The footsteps of a liberation struggle icon: Where Others Wavered, The Autobiography of Sam Nujoma

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My Family

 

My maternal grandfather, Kondombolo ka Kambulua, grew up in Uukuambi during the reign of Chief Nujoma ua Heelu [w,Eelu], who was a very popular Chief in the Uukuambi district. Kondombolo was trained as warrior and also as a herbalist. He knew all types of roots that could cure certain diseases including treating venom from dangerous poisonous snakes like the mamba. He was a fast runner and also a brave warrior.

During the Portuguese advance in southern Angola towards northern Namibia in the 1880s-90s, there were fierce battles between the Portuguese invading forces and Mbadja warriors led by Chief Shitekela sha Hiudulu. My grandfather Kondombolo was among the reinforcements sent by the Chief of Ongandjera. The warriors were armed with spears, bows and arrows, and fought heroically to prevent the Portuguese advancing into northern Namibia, which might otherwise have become part of Portuguese occupied Angola were it not for their brave resistance. With a spear, Kandombolo killed a Portuguese soldier and captured a carbine gun, which he brought back to Ongandjera. He was considered to be one of the heroes in the district and was presented with many cattle by the Chief of Ongandjera. As a boy, I was proud that I had been born into such a respected family.

 

My parents, both father and mother, like my grandfather and many generations before them, were also born in Uukuambi, and were both from the royal families of that region. My father was Utoni Daniel Nujoma – Nujoma ua Mutshimba, Mutshimba gua Kandenge, Kandenge ka Negumbo, Negumbo Iita Koongoti – [these] being his grandparents’ names. All these names are of a generation of chiefs of Uukuambi. He was later baptized Daniel Utoni Nujoma.

It was said that in ancient times our chiefs were fetched from a very distant place by envoys who would go away for three to four years to the north, where they would find the new Chief among people who spoke a language similar to our own. The new Chief-to-be would be brought back after a time to live among beautiful women who had been specially chosen within the tribe. From them he would learn the language, and he would then succeed as the Chief.

During my parents’ childhood, however, the young ones from the royal clan, particularly the boys, were always at risk of being eliminated because they would have been trained to defend the Chief’s palace and might be in the way of others aspiring to the throne. So at one point in my parents’ early years the Chief died and there was, of course, conflict to decide who, from among the royal family members, was going to succeed to the throne. My father therefore had to be rushed with his parents to the Ongandjera district, while he was still a small boy, as he would have been caught up in the power struggle. The same happened to my mother’s family, the Kondombolos.

Traditionally, as elsewhere in the world, when a son of the Chief of an ethnic grouping in the north, whether from Uukuanjama, Ondonga or one of the other groupings, goes to settle among another ethnic grouping in another part of the north, he is still respected and considered to be from the royal family of Ongandjera and he was given the task of looking after the Chief’s horses, often staying 30 km away from the residential areas, or homesteads where people lived, at a cattle post in the forest where grazing was plentiful.

My father grew up together with the San Community (Bushmen) from whom he learned how to prepare poisons cooked for 24 hours, fermented and put on arrow heads to shoot and kill antelope such as kudu or oryx. An animal struck with such a poisoned arrowhead will die quickly, thus assuring the hunter of fresh meat. He learned also which types of snakes were not poisonous and edible, such as python, and also how to cook them and to prepare a good meal by digging a hole, wrapping the meat with mopane tree leaves, making a fire and putting the meat in the hole with hot sand on top of the leaves and covered with charcoal that had been burning in the fire. After two or three hours there would be very delicious cooked meat, as if it had been grilled in the oven.

 

*This is the first installation of the New Era initiated series from the book Where Others Wavered, The Autobiography of Sam Nujoma: My life in SWAPO and my participation in the liberation struggle of Namibia. The series will appear each week on Tuesday.

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