My Family – Part II
During those days, my father used to be active in hunting, especially of giraffe and eland. The large skin of the giraffe was specially prepared and always worn by the Chief’s senior wife. When my father was a boy he would never ride a horse, but always ran alongside while more senior members of the family of the Chief, his councilors or warriors would ride on horseback. Later, when hunting on horseback himself, he would make sure that his mount went where the giraffe or eland he was chasing had just passed through, before the branches of the trees closed up. My father’s body was marked with great scars, where the flesh had been torn off in the chase by thorns of trees or branches.
My father was known to be one of the best runners in the whole district of Ongandjera, and he was also a famous hunter. If a beast such as a lion caused trouble or attacked cattle or goats in the surroundings, my father was often one of those who were called to deal with it because he was a sharpshooter with bow and arrows. No animal could get away if it ran in front of him – once he had taken aim he would shoot to kill, often with a single arrow. He was also a sharpshooter with firearms. Having grown up at the Chief’s palace, he knew all about these weapons and was well versed in their usage.
My mother was also from the Chief’s family. In my mother’s family, my mother is:
Mpingana-Helvi ja Kondombolo
Kondombolo ka Nakathingo
Nakathingo ja Kaambulua
Kaambulua ka Hango
Hango ja Ndjuluua
Ndjuluua ja Kiinge
Kiinge ka Mukongo
Mukongo gua Tshijala
Tshijala tsha Namundjanga
Namundjanga gua Nambala
These names were also all from the Chiefs of Uukuambi ethnic grouping in the Omusati Region. When my mother was grown she was baptized Helvi Kondombolo. I can still remember her father, my grandfather Kondombolo ka Nakathingo. I saw him when I was about four years old. He would have been born before the missionaries from Finland came to Ovamboland in 1870, which was itself before the Germans took the southern part of Namibia as a colony in 1884. Of my immediate family with whom I grew up at my parents’ home, I was the firstborn. I was born on 12 May 1929 in Ongandjera district. My sister Maria, who was immediately after me, died when she was a small child. Then came Frieda, who [lived] with my [late] mother as a widow [Nujoma’s mother Meekulu Mpingana-Helvi Kondombolo passed on in November 2008 at the age of 110 – Editor]. We were 11 children in all and all at home together, but now we are only six- three boys: myself, Hiskia and Noah, and three girls: Frieda, Sofia and Julia. We lost five. One was my younger brother Elia (Kanjeka), who joined us in the struggle for liberation in Zambia through Angola. He was among hundreds of the peoples’ Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), SWAPO military wing volunteers who were given intensive military training in Zambia and returned to the north-eastern front, where he died in battle on 1 January 1976.
As the eldest son, I had to look after them all, even carrying the little ones on my back. In our tradition, the mother would work on the land cultivating mahangu (millet), groundnuts and other crops, together with the father. I had to look after the cattle and goats, separating the calves from their mothers to prevent them from sucking milk from the cows before my father and I had milked the cows to provide milk for the family. I had a tough time having to do this with a baby on my back- sometimes also holding another by hand. Other boys used to laugh at me, calling out, “Look at this one! Why is he carrying a baby on his back like a girl?” But as I was the first- born, even though a boy, I had to do it. I would drive our cattle in a different direction so that my fellow cattle herders would not see me and laugh at me. In the evening we were supposed to milk the cows, put the milk in a calabash, produce butter and keep the milk, too.
My mother [recollected] how she once heard me singing, very loudly near our homestead, a song I had learnt from other boys when we were looking after cattle: “I’m going to make a problem with the whites.” She threatened me with her belt to make me stop as it was a taboo for a child to sing so loudly. I had learnt the word ‘problem’ somehow, but did not know what it meant. In those early days boys knew they would grow up and be recruited into the contract labour system. Some of the elder boys who went to work in the south told us dreadful stories of cruelties committed by white masters, of workers who were beaten or shot to death. Horror stories were told that some white employers fed their pigs with the flesh of black workers who would then be reported as having escaped. When we were old enough to be recruited we used to prepare ourselves against the possibility of being employed by a cruel Boer who would assault or beat workers with a whip. We trained ourselves in the art of hitting back, and the song my mother heard me singing was about how to fight the white man in self-defence.
My mother was in charge of the household, and worked in the fields (as she continued to do well into her nineties, although she could sit at home and do nothing if she so wished). As I was the eldest son, I sometimes had to assist my mother by pounding the millet when she was not feeling well, because otherwise we would have had no flour for the porridge, which we normally ate during lunch or dinner time. I would also help to fetch fresh water, as well as looking after my young sisters.
One of my main duties was to look after cattle, ‘the profession’ I enjoyed very much, like all other boys of those days. Near the houses, where there were many cattle, there would not be enough grass to keep the cattle in good condition, so I would have to go far, and my companions and I would stay together with the cattle. When summer came and grazing was most scarce, I would sometimes have to go to the cattle posts, perhaps 20 to 30 km away. There grazing was to be found, especially from September to December, and I would stay as long as three months.