By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
Close to 40 horse riders march up and down the gravel road sending up a cloud of dust giving the effect of an explosion of firepower.
No, there is no firepower. This is 103 years after the German-Ovaherero/Ovambanderu War of 1904-7. The horse riders are part of the 103rd commemoration of the Extermination Order against the Ovaherero here about 20 km east of Otjinene, the capital of the Otjinene Constituency in the Omaheke Region.
The horse riders, who resemble a parade of some sort, have a field weekend starting from this Saturday afternoon during which they skirt the site as well as the shrine here. Traditional priests use the shrine to link spiritually with the ancestors notifying them of the presence of their descendants and guests, as well as asking them for their blessing in entreating on such a sacred place roamed by their spirits.
Ovaherero women stylishly clad in traditional gear in archaic fashion dating back to the war times of their foremothers do not only spice up the commemoration but also evoke the wartime memories. As if this is not enough in a true warlike explosion they broke into female war chants, known as ondoro.
This chant is legendary especially during the war of resistance against German colonial troops when women were constructively engaged in the war by sending through their chants coded messages to local troops that the German commanders could not pick up or understand. The chants rhymes with the horse trotting and provides the ideal traditional entertainment and reception befitting the occasion as vehicles loaded with traditionalists started trickling in one by one.
Temporarily the freedom of the main road between Otjinene and Epata has been awarded to this event, especially the horse riding and parade drill. The horse riding and war chants reach a crescendo as Paramount Chief Riruako and his entourage arrive around 16h00. By this time, the traditional priest has already processed hordes of people through the shrine for the traditional welcoming and introduction to the ancestors.
Traditional protocol dictates that the Paramount Chief must not arrive to an empty house. Grey-haired men are already scattered in groups under trees waiting for the arrival of their supreme leader and reflecting on community current affairs and updating one another on their reparation claim. It is not hard to guess the arrival of the Chief as everybody goes striding towards the sacred shrine to witness the welcoming of the Chief and his submission to the ancestors.
If you think the arrival of the Chief signals the climax, you got it wrong. The best has been saved for last.
Everything seems to be in place and where one stops the other starts. As sunset approaches the women’s traditional dances come to the fore in full force. Hitherto they have only been rehearsing. Now they mean serious business as they take position for the last item of the day. And they do not disappoint the crowd, taking it into the wee hours of the morning.
Sunday morning starts with the laying of wreaths at the graves of those who ended their journey here before the crowd proceeds to the sand hill. This sand hill served as the observation post by the German forces and here 103 years ago this year, the commander of the German Imperial forces then, General Lothar von Trotha, announced on behalf of the German Imperial government, the Extermination Order against the Ovaherero.
This was on October 2, 1904 to be exact.
The rest is history. Here the Paramount Chief makes brief remarks before the crowd retreats to the tent near the shrine for the messages of the day. The event closes with a corner stone ceremony with all and sundry putting a stone at the shrine in memory of the war heroes and heroines of the 1904-7 war.
The people shall one day build a monument here. “Declaration seat of the Extermination Order, Last Retreat of Our Valiant Warriors, Poisoned Waterholes, Execution Chambers, Monument to the Scattered Bones of our People, Shrine of the Re-ignition of our Inspiration and the Bedrock of our Rededication to our long journey towards Reconstruction, Restoration, Justice and Restitution,” declare the organisers of the event, the Ovaherero Genocide Committee. This seems no idle declaration.