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December 27, 2005

For Some Practical Anthropology.

“Why are you drinking?” asked Engelbert for a young lady. “I drink because I don’t have a job, what else could I do?”
Hum, interesting point of view. I think those near my tend, who are now singing for more than two hours would say the same. They are all drunk, as always, because there is no job to work on, there is no school for those who were “left behind”, there are no curses to help then to get a job and there is no money. There are just drinks and songs.
Since I got here in Okondjato I am wondering how they all became poor. I say “became” because one day their forefathers maybe were not so different than they are now, always around their fires, all drunk, dancing and singing songs, but they were not poor, they were traditional.
Maybe the songs could help us to understand better these transformations. I’ve never heard those forefathers singing, but I can know for sure they were not singing these catholic hymns their sons are singing now. The problem is not on the songs it self but on the process that brought these songs to their lives. The colonialism and the development transformed tradition in poverty.
The first one, on fact, just changed the tradition, it became weak. All those missionaries saying the holy fires were bad, giving the natives cloths, saying that polygamy was wrong and all those governs taking their cattle and their land, started to change Herero’s traditional way of life in such a way that some times is ironic – like on the women Victorians dress, that until today are the Herero’s “traditional” women clothes. But it was when those colonialists decided to develop “their” territory that finally tradition started to become poverty.
Now to get their food the natives would have to work, but their “prices” would be very cheap, so they would not have money to sustain a whole family like their forefathers did with theirs hunts. So now – using that Casttles’ word I don’t liked but I think here can be well used – they are on a process of desfiliacìon with their traditions.
They profaned the sacred trying to save their way of life. As I said for one young man involved politically here in Okondjato, “development has his own tradition”, they need to find a way to have it with out loosing the rest of their tradition.
Now, you want some practical Anthropology? There it’s. There are a lot of things to be done here. They need development projects that understand their cultures and not destroy them and there is no one better than anthropologists to do it.

Posted by josue at 11:04 AM

Profaning the Sacred

This history is, for me, the initial history of Hereros’ loose of tradition. And it didn’t happened, on my point of view, just because of those first missionaries and colons, but also with Herero’s loyal family own desire to develop their people and to be like the “white man”.
We can begin on the period before the first German missionary came to the territory, when the Herero people had a strong belief on the holy fire and their ancestors. People trusted on theirs god and saints, they would go to the “papa” – owner of the family holy fire – and asked for some blessing, cure, et cetera and the papa would go before the holy fire – today it is a simple place, some wood traditionally putted between the papa’s house and his family kraal that had to be in front of his house, in the middle of the family village – claim for their family ancestors for all those requests, and every morning, when the sun was coming out and every sunset, the papa would go there, put fire on some stokes, talk to the ancestor to remember all those requests, so they could let god know about it and give the blessings for his people. The “papa” usually would also walk into the houses with this burning wood to bless their homes. As any of those traditional religions, there were some rules that had to be treated with respect, or all those requests would not be realized. Herero people are divided in totemic groups, so, as we know, every groups has some particularly rules, like not eat some kind of animal, et cetera.
Well, between the 1830s, Germans missionaries came to the Herero people talking about their god and the power of it. They said the holy fire was wrong and the only solution for all they was the bible. Some Hereros became Christians and some of the non-Christians start to see that the new Christians were fine, they were being blessing with good plantations and cattle, so, when the holy fire’s believers sow it, they and their religion it self became weak and all its believers were now disappointed with their god because those traitors had not been punished by their ancestors, so they start to think the holy fire was not so strong. To fulfill these problems, those who don’t wanted to become Christians went to the Ovambo people to get the witch crafters’ magic, what until now were separated from the holy fire’s scheme. The sacred started to be profaned.
<< Now, just a little more information before to continue our history. It was the nine of this month when I went to see Matuzee’s grandmother. An 89 years old lady, very week, but with a lot of information. When I asked her how the witchdoctors came into the holy fire rituals, she said, very angry that this was German’s missionaries’ faults. They were the ones to “lead” the Herero people to look for something different for what those missionaries were saying to find their strength again. They needed something to hear them, to attend their requests as quickly were possible – as magic always do –, because the holy fire alone were not working any more. So the colonialism changed some thing from Hereros’ traditional religion.
But we need to have on mint that on traditional tribes – or primitive people as the Hereros could be called on that time – the religion is very close to the government – those political aspects of their life – and to the social life. So when you start to change the religion you must know some time you’ll change all the society and finally get what you, as a colonialist want: to rule. And it was not different with Herero people. >>
So, after that first profanation – as I’m calling those religious changes – and after more the 50 years, on 1890 died the great Herero Leader, Maherero. He was a smart man, but was his wisdom that some how leave him to death. You know, after not so much time of colonization the Germans leaders were trying to get all this land for their own, so, they simply went to Maherero to ask it. << Hum, ironic as always >> But – this time just funny – Maherero would just take some bucket and put some sand inside and give – smartly – the “land” to the Germans. Well maybe the Germans were not so patient so they went to Maherero son, Samuel Maherero and started to give him food, cloths and a lot of drinks. Quickly they started to ask him how they could have the land. “Just killing my father, this way I’ll be the new leader and I can give you the land” it was the answer, “but how to do it”, the Germans continued, “Just shot him”. But they didn’t want to do it that way, so they ask for another way to kill him. And they got it when Samuel Maherero said that their family has a totemic group and they can not eat animals with rows or with the sand color (their sand: kind of yellow). Finally, the Germans – with Samuel Maherero informational help – just went to Maherero house, and putted a Camel in front of his house and than called for him. The grandmother said that when he sows it, on the same time he got seek, but didn’t die. Just later, on 1890 Samuel Maherero mother made a camel’s soup and when Maherero proved he died with no air, the soup just stuck on his trough.
The history goes on with the peace treat between Samuel Maherero – representing the Herero people – and Germans colons. Samuel though German’s would help his people to have all those good things they were giving him, he though Herero people, would now, with this friendship be developed as the Germans. But it wasn’t like that, soon the Germans started to ask for all Herero Land and, when Samuel Maherero sows that there were nothing he could do to stop them, the war finally started and ended with 65% of Herero people died and the Germany’s victory.
Later that, the Herero people continued to be explored, even later when the Holland “Boas” called Hereros for another battle against Germans. Even with Holland victory the Herero people had not get any thing of those development’s countries had, just the poor side.
Today almost all Hereros in Namibia – during the war a lot of Hereros migrated to Angola, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa – live in the villages, with out job, some times with out a house, light or water.
Where is the traditional way of life? I just see people fighting to survive.

