Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Heroes Day

On August 26th, Namibia celebrates Heroes Day.  This day commemorates the heroes and heroines who fought against German and South African oppression.  Many of those who fought and lost their lives were Hereros, the tribe who’s language I am learning and will be living with for the next two years. 


Unfortunately, there was controversy around that time, and the celebration and commemoration was cancelled for that weekend.  There are three different groups of Hereros: the Green Flags, Red Flags, and White Flags.   Okahandja is the town of the Red Flags.  The Red Flags and Green Flags have been arguing about the placement of their holy fire, and the local police cancelled the event to prevent fighting.


Thankfully things were resolved, and the events were able to take place the next weekend.  I am lucky enough to be living in the same town where the events are, so it was easy for me to attend.  It was very exciting.  All of Saturday consisted of dancing and partying (not really the commemoration, but those Hereros sure love to party!  I missed that day because, truthfully, I wasn’t really comfortable being surrounded by a whole bunch of drunk guys who always hit on you.)


Side note:  Many Namibian men will hit on you every day.  For some reason it’s what they do.  It puts us volunteers in a very sticky situation.  Greeting people is very important in Namibian culture, and to ignore someone who has greeted you is considered very rude.  But, as Americans, we stick out like sore thumbs!  Which means we get lots of attention from people we don’t want talking to us.  Should we say hi and have the possibility of them thinking we are attracted to them, or do we ignore them and offend them?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  But the attention is not intended to be rude.  It is just their way of telling us that we are special and they would like to know us.  I know this in my head but it still will take some time to not automatically assume the worst.


I decided it was safer to not be around the celebration and risk getting potentially scary attention from really, really drunk guys.  I mean, I walked through there at 9 in the morning and there were already some pretty drunk people!  But Sunday morning was a different story.  Every Herero that was in town, and many who had come from out of town, processed from the Herero field to a local grave site, where one of the Red Flag leaders was buried. 


The tribal leaders were in the front, followed by many of the men, starting with the older ones and ending with the very young boys.  After the men folk had gone, the women, dressed in their traditional dress, followed.   It was beautiful and sombering to watch.  We walked for about an hour, when we arrived at the grave site.  The tribal elders knelt down and prayed for everyone.  I was so thankful to have the opportunity to see this very special Herero event. 


Apparently the White Flag Hereros are based in my shopping town, Omaruru.  I hope to be able to attend some of their events as well!  It will be interesting to see how similar and different they are. 

Herero chief blessing someone by spitting on them (still don't know how this is a blessing, and when I was asked to join the line, I respectfully declined!)

Young Hereros practicing their marching.   They were sooo cute!

The different Herero flags.  The red one is for Okahandja, which this event was in.

Herero women marching to the grave site.  They were probably bummed that they all went to the same store to get their outfits!

Herero men marching.  The older ones were in the front, and the younger you were, the further back you were.

                                                                       Herero chief.

                     Everyone listening to a blessing given by one of the chief to the grave of one of the old hero chiefs.

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