Herero - Settlements



Although nomadic in precontact times, the Herero today are sedentary, and their primary residential unit is the "homestead" ( onganda; pl. ozonganda), consisting of a number of sunhardened clay huts ( ozondjuo; sing. ondjuo ) arranged formerly in a closed circle but nowadays in a line or an arc. At the center of the traditional onganda were animal corrals, constructed of thornbushes. Just to the east of the cattle corrals was the "sacred hearth" ( okuruo), consisting of an upturned bush and a small fire that burned continually in honor of the ancestors. To the east of the okuruo was the hut of the "great wife" of the homestead head, the senior male, who was referred to as omuini, or "owner" of the homestead. A series of huts extended in northwesterly and southwesterly arcs from the senior wife's hut to form a circle around the corrals; all huts opened to face the corrals. The entire homestead was surrounded by dead thornbush branches as protection from raiders and predators. This circular pattern also emphasized the cultural focus of Herero society. Cattle were considered sacred gifts from the ancestors, and all ritual activities were conducted at the okuruo, which symbolized the coherence of Herero society and the direct connection with the Herero then had with their forebears. Today, however, cattle are considered secular commodities to be sold at market for profit, belief in the ancestors no longer plays a large role in Herero life, traditional rituals have given way to secular ceremonies, and, consequently, the "sacred hearth" has disappeared. Huts are no longer arranged in any special pattern, although their openings still face the corrals, given that cattle remain the bedrock of Herero economy. The Herero also maintain cattle posts, extensions of the permanent homesteads, to help distribute cattle over wide areas and thus exploit large tracts of pasturage in an arid habitat.


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