Posted by josue at 11:03 AM

December 11, 2005


I had a good night, waked up at 8:30 for the service at the little church they have here. That is interesting, because, they don’t needed a little church here to do a service, they are not so much, so they could do it at some ones house. It looks like the holy fire traditional scheme when each village (a group of the same family) had to have one.
The service was very beautiful, wonderful songs (I recorded), they have beautiful voices. After the songs they had a testimony time, so almost all of the fifteen people inside went in the front to say something or just sing a song. Clement was in the front translating for me. After every one testimony, he said would be good if I went there just to present my self, so I just said about my wily to know their culture. It was all right. Then Engelbert preached and after 2h and 30 min the service was finished.
It was almost middle day, so I just took a book from my tend and some water and went to Jefta’s house where I took my lunch too. Good spaghetti. After lunch I just talked with Engelbert and he told me that later, after his rest we could go on to walk on the farm, but later time became against us and we couldn’t do it. That was good, because after the I rest a little too, I went to call up Engelbert but he was still sleeping, so I just took the guitar and played for some time, until Lindsay (Jefta’s daughter) called me saying her father want me to play for him at his house. So there was I, pleasing him, so Clement and Engelbert appeared and we start to talk, on fact I was just listening their talk with their father in Otjiherero, and thinking about some thing interesting to say or ask. We started talking about some songs, we played a little more, later Engelbert went help some kids to kill and prepare a sheep and I remembered the yesterday talking about their descendent, Clement had told me they were Maherero descendents, so I ask more about their genealogy, I asked Clement if his parents knew their genealogy. He answered that they would know something, but not any thing. So he asked his parents – his father was sitting on an old bad and his mother was sitting on the ground. Clement and I were on chairs – about it. We had a lot of talking about it, they’re all trying to remember every thing. It was very good, Clement get interested too when he sow they were just three generations far from the great Maherero. After a long time about it, Jefta told that his mother would know every thing about it. So I just asked if we could stay one or two days with her so I could talk to her and try to do their genealogy history. He said yes, we are going to go there on Wednesday.
I think this was a good idea, to go after their genealogy. I’m thinking about writing down their family history, maybe can be a good think to do, trying to study the religion tradition from those who don’t have it any more and than go to the traditional believers, some thing like “The Lost of Tradition on a Herero Family” I think it would be a good book chapter. I just am kind of worried about my future, if all this we put me in the top, will I really became a good anthropologist? I hate all this questions. But I’m here, so I just need to focus on my work and have good questions.
After all this talking and these self-questioned and not yet answered questions, I could learn some words on Otjiherero; I should get something to write down all this. Of all things I learned the best was ngunda merihongo koutitititi that means “I still learning Otjiherero, little by little”. I have to learn their language better and faster I can, it’s very interesting how they stay surprise and happy when you learn some words, and just start to say it.
Later I got my first shower at Namibian terrain, in the middle my Sarah just called me, oh how I miss her. After my shower I went to Engelbert house (where my tend is) and we drunk some coffee and talked a lot about many things. I kind of learn a lot of others words, but I don’t remember very much, I should really start to put all this words on a paper.
The night was just beautiful again. Finally I went to my tend to write down all this and get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll gets up early – as always – to go to Okundjato where we are planning to stay for 10 days and them we’ll came back to the farm until new year. Okarara Nawa.

