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Drought threatens traditional norms

Drought threatens traditional norms

Placido Hilukilwa
THE negative effects of the drought that is currently devastating Namibia and many other Southern African countries are not limited to the scarcity of food for human consumption and poor grazing for the livestock.
The severe drought is even raising fears that it would permanently change the traditional way of life of many traditional communities in the North.
In conversation with Informanté, a number of community elders have described this year’s drought as “the worst in recent memory” and predicted that it would change their way of life and also turn a number of traditional norms upside down.

Photos: Placido Hilukilwa

“By our very nature we are not beggars. We are self sustaining crop farmers and cattle breeders. That is our natural vocation,” said Immanuel Hamalwa, Oshakati resident who is originally from Okongo in the Ohangwena Region.
He noted that traditionally a man’s “real worth” is measured against the number of head of cattle he owns and the volume of his yearly crop harvest. “The drought has denied us our yearly harvest and is now wiping out our animals thereby hitting at the very centre of gravity of our way of life, makings us destitute beggars,” he said.
Engela village headman Djeimo Popyeinawa mentioned two traditional norms that might change as a direct result of the drought.
One is about marriage: “Traditionally a man who is planning to marry must have at least two head of cattle: one for lobola and the other for the wedding feast,” he said.
The other is about death: “When there is death the bereaved family is expected to slaughter at least one ox for the consumption of those attending the funeral service,” he said adding that the two traditional norms will have to change because bovine population will not survive the current drought and people will have to consume goat meat or pork at weddings and mourners will have to start eating fish during bereavement.
He is urging churches and traditional authorities to start a ‘counselling programme’ targeting mostly the elderly who would be affected emotionally by the mass starvation of their livestock and the severe lack of food for their households.
Popyeinawa’s sentiments were echoed by Kashona Malulu, the junior traditional councillor of the Onalusheshete district of Ondonga which borders the Kavango West Region and which is well known for its abundant rain and excellent grazing, but where the situation this year is not any better.
“We are in serious trouble this year. The grazing is poor and there is no water. Our animals will starve en mass,” he said.
Malulu said that a number of cattle farmers who trekked all the way from the Kunene Region to the eastern areas of the Ohangwena and the Oshikoto regions now face a dilemma because the grazing is not as good as they expected and their animals are too weak to trek back to Kunene.
That is the first time in history that Himba cattle breeders have trekked with their herds to the border between Kavango and the former Owamboland in search of grazing for their animals.

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