Welcome to Ombu Cultural Village

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One of Namibia’s proud indigenous cultures, the OvaHerero people continually strive to uphold their cultural values, and practices, teaching and promoting tradition among the OvaHerero in Namibia.

Founded by Vetumbuavi Mungunda the goals for the Ombu Cultural Village are to enhance and expand the existing efforts dedicated to OvaHerero culture with the following objectives:

  • Researching & Preserving of OvaHerero Culture with the aim to deepen our research efforts, continually update the exhibits, and expand the collection of artefacts and historical records to ensure the ongoing preservation of the OvaHerero culture.
  • Enhance Intercultural Understanding: We will focus on improving the museum’s outreach and educational programs to facilitate greater intercultural understanding. This may involve creating more interactive exhibits and educational materials.
  • Enrich the Showcase of Cultural Artefacts, Crafts & Art: Building upon the existing collection, we will work to enrich and diversify the range of cultural artefacts, crafts, and art on display, providing visitors with a more comprehensive understanding of the OvaHerero culture.
  • Promote and Sustain Traditional Music, Songs & Practices: We will continue to support traditional musicians and practitioners while exploring opportunities to host regular performances and events that highlight the significance of traditional music and practices.
  • Sustain Language Development, Storytelling, and Book Writing Initiatives: The museum will remain committed to supporting language development, storytelling, and book writing efforts, ensuring that these important aspects of culture continue to thrive.
  • Continue to Promote Cultural Songs and Music, Including Traditional Music Festivals: Building upon the existing platform, we will actively promote the development of cultural songs and music through ongoing exhibitions, performances, and traditional music festivals.
  • Foster Storytelling and Book Writing Initiatives: Encouraging and facilitating the creation of written materials that capture the stories and history of the OvaHerero people will remain a central focus, allowing for the ongoing documentation and dissemination of cultural knowledge.

While the group is enthusiastic about our goals for this project, there are several potential challenges anticipated which would require to be effectively addressed.

Ensuring active participation and engagement from the community, particularly elders and cultural experts, is crucial. Cultural preservation projects can sometimes face resistance or scepticism from community members, so building trust and collaboration will remain a focus.

Striking the right balance between preserving traditions and respecting cultural sensitivities while presenting them to a broader audience can be challenging. Ombu Village needs to ensure that exhibits and programs are culturally respectful and accurate.

Encouraging visitors to engage deeply with the exhibits and programs can be challenging. Ombu Village will therefore need to develop innovative ways to captivate and educate a diverse audience, including tourists and locals.

Language equally may be a potential barrier if it is not widely spoken among visitors and this may hinder the communication of cultural knowledge. Providing translation and interpretation services may become necessary in that event.

As the Ovaherero culture is promoted, there may be concerns about cultural appropriation. These sensitivities ought to be navigated carefully, to ensure that the culture is respectfully shared and celebrated without exploitation.

Museums often have to comply with regulations and legal requirements related to cultural heritage, preservation, and education. Navigating these requirements while maintaining the cultural integrity of the project can be challenging.

Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the village and museum and its programs is vital. We need to plan for how projects will be maintained and funded over the years, especially considering potential fluctuations in visitor numbers.  OvaHerero culture, like any culture, is not static.

Addressing these challenges will require careful planning, community involvement, flexibility, and a commitment to the project’s long-term success. By proactively tackling these issues, we aim to create a culturally sensitive and sustainable living museum that effectively achieves its goals.

Technology has had a significant impact on the Ombu Cultural Village project, influencing various aspects of its planning, execution, and overall success.

Technology has revolutionised the way research is conducted and cultural heritage is documented. Digital tools, such as digital cameras, recording equipment, and data management software, have made it easier to capture and preserve oral histories, photographs, and artifacts. This ensures that valuable cultural information can be stored, accessed, and shared efficiently. Digital platforms, including social media and websites, have been instrumental in connecting with the OvaHerero community and involving them in the project.

The most beloved animals among the OvaHerero people are predominantly cattle. Historically, cattle held sacred significance as gifts from ancestors, and all rituals were conducted at the “okuruo,” symbolising the connection with forebears. Today, cattle are often viewed as commodities for profit.

However, sheep have gained importance in specific rituals and ceremonies. In the past, fathers compensated those who carried a child on their back with a cow. This practice has shifted to “okupwenisa” or “ombwena”, where a sheep (sometimes a cow) is given as food for the new mother, reflecting evolving traditions related to childbirth and motherhood.  During a bride’s welcome to the groom’s homestead, the groom traditionally slaughters a sheep, signifying the significance of sheep in certain marriage customs and rituals.