Posted by josue at 06:28 PM


I waked up at 7 am with a baby cry and everyone’s noise. But its okay, I really had some stuff to do. They gave me some milk to drink (not so tasteful) and bread. Now in the day light I can see the farm. It’s very big – Engelbert told me there are 500 hectares –; there is a first house – just when you enter through the farm’s gate – where stays Jafta, his wife, his adoptive daughter and his son Clement with his family (when they are on the farm, they don’t live there). There is another gate that lead to the little church they had inside the farm, another gate that lead to Engelbert’s house (where he stays, with his wife and his two kids – a boy and a girl –, when he’s in the farm). In the rest of the farm there is some plantation places, a kraal with some chickens, ships and cows and some three or four houses made with some rests of cars and houses where live the farm’s workers. Out side the central home (Jefta’s one) there is a place for the fire (there is one in each house) and a big coals cool room when they put all those ship and cows meat they have.
When I got out, everyone was around the fire – like they always do, drinking some tea or doing some sour milk porridge (in Otjiherero stays oruhere romaere). I kind of meet every one, I mean, we just made some head movements and every one, as me, smiled, a lot. After that I went through the gates until Engelbert’s house to meet his own family. I think that maybe he is sad because I didn’t slept in his house. Yesterday he asks me to talk with his wife on the telephone when we were on his sister’s house. But now would be okay, I finally met his family.
After that Engelbert and me started doing my tend. It was all right, it’s not the best one, but it has space, and that’s the most important.
Good talking in the afternoon. I just went to Jefta’s house so I could be familiarized with them and start doing some contact. So I just start talking with clement about Engelbert. I was asking why don’t his brother and his family stay in their house, away from the others. He said that is the way he is, but any way, there is a tradition between Herero people that when some woman get married she has to stay just with her husband, at home, for two or three months, but after that, he said, every thing become normal again. When he finished, he started to translate our talking to his father, and so, Jefta started drawing in the send something like a circle with some village houses. (See the drawing on my notes)
After he finished drawing he started to explain it to Clement and every one that as me just got closed to see the draw and listen what he was saying. After a kind of long explanation, Clement translated to me, saying that his father was drawing about the Herero’s life on their genesis. He continued: “on the beginning love was a strong feeling between the villages” – that on the time were divided into families –, the chief of the family lived on the big house in front of the kraal – power and richness indicator –, in his right lived his brothers and sisters family, in the other side it was his sons and daughters – as always if the woman got married with a man of another village she must go after him and leave her family. So, he said that when, for example, when some one cooked some thing (it didn’t matter if it was the some food of the other) they just put some on a plate and changed with the other families, so that, said Clement, “created a love way between each other”. Jefta continued, and Clement translated again: What he – his father – can see today is that those “love ways” are fading out. On past times, when some father’s sons got married, they would receive from him some caws and so the sons could go a way and make up his own family, with his own village. Only the last son to get married – usually the younger – was responsible for taking care if the parents. When he gets married he should still stay in the village taking care of his parents. Jefta talks again doing some theater acts about that: He took a spoon and just putted on his month as if he was smoking some pipe, and so, he started pointing to something as if it was the tobacco, and them pointing to Clement (the younger son) and them to the “pipe”. He was wondering who would put tobacco on his pipe if the youngest son didn’t do it? And also, who would clean up his wife – because on that time mothers usually didn’t took bath – if not his youngest son’s wife. Every one laugh. Very funny man. After that Jefta ask Clement to ask me what else I wanted to know? There is a lot of thing, of course. But I couldn’t just starting question a lot of things. So I just asked how does the religion worked out on these places, if each family prayed in different ways, if they use different ancestors. Clement translated saying that the “holy fire” is the only creator god, but each family has their on ancestors that they use to access god. Ones stay in the front of the holy fire and ask what ever this one need in the name of his ancestors. So each family has different ancestors that can be powerful from than the others. Matuzee family, for example, is descendent of the great leader Maherero that was the Herero’s leader in the beginning of the last century. So when they’re not Christians they usually used Maherero as a way to god, and that – being Maherero descendents – made them strong. They could go to others villages and take every one as slaves by the “power of Maherero”.
Finally, I’m on Jefta’s house writing down all that while they are talking and the children are kidding on the yard. They were all laughing on my because I need to write every thing so I’ll not forget it. They sow I was drawing and Jefta just ask me to see the drawing I did of his own draw. Very fun. Jefta is a good person and I think he has a lot to tell me.
The night goes one, we seat around the fire on Jefta’s house. If you look to the huge field you can see some other fire spots, the only light mixed with the stars (ozonyose) and the moon (omueze). Beautiful night, I drunk some nice tea and followed a baby in the dark until Engelbert’s where my tend is. We talked about any thing special. Some falling stars and some walking ones going to Okondjato’s direction, I’m anxious to get there. I think this time in the farm has been a good preparation time before I go to Okundjato. I just learned some words on Otjiherero. I think I’ll buy some thing to do like a dictionary. I tasted some cuto’s meat (animal like a horse but with some big horns). Very nice, the meat is usually eaten fresh, not so blooding fresh, but just partially done. It’s very hard to eat, but we just putted some on the fire so it got more soft.
Karare nawa (good night)

