meaning ‘beggars’.
The OvaHimba history is fraught with disasters, including severe droughts and guerrilla warfare, especially during Namibia’s war of independence, and as a result of the civil war in neighbouring Angola.
In the 1980s, it appeared that the OvaHimba way of life was coming to a close, due to a climax in adverse climatic conditions and political conflicts. A severe drought killed 90 percent of their livestock, and many gave up their herds and became refugees in the town of Opuwo, living in slums on international humanitarian aid, or joined Koevoet paramilitary units to cope with the livestock losses and widespread famine. OvaHimba living over the border in Angola were occasionally victims of kidnapping during the South African border war, either taken as hostages or abducted to join the Angolan branch of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the army of Swapo.
Having survived all that I mentioned above, after Namibia’s independence, the OvaHimba people, an ancient tribe of semi-nomadic herders, still hold on to their ancestors’ traditions, and have resisted modernising, despite the rapidly changing world surrounding them.
Now some are worried this move will eventually spell the death of OvaHimba culture. The children are going to school, and after they matriculate, they normally pursue further studies, for those who make it, while others remain in towns to upgrade the marks. This is worrisome, because the young generation of OvaHimba people spend more time in the cities than in the village. And they are losing the story told by elders around the fire, about their history and their culture.
What worries me a lot is that these children are not prepared to strike a balance between the modern world and them embracing their traditions. I realised that preparation for a changing world is essential, and is a very crucial thing to do.
There is no one to mentor us on how to balance between modernisation and tradition, because no one lives between the two worlds. We have to figure it out ourselves, and that endangers the young generation.
This creates an identity crisis. This robbed me personally of a huge deal of not knowing who I was. It brings insecurities, because here you’re called Himba names that you don’t even embrace. While back home you’re given a different name, of being colonised. Being between the two worlds left me with not knowing my identity as young man, until I stepped my feet in Washington DC, where I was challenged to wear my tradition.
This is something I never did before in my entire life, because I was born and raised between the two worlds. Being born and raised between the two worlds left me wearing modernised clothes, while being called Himba, and use the Himba dialect, only. That’s confusing, right? Yes indeed, and that led me to wrestle with God, like Jacob did at Pniel, until the day break. And I asked God these five ‘W’ questions;
1. Who am I? Identity
2. Where am I from? Heritage
3. Why am I here? Purpose
4. Where I am going? Vision
5. What can I do? Potential
I realised that many black people don’t ask themselves these five ‘W’ questions and that’s why they suffer from what Professor Joseph Diescho refers to as, “A self-imposed inferiority complex, which has become so entrenched in the psyche that they do not even know who they are anymore; they even refuse to write or read their own mother tongue, at the expense of foreign languages.”
I felt that I have to know who I am, before I went to attend the Presidential Summit, with main speaker being former United States President Barack Obama, who to me was faced with the same challenge of racial identity in his life, which he overcame. That’s why he achieved what he achieved. On top of that, in the same room there was another 1 000 young African leaders in attendance. I knew the room will be full the following day with Nigerian, Kenyans, South Africans and Ghanaians wearing their traditional attire.
That worried me a lot, and I was confused about what to wear, as my tradition. I was caught between a suit and Himba traditional attire.
That took me back to God, and I asked Him those ‘W’ questions. And God took me through all those questions, one by one, revealing who I am, and why He created me the way He did.
I wanted to be true African from outwards to inwards, from the looks to the being, when entering that room, the following day, and not this lost dude. I woke up five o’clock, took a shower and sat on the bed, and this was running in my head. And my self-imposed inferiority complex was on its playing station. If I wore my Himba attire, I would look naked, and people will ridicule me for being naked, and people will look at me funny, or not want to associate with me.
At that moment, a voice whispered to me, “you are a Himba, so be a Himba”. You can give whatever name to that voice, according to your beliefs, but to me the God of Jacob had answered me the way he answered Jacob at Pniel. You will get the full story of Jacob in Genesis 32v22-30.
I took my Himba attire, went into the bathroom, applied the cream, mixed the red ochre and wore my tradition, and my roommate woke up to his surprise, and screamed and ran to hug me. Thank God he did that before he went to bath, because the worse could have happened.
I think this was new birth, from two worlds to the reality of who I am. I was born on the 4th of August 2016 in Washington DC, not in the hospital, because this is a different kind of birth. My identity birthday took place in the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
I believe traditions define us. Hence, tradition and modernity can go hand in hand and are equally beneficial. On the other hand, modernity doesn’t let our identity fade. Traditions are something that we inherit from our ancestors, and we pass it on to the next generation. This helps us to recognise our roots and informs us of our belonging. Modernity widens our views and opinions. Both of them are equally important, and balancing between them is a necessity. So basically, the conflict between traditions and modernity leads to the diversification of views. In my view, modernity should be accepted, but one should not let them replace traditions. Modern values and cultures can be added up, but keep the traditions intact. Eish!
This may sound paradoxical, but depending upon the situation, one should act accordingly, because traditional values are in no way close to modern culture. The preservation of tradition will define our identity, whereas the touch of modernity will signify our liberal mindset. Our tradition is remarkably rich and varied, and capable of providing a starting point for modernity. Let me leave you with what Waleed said, “There are three main attitudes towards the question of tradition. The first is a blind adherence to traditional values and a near total rejection of modernity. The second is the superiority of modern systems over traditional ones [with total ignorance to] the importance of tradition. The third is one of reconciliation between forces of tradition and modernity, with the aim of reaching a state of equilibrium. Such reconciliation is generally approached, either by adopting a modern theory and projecting it on a traditional system, or by selecting positive aspects of tradition, which are compatible with modern attitudes and therefore making the traditional values fit into a contemporary framework.”
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015