Population & Ecosystem
70.000 Mucubal live in a large area between the slopes of Chela Mounts in the north, Chiange to east, and Cunene River to the south, where they are believed to have stopped during the Himba migration in the 18th Century.
Mucubal are a subgroup of the Herero ethnic group settling in Southern Angola.
They are also Bantu speaking people. It is historically asserted that the Mucubals are originally from Kenya and are related to the Massais.
They are semi nomadic pastoralists living as cattle raisers and engaged in agriculture.
They live in a large area between the slopes of Chela Mounts in the north, and River Cunene to the south, where they are believed to have stopped during the Herero migration, about 300 years ago.
The territory "Mucubal" extends along the slopes of the Serra da Chela after entering the Namib desert coming very close to Chiange. Their relations with the people Nhanheca Humbe, which also inhabit the region were always difficult because the Mucubals steal cattle too often to nhanhecas. This manifested contempt for them. During the War of 1939, the Portuguese defeated the heavily Mucubals and they confined themselves to Chela and the desert, leaving the Plateau people to peasants. The Mucubals never forgot this defeat and in 1975 when the South Africans invaded Angola the Mucubals placed themselves alongside the MPLA forces. hindering their links with Moçamedes and eventually stop them. There were always a people disobedient. When, in 1975, the South Africans invaded Angola, tried, after having built his rear in Lubango, liaise with Moçâmedes without succeed, because Mucubais upon realizing that there was a war of "whites against blacks", allied to blacks.
Mucubal speak Herero language.
There are several ways of saying hello. "Okamene" means good morning", "Tchou"is what a woman answers to a greeting and "Mba" is the word a man answers back to a woman saying hello to him.
Semi-nomadic cattle pastoralists. They often steal cattle from Mugambue and Mumuila neighbouring tribes. Agriculture was introduced in 1990s and is still very rudimentary. Mucubal where the last tribe to be submitted by the Portuguese colonial army at it was not until 1939 that the last Mucubal leader accepted defeat. To this day they continue to be a proud indomitable tribe.
Cattle is the real base of support to this important ethnic group in Angola. A Mucubal man is both richer and more important per the number of cattle they have. It can therefore be said that the cattle for any Mucubal is the ultimate expression of their wealth.
Their nomadic lifestyle based on cycles. They roam about looking for greener pastures to feed their cattle/livestock and/or stays in the same place (where they settle their villages). This accounts for their religious customs and the funerary rites they follow.
Society & family
Family structure and organization are very specific. The father has the authority and is the head of the family, although the matrilineal descent is considered more important, as they inherit through the mother's family. For example the son of the Soba -chieftain of the village-’s sister is the heir of the Soba.
Mucubal can only get married with an outsider of the clan, although it cannot be with a member of another tribe like a Himba for example.
Marriages of convenience are the rule most of the time. The fiancée is presented to her future husband during the Fico ceremony, when she is fourteen or less.
This ceremony consists in a party with the two families during which presents are offered.
The couple has to wait a few more years before consummating the marriage in the centre of the village. Mucubal men can have several wives and are also allowed to sell their wife, if they don’t get along with her or even if they want to earn money, as a woman can be worth 2 cows, which is about 2000 euros. For a first marriage a woman can even be worth 3 or 4 cows.
It is possible to be disowned by their father's family but not by their mother's because for them this link is sacred. The maternal uncle has to provide his nephew with an ox, called Remussungo. However a father provides his son with an ox, called Hupa.
Mucubal have some very strong time-honoured customs and traditions which they value so dearly. They are seriously interested in cattle, worship it and do not care about the rest of the world outside of the bush. As a custom, the Mucubals are not allowed to mention people’s name in public, except their parent’s names and specifically names of children. Married couples are not allowed to talk to each other in public, as long as she (a wife) hasn’t had children. They can only speak to each other in private.
Mucubal women wear an original and unique headdress called the Ompota. It is made of a wicker framework, traditionally filled with a bunch of tied cow tails, decorated with buttons, shells, zippers and beads. But tradition is disappearing as some women use Barbie dolls boxes to cram their ompota headdress. Women whether they are married or not can wear jewels. Ornaments like iron anklets, called Othivela, and armlets, called Othingo, are worn by girls as well as adult women.
At their younger age,girls have their upper teeth sharpened and lower ones removed. In order to convince young girls to have their lower teeth removed, old men make them believe, that their teeth leave their mouth during the night, enters a hole dug to relieve themselves and return in their mouth covered with excrement.
Mucubal women are also famous for the string they have around their breast, called oyonduthi, which is used as a bra. Women use to smoke tobacco (that they keep in a snuffbox called boceta) in pipes called opessi.
Women use mupeque oil, a yellow dried fruit crushed and boiled from which they just drink juice but do no eat pulp. They also eat small red berries with a pepper taste that they boil. In order to show they are hungry Mucubal mimic the gesture we do when we brush our teeth. Mucubal especially women, are famous for the way they dress. The latter wear an original and unique headdress called the Ompota.
Mucubal people believe in a God called Huku, Klaunga, Ndyambi. They also worship their ancestors' spirits called Oyo Handi and Ovi huku, which are considered inferior to their supreme divinity.
Divination is very important in their culture. They use talismans and amulets to protect their herds or prevent adultery. Nevertheless Mucubal are not afraid of death. Funerals can last several days or weeks. They decorate their graves with cattle horns.
The number of cows sacrificed are in relation with the importance of the deceased. This shows the importance of cattle in their culture. Cattle is only killed on special occasions, as Mucubal usually don’t eat meat but rather corn (when they manage to grow some), eggs, milk and chicken.
They don’t eat any fish because according to the legend, one of their chieftains was brought to the sea by the Portuguese and never came back. So they think that fish kills men.
Like the vast majority of African peoples, the Mucubals also practice a tradition strongly rooted circumcision of young people. The ceremony of circumcision is performed regularly and is an event of great significance, it being the feast of the initiation of young Mucubals, a sort of passage of young people to the status of youths.