Spring is the most festive season for the people of Namibia because this is also the fruiting season for the Marula tree. The Aawambo call the tree Omugongo, while the juice of its fruit they refer to as Omagongo.
Marula is a highly valued shade tree that provides Aawambo with a plethora of products. The tree is, however, mostly known for the white-colored beverage made from its fruit.
Besides providing food and drink, the gathering and the processing of the fruit creates an excellent opportunity for women to spend time together. This is a time for older women to pass on the valuable knowledge necessary to keep the Namibian culture alive.
The fruit grows from late January up to May, so this is the time when all women and girls above the age of 5 gather the fruits together. After the fermentation is done, traditionally, the king or the chief enjoys the very first Marula beverage. The children can enjoy the pulpy, non-fermented version. Aawambo people usually serve Omagongo to guests, and the beverage can last a year if they keep it in clay pots underground.
The rest of the fruit does not go to waste. The flesh can be used to make jam, or people simply eat it as a nutritious snack. The protein content of the fruit is high, at approximately 28%. Also, there is more than twice as much Vitamin C in a Marula fruit than in an orange.
The nuts are usually sun-dried, while the skins turn into fertilizer.
The high oil content of the fruit’s kernels has multiple uses — for cooking, as a porridge condiment, or for skincare.
The root has its own natural benefits, and people usually use its extract as medicine for toothache.
The Marula Festival
The celebration of the Marula’s cycle is shared by eight Aawambo communities that reside in northern Namibia. These are Ovambadja, Aandonga, Aakwanyama, Aakwaluudhi, Aakwambi, Aambalantu, Aangandjera, and Aakolonkadi. Since 2001, every year, the festival rotates from one group to another.
After hard work, people gather to enjoy Omagongo and socialize. The festival also features talks about the history of the celebration and the people, storytelling around a fire, and many performances showcasing the rich culture. Traditional craftsmanship and dance are essential parts of the festival. The women wear unique, brightly-colored costumes.
This year, the people of Namibia celebrated the festival during the April 26 and 27 at the Ongandjera Palace. The theme was “Uuthiga Wetu” or “Omagongo Our Heritage.”
There were several notable people at the festival who gave powerful speeches. Sam Nujoma, the Founding President of Namibia and the patron of the Omagongo Cultural Festival was present. Other notable figures included Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Saara Kuugongelwa, the Prime Minister. Vice President Nangolo Mbumba delivered the keynote address.
The importance of people who participate in the festival every year is a testimony to how meaningful this event is to the people of Namibia. The Omagongo festivities are a powerful celebration of a connection that Aawambo people share with nature and a reinforcement of their heritage, culture, and customs.
Next year, Ombalantu area will host this Namibian festival.