Hakaona people

Hakaona

Hakaona / Muhakaona / Zemba / Ovazemba / Mukawana / Mucawana

Hakaona live in Oncocua, near the Cunene River (Angola) and the border with Namibia.

They are mainly goat shepherds, their heads of cattle being a marker of social status. They are known as the Black Himba and they often take care of the Himba’s herds as a sign of social submission. Hakaona men are reputable traditional doctors, and women are valued as excellent artisans, both considered activities of less social importance than herding. The women wear a striking headdress made of manure, fat and herbs, and some lower teeth are removed; processes, which together with motherhood, make them be considered complete women.

 

Population and Ecosystem

Muhakaona (Mucawama) are indigenous or aboriginal nomadic agriculturalist people living in Cunene (Kunene) province of remote South Angola particularly in the villages of Soba near Oncocua, Elola and Moimba.

7.000 Muhakaona live in the wooded savannah and rocky hills around Oncocua town, not far from Cunene River (Namibia border)

They occupy a southern land isolated by deserts and mountains from the rest of the country and have kept their ethnic individuality and culture in the seclusion of Oncocua and Elola.

The aboriginal Mucawana people are impervious to change as they still live and dress in strictly traditional ways. They engage in subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry.

Their women`s haircut is made with a mix of cow dungs, fat, and herbs for the fragrance.  So the girls like to use the nature to make some bracelets they wear on arms and legs tribal home.

When not working Mucawana people party a lot in their remote habitat. Their party is an intoxicating medley of singing and clapping - the Mucuwana dance. The women at such festivities look dazzling, but different, with multicoloured braids, bead corsets around their waists and curiously Teutonic-looking iron crosses dangling down their backs.

 

Economy and Society

Muhakaona people are predominantly livestock farmers who breed goats, but count their wealth in the number of their cattle. They also grow and farm rain-fed crops such as maize and millet. Their main diet is sour milk and maize porridge (oruhere ruomaere). Their diet is also supplemented by cornmeal, chicken eggs, wild herbs and honey. Only occasionally, and opportunistically, are the livestock sold for cash.

Muhakaona people are polygamous, with the average Muhakaona man being husband to two wives at the same time. They also practice early arranged marriages. Young Muhakaona girls are married to male partners chosen by their fathers. This happens from the onset of puberty which may mean that girls aged 10 or below are married off. Among the Muhakaona people, it is customary as a rite of passage to circumcise boys before puberty. Upon marriage, a Muhakaona boy is considered a man, unlike a Muhakaona girl who is not considered a fully-fledged woman until she bears a child. Marriage with the Muhakaona involves transactions between cattle, which is the source of their economy. Bride wealth is involved in these transactions; this can be negotiable between the groom's family and the bride's father, depending on the poverty status between the families involved. In order for the bride's family to accept the bride wealth, the cattle must appear of high quality. It is standard practice to offer an ox, but more cattle will be offered if the groom's father is wealthy and is capable of offering more.

Muhakaona people live under a tribal structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.

Under bilateral descent, every tribe member belongs to two clans: one through the father and another through the mother. Muhakona clans are led by the eldest male in the clan. Sons live with their father's clan, and when daughters marry, they go to live with the clan of their husband. However, inheritance of wealth does not follow the patriclan but is determined by the matriclan, that is, a son does not inherit his father's cattle but his maternal uncle's instead.

 

Culture and Religion

Muhakaona speak Herero language, similar to Himba. In fact Muhakaona are also known as the Black Himba.

Muhakaona women shape their hairdo with a mix of cow dung, fat, and herbs (frangance). On top of their hair some women may wear Kapapo headdress made of waste materials. Little girls have two braids on their foreheads, little boys have one behind their head, but if you see a child with one single braid on their forehead, it means that they are one of a set of twins. Pubescent girls wear long dreadlocks, made from their own hair but also their brothers’ and sisters’ hair.’ Near the towns, merchants have detected the demand, and sell hair extensions from India. Muhakaona women cover their bodies in otijze, a mixture of ash, butter and ochre that gives them the unique black-copper colour. Also a beauty symbol, Muhacaona women remove their lower teeth, which is done by hitting them with a stone. Like Himba men, married Muhakaona men wrap their hair in a sort of bandana and protect it by sleeping on a wooden pillow, often covered in a leather cushion, rare sign of comfort for a tribe.

 

Art and Architecture

Hakaona women are great artisans. They make bracelets and anklets from cow horns (or from white or blue plastic pipes from Namibia), finely decorated with geometric patterns or animal shapes. They are one of the few tribes that continue to make cowhide baby carriers, which they decorate with colored beads. Hakaona women also make their own dolls out of wood and hair -both natural or artificial-.

They use bracelets and anklets carved in cow horn (or in plastic water pipes), decorated with geometric patterns.

They also use Wooden dolls, decorated with an artificial hair wig and a cloth skirt

Another decorative element they make are the headdresses, called ‘kapapo’. It is a kind of toupee, made of leather and decorated with colored beads and small metal pieces, from which hang braids covered in brass from the lids of the sardine cans. The ‘Kapapo’ headdress, are used by married women.

Hakaona architecture is similar to that of its neighbors, the Dimba: rectangular wooden houses, with thatched roofs, in which the hinged door stands out, which they hold with a stick. The houses, barns and stables are protected by a large wooden fence with an entrance and an exit door.

 

Aesthetics and Belief System

Hakaona women shape their hairdo with a mix of cow dung, fat and herbs. On top of their hair, some women may wear the ‘kapapo’ headdress made of waste materials. Little girls have long hair decorated with red and yellow plastic beads. Pubescent girls wear long dreadlocks, made from their own hair, but also their siblings’ hair. Near the towns, merchants have detected the demand, and sell hair extensions from India.

Hakaona women cover their bodies in ‘otjize’, a mixture of ash, butter and ochre that gives them a unique dark copper colour. Goat skin skirts have been substituted by imported fabrics, but babies are still carried with the original leather carrier, fully decorated with beads. Also, as a beauty symbol, Hakaona women remove their lower teeth, which is done by hitting them with a stone. Hakaona people are monotheists and worship the God Mukuru, as well as their clan’s ancestors.

 

Challenges

Managing environmental changes due to persistent drought in the Oncocua region is the biggest challenge facing the Hakaona. Likewise, the threat of an incipient alcoholism derived from the increase in tourism in the area could put the health and cultural heritage of this ethnic group at risk.

 

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