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UNESCO Project Aims to Preserve ‘The Holy Fire’ Culture

By:Uakutura Kambaekua
Okuruuo, also known as ‘the holly fire’, will be documented and adopted on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) websitenext year as part of the agency’s ongoing project aimed at safeguarding intangible cultural heritages for the future and educational purposes.
UNESCO’s Namibia National Commission in collaboration with the ministry of education, arts and culture concluded aneight-day workshop at Opuwo which was attended by 34 community representatives from the Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Kunene and Erongo regions.
The project to safeguard Okuruuo(Holy Fire) will be implemented by the Namibia National Commission over a proposed thirty-six-month period through community-based capacity building, inventorying, and documentation intervention.
The sacred ritual practice of Okuruuo is central to the cultural values and social practices of the Ovaherero and Ovahimba communities in Namibia and Botswana.
However, the current situation which is characterised by a rapid increase in urbanisation, technology and education is said to be threatening Okuruuo’s continuous practice and sustainability.
Given this, UNESCO’s proposed project is aimed at improving the visibility of the element nationally, promoting and safeguarding it, enhancing national inventorying and documentation capacities, and improving and uploading the inventories and documentation of the element. This is to be achieved through awareness-raising, capacity-building, inventorying and documentation exercises. The project is expected to encourage the viability and continuous practice of the element.
The initiative was originally proposed by communitiesof the Omaheke region but there was a need to expand the exercise to the Otjozondjupa, Erongo and Kunene regions where the element is currently practised.
Senobia Katjiuongua, culture officer at the ministry of education and project facilitator, told The Villager in an interview that the element proposal was birthed in the Omaheke region.
It is in line with 2003 UNESCO Convention which aims at preserving traditions or living expressions inherited from ancestors and passed on to their descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.
“The idea to preserve Okuruuocame from Omaheke. It was inspired by the UNESCO convention of 2003 that safeguards the elements of cultural heritage,” Katjiuongua explained. “Cultural offices were given a task to go to communities and identify those elements that are facing extinction. Therefore, Omaheke came up with Okuruuo as an element of the Ovaherero that needs safeguarding or protection,” she said.
More than 800 households believe in Okuruuo nationwide, according to data gathered.
Okuruuo is a link to Ovaherero ancestors to speak to God on their behalf. Modern-day Ovahereros belong mostly to Catholic, Lutheran, and other Protestant groups.
Katjiuongua said that research was conducted at Sesfontein, Otjokavare, Etanga, Otuani and Okangwati where they received a go-ahead for the project from these communities.
Katjiuuonga noted that after the completion of the research, the element will be documented online together with other national traditional elements.
“It will be on a UNESCO website because already Oshitudhi-Shomagongo(Marula Fruit Festival), the Oshiwambo traditional drink element is there, as well as the Nama musical instrument. We are going to add more elements in the future. All regions should identify something and Kunene’s Ovahimba attire is also en route,” she said.
According to the research gathered, Katjiuuonga noted that the existence of the Okuruuo practice remain primarily on the Ovahereo people, especially those practising it.
UNESCO has recently inscribed traditional music and dance of the Nama-speaking community in Namibia on the ‘List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding’.
This major achievement was announced by UNESCO in December 2020; which added the aixan /gâna/ôb ǂans tsî //khasigu (Nama: ancestral musical sound knowledge and skills) to its list.

Uakutura Kambaekua

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