Travels with V
Party, holy tree and a tired king
We anticipate that we’ll be on the road a whole day to be able to reach our first stop before sunset. But we arrive in the mining town of Tsumeb earlier than we thought, in the midst of a maelstrom of cars and people. It’s the yearly “Copper festival” and the park opposite our hotel is crammed with beer stands, grills and partying people. Spirits are high.
Tsumeb is built around an old copper mine, discovered and used long before whites came here by the ovambo people. And in many places in Namibia precious metals are mined, zinc, lead and mangan but also gold, diamonds and uranium. But in spite of this the wealth this generates most of the country is strangled by poverty and starvation. The income stays with rich international mining companies, often South African.
The next day the festival is over and tents and shacks are packed up and stored away. Seems like a good day to move on. Now it’s just a few hours drive to Ondangwa which we reach in time for lunch. Ondwanga isn’t much of a town, it’s more of an expanded crossroads with a bunch of modern supermarkets. But no real city center. Here we’ll meet some interesting people in connection with V:s ongoing project about matrifocal societies. We have hired a local guide to help us with translations, because out here in the bushland people don’t speak or understand English.
Here in north Namibia a great number of Finnish missionaries have been active for the last hundred years. And they have definitely left their mark. For instance a surprising number of people have Finnish names. You’ll remember that we mentioned Veikko that we met in Windhoek. And in the outskirts of Ondwanga we find the old Finnish missionary station, a quite big place with many houses. One of them of course being a sauna. Today this is a museum and there’s an apartment that you can rent for a few Namibian dollars.
We’re excited to go on our first trip out into the wilderness. We’re going to meet a real king! The mightiest man in the Ovambo kingdom of Ondonga. On the way we stop by one of the clan’s most holy totems, a gigantic baobab tree. It’s hollow and a small group of people can easily fit in there. It was used in the old days for rites, but under the ockupations soldiers have used is as their playground. Now it’s guarded by the king’s watchman.
The King doesn’t live in a palace, but in a humble mud house. There’s a bed outside the door and cat’s and chickens roam around us. The king is tired and ill but he softens up after a while and even agrees to a selfie.
In the Ovambo societies a man can only be a chief or a king if he has royal blood from his mother’s side. We ask the king about this matrilinear inheritance rule and if it creates any problems. For Ovambos the only real wealth and prosperity is measured in how many cows he or she owns. So naturally the king speaks about cattle:
But we are unhappy with our guide, he translates the king’s long answers quite reluctantly and with very few words. Later we hear that some of what he says are not at all what the king said. So we decide to find another guide for our next interviews.
On our way back to town we stop at a small factory where a women’s collective produce the nutricious and highly praised marula oil. It’s used both for cooking and skin care, and made from fruits of the marula tree.