On Monday morning 10 March, Uzeraije Tjaverua, a radio announcer of the popular radio programme Keetute, played a tune, which mostly breaks news of the passing on of someone of high standing in society – usually a traditional leader. I was deeply apprehensive that bad news was coming our way and waited with abated breath to eventually hear the news that Alexander Jarimbovandu Kaputu (known as Tjikuume waMbakaha) was no more.
Although I had known Alexander Kaputu as a teacher at Otjinene Primary School and later as a young radio announcer, in the late 1970s, we served together on the Otjherero Language Committee with other committee members, where we developed the language for use in schools. Kaputu’s passion for Otjiherero was immediately observable, as he made an impact on the committee. At that early stage of his professional career, he demonstrated the deep wealth of knowledge he possessed in respect of Ovaherero oral history, tradition and praise songs. What we witnessed at that stage was merely an appetiser of what was to come.
Kaputu was one of the leading champions of Ovaherero cultural and religious practices and practised what he ardently believed in: the belief in the existence of the spirits of his forefathers. As a traditionalist, he supported the old established customs and beliefs of Ovaherero. In fact, he was one of the prominent custodians of the sacred fire, which he enthusiastically promoted through the radio programme Omaraa waNdjambi kOotate (God’s counsel/message to our forefathers). By means of this programme, he has laid a strong foundation for maintaining and sustaining adherence to the sacred fire so as to ensure its survival amidst new developments and opposing religious faith. He was a natural-born narrator who has preserved Ovaherero history, culture and tradition.
To cement his roots in his tradition and culture, he revived his clan’s ancestral/sacred fire that his clan’s elders rekindled for him at his traditional homestead at Ombakaha. Kaputu communicated with his ancestral spirits and performed the rituals and ceremonies required to appease the ancestral spirits or mediate between him and Ndjambi (God). No wonder that he instructed his family not to allow Christian religious services to be performed at his funeral or death commemoration ceremonies. His desire was that his burial should strictly follow Ovaherero burial protocol.
Kaputu strongly supported male circumcision among Ovaherero and encouraged the young circumcision regiments (oviwondo) to practice it as originally intended. On several platforms, he warned those who tend to mete out corporal punishment to those who violate circumcision regiment (otjiwondo) rules to desist from such a un-Herero practice.
Kaputu was an active member of the Ovaherero Red Flag, which he joined at a young age and participated in it enthusiastically. As a unifier who did not favour factionalism, he requested that all the Ovaherero traditional flags: red, white and the Ovambanderu green flag, should be allowed to pay tribute to him should they wish to do so.
He was a natural-born narrator, who preserved Ovaherero social practices such as (ongura yondiro noyovikurya), whereby people ‘crack jokes’ to console one another during times of bereavement, or encourage sharing of food, or combating stinginess. During such practice his contagious laugh is something many of us will always remember and sorely miss.
Tributes poured in from near and far. Dr Kaputu was, in fact, a renowned figure amongst his community; the role he played as an oral history expert who shared what he knew freely transcended tribal boundaries, and found an echo internationally. It is indeed gratifying that the University of Namibia accorded him the doctorate degree while he was alive. Surely honouring Dr Kaputu with an official burial is recognition of his contribution towards nation building; the President deserves a word of appreciation for that generous gesture. May Jarimbovandu’s soul join and rejoice with his ancestral spirits for whom “he is going to carry water”.
*Theophilus Kamupingene is a retired educationalist