Herero - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditionally, all important social occasions and all stages in the Herero life cycle were validated by religious ceremonies that invoked the ancestors. Because cattle were a gift from the ancestors and were kept in their honor, all important rituals involved the use, often the sacrifice, of animals. Today the connection with the ancestors has been broken. The most valued legacy of the ancestors has, in the Herero view, been profaned. Cattle are no longer treated as sacred commodities, but as secular property. When cattle were the exclusive property of a group of people with common descent (i.e., persons who shared the same ancestors), their sacred nature was preserved. Now that cattle are sold to nonrelatives, the ancestors' gift has been rejected, which means that the ancestors and the way of life they bequeathed to their descendants have also been rejected. Decreased reference to the ancestors has led to the disappearance of religious ritual. Without ritual, the place where ritual was conducted (the okuruo) became superfluous. Today Herero society may be justifiably characterized as secular. Although some Herero are nominally Christian, most disavow any religious belief.

Ceremonies. The only ceremonies in which Herero engage today are what they call "celebrations." On the occasion of a girl's coming-of-age or a marriage or some other notable happening, and sometimes for no reason at all, Herero will summon their neighbors (including non-Herero), kill a goat, cook the meat, and sit around the fire drinking store-bought beer, eating, and singing songs (some secular, some derived from Christian hymns). Men, women, and children will eat, sing, and chatter long into the night.

Arts. The Herero practice no arts other than occasionally to adorn the exteriors of their huts with individualistic designs (handprints, geometric patterns).

Medicine. The Herero no longer practice any native medicine; they rely on the services of Western physicians and nurses.

Death and Afterlife. The Herero bury their dead, as they always have always done, but today the funeral rites are simple and secular, and interment is in government-approved cemeteries. The Herero believe that a soul survives the body and upon death goes to a place in the sky, but they profess to know nothing about this place or what happens there, and they say that they are content to wait and find out when they die, rather than to speculate.

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