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Namibian tribe to swear in first female chief

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WINDHOEK, Nov 11 (AFP) - Thousands of members of the Oukwanyama tribe from Namibia and Angola will flock to a homestead this weekend to witness the first ever inauguration of a female chief of their people.

The 300,000 Oukwanyama, who live both sides of the border between Namibia and Angola, form the largest of seven Owambo sub-tribes, who together make up about one third of Namibia's population of 1.9 million.

"For nearly 80 years we did not have a chief, because King Mandume, as we called him, was unmarried and left no children, he was approximately 26-years-old when he died," said George Nelulu of the Oukwanyama traditional authority.

"After Namibia became independent in 1990, our chiefs decided to reinstate an 'ohamba' (chief) but Cornelius Shelongo from the royal family, who became chief in 1996, died last week, aged 89," Nelulu told AFP.

Shelongo was buried on Tuesday but on his deathbed he informed his senior chiefs and councillors that he wanted his cousin, Martha Nelumbo, 75, as his successor.

"We were a bit surprised that a woman was chosen," said Andre Hashihana of the organising committee for the big event that will take place at a tribal homestead near Engela village, some 650 kilometres (400 miles) north of Windhoek.

"But historically women from the royal Mandume family had special rights and the Oukwanyamas always chose their successors from the female hereditary bloodline," he told AFP.

The Owambo tribes belong to the Bantu people who migrated south from central Africa more than 300 years ago and settled in southern Angolan and northern Namibia.

The Oukwanyama have a proud history of fighting colonialism dating back a century, until their most famous chief, Mandume ya Ndemufayo, was defeated in battle inside Angola in 1917 against a joint Portuguese-South African army.

The Oukwanyama involuntarily became victims of a border dispute between Portugal and South Africa, when the Angolan-Namibian border was shifted twice in 1916.

Mandume, who had become king in 1911 at the age of 21, was told to shift his royal homestead at Oihole accordingly as he was first on Portuguese and then on the territory of South West Africa, as Namibia was called before independence.

"The South Africans told Mandume to hand in all the weapons of his warriors as they would protect him against the Portuguese," writes historian Frieda Williams in her book "A History of Owambo Kingdoms".

"He refused as the Portuguese, who had attacked him previously, still posed a threat."

A joint Portuguese-South African military force attacked the Oukwanyama king and his warriors early in 1917 near Oihole, six kilometres inside Angola.

Realising his defeat, Mandume did not want to fall into the colonisers' hands alive and shot himself on February 6, 1917.

The South African forces are said to have cut off his head when they found him and took it to Windhoek, where it was put inside a monument they erected to their victory.

Some 85 years later, Oukwanyama people from Angola constructed a huge monument in 2002 at Oihole in honour of their fallen liberation hero, which was inaugurated jointly by the then Namibian president Sam Nujoma and his Angolan counterpart, Eduardo dos Santos.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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