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The path to landing a Nama bride

2019-03-18  Staff Reporter

The path to landing a Nama bride
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Steven Klukowski

KEETMANSHOOP - Whereas it is common practice in parts of the world – predominantly in Western society - for couples to get married with or without the consent of their parents, it is a totally different story within Namibia’s Nama tradition. 

The Nama are the largest group of the Khoikhoi people, most of whom have largely disappeared as a group, except for the Namas. Many of the Nama clans live in southern Namibia and the other smaller groups live in Namaqualand, which today straddles the Namibian border with South Africa.

For thousands of years the Khoisan peoples of South Africa and southern Namibia maintained a nomadic life - the Khoikhoi as pastoralists and the San people as hunter-gatherers. The Nama originally lived around the Orange River in southern Namibia and northern South Africa. 

At a recent traditional Nama ‘wife-asking’ ceremony in Keetmanshoop, parents and family of the prospective groom had to visit the house of his future bride in order to negotiate for her to be ‘handed over’ to them. 

Explaining the sequence of rituals and their meaning to New Era was a woman who is one of *Melanie’s (bride) elders.
This family elder, who preferred anonymity, has participated in such ceremonies over the years as her own daughters - who are already married – had to endure the same tradition.

When this reporter arrived at the house where the ceremony would take place, all the gates were locked. This, the elders explained, was to ensure the groom and his family have no carefree access to the residence of the bride.
*Basil, the groom, has to be accompanied by his family to the house of his wife-to-be.

“When they [Basil’s family] arrive, the first fundamental ritual will be for them to plead for the gate to be opened,” said the elder.
And indeed, after Basil’s family arrived, they were sent back twice by one of the future bride’s aunts. She didn’t have to say a word to the visiting entourage. She waved a white handkerchief up and down to signal that Basil and his army of relatives were not welcome – just yet.
At a third attempt of asking for permission to enter, the visitors were finally allowed in.
Immediately, a white goat was sacrificed through slaughtering in the backyard of the house.

Elders explained that because the bride already has children (with the groom), slaughtering the white goat was to cleanse her of her impurity with the blood of the goat. Another explanation for this was that goat blood was a sign  - from the man’s family – of asking for forgiveness on behalf of their son who impregnated the woman prior to marriage. 

Once the elders and family members were seated and introduced to each other at the place of discussion, the future groom was subjected to thorough interrogation with regard to the details of his relationship with the future bride and if he will be able to identify her when requested. “One of Basil’s aunts will now proceed to wash the front and back doors of Melanie’s home as a sign of washing away all the wrongdoings they might have caused to her and her family,” explained the woman. 

Following this was the ritual of the couple having to wash their hands in a basin filled with goat blood. This was to signal that the two have now forgiven each other all the hurt their relationship has caused.

Despite several request by the in-laws for Melanie to be brought before them, her family, in a surprise piece of tradition, insisted they did not know her and that if she existed, she was not with them. 
This piece of stand-off, according to elders, was to show resilience that the woman is revered in her family and can thus not be given away so easily.

Next on the agenda was a session where the hosts had to serve their new in-laws with tea and coffee. 
Prior to serving the family, two elder women from Basil’s family presented the future bride’s family with an array of gifts, including tea, coffee, sugar, fresh milk and paraffin, to mention but a few. 

“This signalled to Melanie’s family that the in-laws are having plenty of food available and that their future daughter-in-law will never starve in her marriage,” explained the anonymous woman.

With the bride’s hard-to-please family not convinced to give her over, Basil and his mother were ordered to humbly ask the host family for Melanie’s hand. 
After lengthy negotiations, Melanie was at last allowed to enter the place where the two families congregated for discussions.

She entered with her face covered with a white cloth since her future husband was not allowed to see her face yet. 
He was then asked by the elders to prove to them that this was indeed the woman he intended to marry by identifying any mark or sign on her body. 

This was to convince Malanie’s family that Basil would be able to identify his future wife under any given circumstances. 
Basil didn’t take long before he pointed to a tattoo on Melanie’s lower leg. Melanie was at last presented to her new in-laws.

Although Basil’s family have found Melanie during the ritual, it does not warrant that she will be handed over for marriage yet, explained her elders. 

“The family of Melanie still needs time to iron out some domestic issues, but chances are good that she will be handed over for marriage to her in-laws during the next meeting,” concluded the woman.
With the rituals having taken place days earlier, New Era now understands that Melanie and Basil eventually engaged over the weekend - on Saturday.


2019-03-18  Staff Reporter

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