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Letters - A nation born out of a cow

2022-12-16  Ruben Kapimbi

Letters - A nation born out of a cow

Before the genocide of 1904, the Hereros or the Cattle Damaras as the German settlers affectionately called them, occupied the wilderness from the Otavi Mountains up to the borders of the clear sky.

The borders of the sky is now the present-day Kalahari Desert, before it stretches into Ngami Lake. They had numerous red and brown cows that greedily grazed around mushrooming cattle posts, depending on the rain. Their many cows once outnumbered the stars, before the Pest and Famine of 1903-1904. This is evident from their songs and campfire stories, although counting cows is regarded as a taboo in their folklores.

The curved horned cows pigeonholed their lifestyle. Even some of the clairvoyants believed a cow had birthed them. The Nguni cows mirrored and nourished their livelihoods. Almost any activities they performed were networked to their countless cows.

From weddings to funerals. From the hollowed horns of the cow, they designed body lotion durable canisters.

These tunnelled canisters were draped with cowhides (leathered) straps or drawstrings.

They churned the buttery milk and roasted cow fat for body lotions, which they mixed with reddish oak stone powder. Even the newlywed couple’s marriage was blessed by smearing the creamy cow fat on their hands.

Equally, the newlyweds have to chew up a half-boiled cow tongue in order to cement their marriage.

These Cattle Damaras used moistened cow poo to plaster their circlet huts, yes, that smelly gooey poo.

Even the dry cowpats were used to smother and smoke the mosquitoes away. As if that’s not enough, the cowpats could be used to replace the name of a child who’s not present at the holy fire ceremony.

If six children went to war or to a distant cattle post, six cowpats represented each one of them. These pastoralists’ semi-nomadic lifestyle revolved around and about the cow.

The cow’s fluffy tail was used as a broom to sweep the cow dung-plastered floors. Yes, that cracking floor that would be patched with fresh cow dung every rainy season.

The cows’ hides were used as coffins to bury their loved ones. As if that’s not enough, the cows’ sculpted skulls would be dangled around the graves as tombstones.

Each cow had a name, and directly was connected to paternal or maternal lineage. Even the children’s front and buttock-covering aprons were derived from the cow’s hide.

In addition, the blankets were woven from hand-cultured fabrics of cowskins. The children’s tails were crafted from the cow’s hides.

The halter, which they use for milking the cows or to hitch the donkeys, were all made from cowhides.

The drawstrings for the churned milk calabashes that were hooked on trees were made from cow skins as well.

A cow breathed deep into their memories; hence, the womenfolk imitated the way it walks. A cow would be used as an alarm bell to awaken them, as the saying goes, ‘A boy had to jump out of the hut before the sun reveals the needle-pointed tips of the cow’s horns.

Even during their handclapping songs, and foot-pounding dances, the Cattle Damaras sing praises to the cow that had dodged the sprayed bullets, or had skirted the cattle raiders. From the cow, they got fresh milk and sour milk. From the cow, they named and kept records of the ages and significant events, such as the Battle of the Black and White Cow (1896).

Alternatively, the tribesmen named some of the skirmishes after the cows, like the Battle of the Red and White Cow (1905). 1982 is regarded as the year of strewn cow fleeces because of that year’s famine.

The cowhides were used for nooses or bridles to carry around the many calabashes. Equally, from the rawhides, they made handbags, pouches or purses to store the perfumes made from a mixture of scented trees and wild flowers.

2022-12-16  Ruben Kapimbi

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