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Opinion - The life and times of Jarimbovandu Kaputu

2021-03-11  Staff Reporter

Opinion - The life and times of Jarimbovandu Kaputu
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Gerson Uaripi Tjihenuna

During the early hours of yesterday I received a text message from my daughter that Jarimbovandu Kaputu had passed on. I was not surprised at all because I knew that he had been battling ill health for some time.

In remembering this great son of the soil, I want to re-publish a piece I wrote on him for “New Era” in September 2019. On 26 September 2019, I was part of an audience that attended an inaugural lecture given by Kaputu after he had been bestowed with an honorary doctorate degree by Unam for his expertise in the Otjiherero language and Ovaherero culture. The inaugural lecture was hosted by the NBC Omurari service. 

Kaputu was a living legend and his expertise in the Otjiherero language and culture was beyond compare. I think his recognition by Unam was, by any stretch of the imagination, long overdue.

Kaputu is to Ovaherero culture what Shakespeare is to the English culture or what Langenhoven is to the Afrikaans culture. One speaker at that occasion made reference to the fact that the translation of HIV and AIDS as Ondui ye Hinga and Ehinga in Otjiherero language – that has become common currency – was Kaputu’s invention. That means that he was not only a master of metaphor who had a way with words, but he invented new words too, thus contributing to the growth of a language he so much loved.

After many speakers had spoken, Kaputu eventually took the floor and the audience gave him a befitting standing ovation. He delivered his lecture in Otjiherero but with eloquence and style, keeping his audience spellbound for about 20 minutes. The listeners held onto every word that this great historian, poet, philosopher and cultural activist uttered; and you could almost hear a pin drop.  Jarii – as he was popularly known – was in his element. He eloquently narrated the family lineages of some of the outstanding Ovaherero warriors who had made a name for themselves during the 1904 – 1908 anti-colonial war of resistance. He then went on to give a graphic account of some of the battles according to the different geographic locations where these battles had taken place.  

Kaputu informed his listeners that he had learnt about the Ovaherero history and culture at the feet of his late grandmother whom he described in rich and colourful tones. In referring to his beloved late grandmother, he almost lost composure as emotions got the better of him, but he immediately gathered himself. 

Colonialism was not only a political and economic project; but a cultural project too. The cultural impact of colonialism has been more damaging, because after many years of political independence, many Afrikans are still struggling to embrace their own cultural identity. Many Afrikans would fall over themselves to try to speak a European language with a “cultured” accent, while those who are fluent in their own Afrikan languages are often ridiculed. Kaputu’s teachings, in his own native language, are a major contribution to the greater, but fragmented, Pan-Afrikan identity. It is about the self-definition and self-identification of all of us regardless of ethnic origin. 

The black race has gone through many dehumanising experiences, e.g. the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and all manner of discrimination and degradation. This, in turn, has led to inferiority complex and negative self-image because, for the most part, we have been defined by others – and not in the most positive of terms to say the least. This definition has mainly been in the shadows of others where we are defined as “outsiders” who are “not good enough” according to Eurocentric standards. Sadly, most of our people have come to accept that “definition”. The problem with race-based inferiority complex is that, for the most part, the victim does not seem to be aware that he/she is a victim.

We should create our own space to tell our own story. This was what Kaputu dedicated his entire life to. For too long our story has been told by others. As the saying goes “…as long as the antelope does not tell its own story, hunting will continue to be told from the hunter’s perspective.” In the simplest of terms, the Kaputu narrative is basically about telling our own story, as Afrikans, in the broad sense of that word.

However, the dichotomy of Kaputu’s teachings lies in the fact that it was difficult to tell his story to a wider audience in English.  His teachings could not be rendered effectively in a Western language without losing originality and depth.  English words are too tame and distant to describe the measure of this immersion narrator who was steeped in the history and culture of his people. He and I belong to the Ovakuendata and Ombandi clans respectively; and he would always refer to me as uncle. Rest in peace philosopher, poet, historian and cultural activist.

2021-03-11  Staff Reporter

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