While cattle remain central to OvaHerero culture, sheep have evolved roles in specific contexts, facilitating cultural practices and traditions within the community.

As a pastoralist ethnic group, the OvaHerero traditionally rely on livestock for their livelihoods. They keep and raise various types of animals, primarily cattle, goats, and sheep. These animals serve as essential resources for the Ovaherero community, providing a range of products and services.

Cattle, goats, and sheep are primarily raised for their meat. The Ovaherero consume meat as a significant part of their diet and often use it in various traditional dishes and celebrations, while cows and goats provide milk, which is a valuable source of nutrition for the OvaHerero people. Milk is consumed fresh or processed into products like sour milk.

The hides of cattle and goats are used to make leather products, including clothing, footwear, and traditional items such as shields and pouches.  Animal horns, particularly cattle horns, are used for crafting various items, such as jewellery, musical instruments, and ceremonial objects. Bones from animals can be used for crafting tools and ornaments. They are often carved into intricate designs for decorative purposes.

Animal dung serves as a valuable resource for fertilising fields and gardens. It is used to enhance soil fertility, especially in agricultural activities.

It’s important to note that while traditional practices persist among the OvaHerero, modernisation and changing economic conditions have led some individuals and communities to diversify their livelihoods beyond livestock farming. Nonetheless, the traditional relationship between the OvaHerero people and their cattle remains significant and continues to play a central role in their culture and way of life.

The distinctive OvaHerero headdress, known as the “otjikaiva”, is a symbol of great significance among the OvaHerero people, particularly among the women. It represents the horns of cows, which have historically been the primary source of wealth and livelihood for the OvaHerero. The “otjikaiva” serves as a symbol of respect and reverence, paying homage to the cows that have sustained the Herero community throughout their history.

The attire of the Herero people has indeed changed throughout time. Originally, Herero women wore leather garments and a hood with three horn-like protrusions that symbolised the Aloe Vera plant. This plant was used for medicinal purposes during their migration period.

Over time, as the Herero community encountered different cultural influences and underwent historical changes, their attire evolved. They adopted a Victorian-style dress, which was introduced by European influences. This dress was modified to include the distinctive horn-like “otjikaiva”. The “otjikaiva”, made from fabric matching the dress, symbolises Herero’s prized cattle.

Herero men wore garments consisting of simple leather loin-cloths and capes but have now changed to a military-style garb, including peaked capsberetsepaulettesaiguillettes and gaiters, to honour the fallen ancestors.

There have been many notable OvaHerero people who resisted colonisation, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when European colonial powers, primarily Germany, imposed their control over what is now Namibia. One of the most prominent figures in the OvaHerero resistance was Chief Samuel Maharero. He was a key leader of the OvaHerero people and played a central role in organising resistance against German colonial forces in what is known as the Herero Wars or the Herero Genocide. In 1904, when the OvaHerero rose up against German colonial rule, Maharero led his people in a courageous but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to defend their lands and sovereignty. After a series of battles, the Herero were defeated, and many were subjected to terrible atrocities, leading to a significant loss of life.

It’s important to note that the OvaHerero, like many indigenous African communities, faced immense challenges and often overwhelming military power during the colonial period. Despite their resistance efforts, they were subjected to brutal colonisation and exploitation by European colonial forces.

The Holy Fire, or Okuruwo, is of immense importance to the OvaHerero people. It holds a central role in their spirituality and daily life, serving various key purposes: Okuruwo is where OvaHerero connect with their forefathers, acting as a conduit for communication with ancestral spirits who intercede with God. Significant spiritual ceremonies, blessings, health rituals, and marriages occur at Okuruwo, making it the focal point for seeking guidance and invoking blessings.

The Holy Fire foretells dangers and guides the OvaHerero. It influences the behaviour of sacred cattle, which are closely connected to ancestral spirits. The rising smoke from the Holy Fire symbolises the link between the living, ancestors, and God. It symbolises the gift of life from ancestors and represents fertility and prosperity. Okuruwo is fundamental to OvaHerero cultural identity, used for rituals, ceremonies, marking life events, and preserving cultural traditions.

In summary, the Holy Fire (Okuruwo) is not only a religious symbol but also a cultural cornerstone for the Ovaherero people, connecting them with their spiritual beliefs, ancestral heritage, and cultural identity, providing guidance, protection, and continuity to their traditions.

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