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Keeping Africa’s Traditions – The “Epasha” ritual in Namibia


The Cleansing

Oshiwambo culture today. In northern-central Namibia, the Ovakwanyama people still celebrate their traditional ways of life. With the “Epasha”-ceremony the tribe is welcoming twins into the world. First, a spiritual cleansing of father, mother, and the newborns takes place. The couple undressed in front of selected family members. Then, their bodies are cleansed by a traditional healer, an “Onganga”. For this, a special medicine is made from the mopane – or “Omufyaati” – tree. At the end, dried parts of the tree are eaten.

The ceremony lasts a day and is accompanied by a big meal, singing and dancing. Through the influence of Christianity, prayer has become an integrated part of the festivities.

The Ovakwanyama (Oshiwambo culture) are praying a Christian prayer. ©Manon Steiner

The Ovakwanyama (Oshiwambo culture) are praying a Christian prayer. ©Manon Steiner

A Tradition For Kings

For the Ovakwanyama, the birth of twins is a godsend. In the old days, only a man born as a twin or with his feet first could become a tribe’s king. In tradition this is called “Eehamba”. It is hard to tell how long “Epasha” goes back. But due to legend, already the first Oshiwambo kingswere cleansed through this ritual. Their names were Kavongeka, Kapuleko, Heita, or Hautolonde.