Herero Wedding

In early December I had the chance to attend a colleague’s traditional Herero wedding in Otjokavare. Though the ceremony (that part of it at least) went on for the whole weekend we decided to attend on the Sunday morning.

Originally there were 7 of us from the office to go so I had a full car. On the morning this turned into 6, then 5, then 4, then 3, then 2 and ultimately back to 3.

It took about 2 hours to get to Otjokavare, a village just above the Red Line (i.e. just with us in bandit-cow country).

Decorated Bridal Hut

We found the place easily enough as they had been kind enough to put a big sign on the bridal hut (please note I’m sure this and every other term I wrongly use have proper Otjiherero names and all that but I don’t know them). Muuaa is, I’m assured, our colleague who I know by three other entirely different names.

I was allowed into the Bridal Hut as an honorary relative (the only men allowed inside). The bride stays in the hut for over a week before the ceremony living in a kind of bridal tent inside the bridal hut.

Herero Wedding Bridal Tent

Apparently for the last week the groom had been coming to sleep inside the hut as well but they were not allowed to talk to each other even to answer a simple question like “where are my shoes”.

Lots of family were turning up and in high spirits. Plenty came in and posed with the bride in or out of the tent.

Bride and family inside Bridal Tent

Children Looking at Digital Pictures of a Herero Bride

After a while the proper business of the day began and a procession came up the road of the groom and his family.

Procession of the Groom at a Herero Wedding

The groom is the guy in the middle with the funky white hat on.

Once the groom was down at the holy fire the bride and her family processed down as well.

Procession of the bride to the ceremony

Everyone gathered at the holy fire, the bride and groom sitting next to each other but with eyes fixed downward. A village elder (one of the brides uncles) then led the ceremony which unfortunately I didn’t understand a word of though it was explained to me in dribs and drabs.

Herero Wedding Holy Fire Ceremony

The memorable bits were a staged argument between the family of the bride and that of the groom over the dowry and how good a wife the bride would make and the spitting.

The uncle drank from a cup (of water I think) then spat it liberally first over the bride and then after another mouthful over the groom.

Herero Wedding Holy Fire Ceremony - 2

Having not been clever enough to realise there would be a lot of standing in the open at the holy fire and without a hat or sunblock I retreated discretely to the shade of a nearby tree.

Herero Wedding Holy Fire Ceremony - 3

One of the children decided to come and pull me back into the circle but when that failed was happy to play “Injo, Arikana… Rar!” with me which is my Otjiherero version of “Come here, please… [then when the child approaches] RAR!” (repeat ad nausium or until said child gets bored and decides to start plucking your arm-hair instead).

Child at the Herero Wedding

When the ceremony was finished the bride and groom were loaded up and sent off to the groom’s family home (in Gobabis some 800km away) for another part of the ceremony. There was lots of wheel spinning, blowing of horns and wishing of luck.

It was all excellent fun and a good chance to have a cultural insight and meet new people many of whom I keep bumping into in Opuwo.


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