Weeping the departed - ETANDO, a cultural form of art
Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro - December 2011/January 2012
“Ooweeoowee,” echoes the vibrant voices in chorus but at times solo in myriad differing tones, signalling the sad and sombre mood emanating from the interior of the main house of a homestead, or any other house designated for the vigil.
The ululation is actually a conversation among the mourning women eulogising a deceased through weeping. In the death of one, in the Otjiherero-Otjimbanderu, or Otjihimba culture, a vigil takes place while awaiting the burial. An important aspect of this vigil is a ceremony known as Etando; actual mourning by women. Rarely do men enter into this house. This ceremony, figuratively also referred to as okurira (crying), has been distinctly female. Not that they would necessarily be in a weeping trance of endless tears but they would be having a conversation, sombre, poetic, lyrical resemblence of a murmuring cry to communicate and comfort the bereaved family.
As the news of the sad departure of someone spreads, neighbours, relatives, friends and acquaintances would, in no time, converge at a homestead or house of a senior relative of the deceased. This senior member’s homestead is either one from the deceased matrilineal line in the instance that he is unmarried and or a senior from the patriarchal line if he was married. But, such an assembly is only for when preliminary final arrangements are being made for the vigil. Once the venue of the vigil has been decided upon, as pre-determined according to one`s descent, eyanda and oruzo, a day is determined when the vigil begins officially in the main house. A leading or senior woman linked to the deceased through his patriarchal descent, omuyanua, usually someone who shares the same eyanda as the deceased’s paternal grandfather “opens” the house, for the official beginning of the vigil.
The men would ordinarily be scattered outside the house, in the homestead’s forecourt in groups, in clusters of seniority, by age as well as social status - either by wealth, wisdom or sheer association - or aspiration to either of these clusters.
They would talk, jibe and debate, engage the minds of the bereaved to suspend thoughts of their loss. In turn, the women would crowd the homestead, usually a one-roomed structure, or a designated house if in an urban area. In this house, unlike their fellow male mourners outside, the mannerism of consoling and comforting is not extravagant but more discreet, subdued, tuned down to befit the s...
Refer to the Prime Focus Magazine for remainder of article