Posted by josue at 06:13 PM


After a good sleeping night, I waked up at 7:00 am to go to the airport take my final flight to Namibia. Once again we took the train, this time it wasn’t so scaring, again there was a lot of people (I could not find a place to seat down), but not so much as yesterday. This time Ana said I could take some photos.
In the airport I talked with a man that was going to Namibia, he is a Herero descendent and he said his uncle live on Okundjato where I’m going to stay. Funny guy.
Once in Namibian little international airport there was Engelbert Matuzee, Clement Matuzee and their father, Jafta Matuzee who don’t speak English. Also there was that little funny man I met on Johannesburg airport. He was there talking with the Matuzee family. He said he would visit us on Okundjato.
The rest of the day was very full. I needed to buy a tend, some fruits, exchange some money, send some emails, make some phone calls (what I didn’t get) and in the last of the day, after almost all this things we still went to visit some Jefta’s daughters. So we walked a lot and I think it was more than 9 pm when we finally drove home.
We drove for 220 km until Jefta’s farm. We will only go to Okundjato on Monday. Okundjato stays 68 km far from here.
In the farm there is no energy, so as we got there at 12 pm I just took my sleeping bag and putted on Jefta’s living room.

Posted by josue at 06:03 PM

December 02, 2005

Johannesburg, who is the exotic?

After some 9 hours of flight I finally got on Africa. Just amazing, no words and I think those next months will be just wonderful.
The Johannesburg International Airport is a total mess, no one see your baggage, no one to indicate where to go, you just go. It was very funny, every one was lost until we finally find some checkout points. Since there is okay, the interesting was when I got out side. There was a friend of a friend mine, Ana, waiting for me. So we met each other and quickly went to see some stuff about my baggage. After that – every thing was okay – I said I need to make some phone calls, mom, dad, girlfriend and that’s it. Now comes the amazing part, of course that now it’s easy to be calm, but on at the time…
So, we finally decided to go home, or better, her and her husband home – they live with their children in a Baptist Church on…. . She said her husband wouldn’t come to get us, so we would have to use a cab, a train or a little bus. The problems were that the cab was very expensive, the little bus has the dangerous drivers - that take you and in the middle of the “way home” stop the van and stole some money from you – and there was the train, in the middle of a industrial area, also very dangerous (I came to realize that a lot of things can be dangerous on Johannesburg) and where I was the only white one. So now, after apartheid, I’m the exotic one.\
It was strange, every one looks at me, they seen to say that I was on the wrong place and I think I was almost saying “I known I know”. So no pictures on this first day, Ana told me to not take pictures. After all, I get “home” safety and all my afraid became excitement and more anxious. In the end of the day I took some pictures, later I post it.

Posted by josue at 11:13 AM

Waiting the exotic

(during my flight from Buenos Aires from Johannesburg)
Airports, good places to do ethnographies, this messing of people, different languages and cultures in the same “little” place. Interesting.
Well, it’s in the middle of all this diversity that I can enjoy a funny “quaranic verses” radio on the airplane. Funny just like my position as ethnographer, that is always questioned by that postmodern world. I remember last Saturday class about poststructuralist theories. It’s terrifying to think that all work I’ll do can be depreciated for the only reason that me, as a anthropology student, am not scientific enough. But, please you don’t have to worry, I have “good eye” for this things – just being ironic once more.
Yeah, I’m anxious to get in there soon. I just finished reading the Maus texts about magic, very interesting. I’ve always liked the idea of the magic system being the community’s exacerbate to find mana. I just cant wait to transport all this to the realities.

Posted by josue at 11:10 AM