Kamangundu Emerges from Omumborombonga, the Tree of Life

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(Damara, Herero/Namibia)

Ndjambi Karunga (Mukuru) is the heavenly God. He lives in heaven, yet is omnipresent. His most striking characteristic is kindness. Human life is created by and dependent on him, and all blessings ultimately come from him. He who dies a natural death is carried away by Ndjambi. As his essence is kindness, people do not fear but venerate him. As his blessings are the gifts of his kindness without any moral claims, the belief in Ndjambi has no moral strength. “He stays in the clouds because, when the clouds rise, his voice is clearly heard.”

The first people originated from a mythic tree, an Omumborombonga tree, growing between the Kaokoveld and Ovamboland. Makuru, the old one, with his wife, Kamungarunga, and his cattle are descended from this tree, but everything else in the world has a different origin. The Ovambo migrated southward from the upper reaches of the Zambezi at the same time as the Herero. On reaching the present Ovamboland, the Herero continued in a westerly direction, moving toward and through the Kaokoveld southward in search of suitable pastures for their large herds of cattle, while the Ovambo, being an agricultural people, decided to remain. They, in common with the Herero, are descended from the Nangombe ya Mangundu. Nangombe came from the east with his brother, Kathu. At the great Omumborombonga tree in the Ondonga area, the two brothers separated, Kathu leading the Herero onward in search of pastures for their herds, while Nangombe with his followers settled on the fertile plains of the present Ovambo territory. Nangombe and Kathu are the sons of Mangundu; it is not known whether Mangundu was their father or mother. The center for religious worship was a place where a weak fire glimmered and was blown up into a blaze only on festive occasions. This fireplace was separated from its surroundings by means of stones or a thorn hedge. In close proximity, a branch of the Omumborombonga tree lies as a permanent representative of the ancestors. The holy fire is a gift from Mukuru.

Out of the Omumborombonga tree came forth in the beginning a man and a woman. The woman was called Kamangundu, and from her sprang the Herero, Ovambo, Tswana, and Nama.

The Berg Damara originated in the following manner: A discontented Herero girl ran away into the field, and there fell on a flat rock, upon which the Berg Damara and the baboons who live in the mountains on edible bulbs were born. The oxen also came out of the Omumborombonga tree, while the sheep and goats sprang from the flat rock in the Kaoko. When the children of Kamangundu came out of the tree, the people killed an ox. A woman came and took the liver for her children; from these came the black people. Another woman took the lungs and the blood for herself and her children; from these came the red people. By the slaughtered ox, the people began to quarrel as to who should have the skin, which the Herero, considering themselves to be the first among the nations, seized upon. Now began the enmity and separation of the people. First, the Herero beat and drove away the Ovambo, who went to the north; afterward, they returned and made peace with them. The Tswana went to the east, where they remained for a long time. Subsequently, they returned and robbed the Herero, but were finally repulsed by them. See also: Holy Fire, Karunga.


Subjects: Religion.

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