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The ironies of pop: local music production and citizenship in a small Namibian town.


This case study probes the close link between locality and musical production. The setting is Opuwo, a small city in northern Namibia, notorious for its many bars. Here the music of a local band, Bullet ya Kaoko, provides the soundtrack to the quest for belonging and identity that takes place in the marginal space constituted by these bars and pubs. Bullet ya Kaoko performances are characterized by the simultaneous articulation of paradoxical images and different models of identification: they use keyboards and synthesizers to rework an old genre (omitandu, praise songs), fuse Kwaito moves with the elders' warrior dance, and weave Herero polyphony into a jive-like beat and structure. Lyrics, music and dance address the challenges of (post-)modern life and give voice to uncertainty and fragmentation. At the same time, they embed people in kinship and place, evoking a strong yet encrypted sense of belonging. The music of Bullet ya Kaoko is ironizing: it questions, but does not answer. It challenges both the old and the new, but refrains from solving the tensions created by their juxtaposition.

Cette etude de cas examine le lien etroit entre localite et production musicale. Elle a pour cadre Opuwo, petite ville du nord de la Namibie connue pour ses nombreux bars. La musique du groupe local Bullet ya Kaoko fournit la bande sonore a la quete d'appartenance et d'identite que l'on observe dans l'espace marginal que constituent ces bars et pubs. Les reprdsentations de Bullet ya Kaoko se caracterisent par l'articulation simultanee d'images paradoxales et de mode1es divers d'identification : le groupe se sert de claviers et de synthetiseurs pour remanier un genre ancien (les chants de louange omitandu, fusionner les mouvements kwaito et la danse guerriere des anciens, et tisser les polyphonies herero dans une structure et un rythme assimilables au swing. Les paroles, la musique et la danse traitent des difficultes de la vie (post-)moderne et expriment l'incertitude et la fragmentation. Dans le meme temps, elles ancrent les personnes dans la parente et le lieu, en evoquant un sens fort et pourtant crypte d'appartenance. La musique de Bullet ya Kaoko ironise : elle souleve des questions, mais n'y repond pas. Elle denonce l'ancien et le nouveau, mais s'abstient de resoudre les tensions que cree leur juxtaposition.


Cities are often associated with the heroes and genres of popular music. Think for instance of Nashville, Memphis or Liverpool. Think of Accra, Kinshasa or Johannesburg: the list is almost endless. This article focuses on this relationship between music and place, between music and urban locality: it explores the ways in which the particulars of a small city in northern Namibia, Opuwo, shape the music people in the streets are listening to, and, conversely, how the music they listen to shapes their urban experience. To do so, it looks at the musical performance of Bullet ya Kaoko (Bullet of Kaoko), Opuwo's most popular band. As local musicians they produce a city soundtrack that catches and firmly places urbanites in a web of familiar rhythms, names, places, imagery and kinship. At the same time, though, this soundtrack and the performances, videoclips and pictures released by Bullet ya Kaoko also evoke notions of citizenship and Namibian-ness. However, rather than drawing on a supposedly shared and canonized repertoire of nationhood, this understanding of citizenship instead draws on highly localized metaphors of identity and belonging. These metaphors, typically relating to places and journeys made by ancestors and kin, converge in the city, in particular in liminoid or heterotopic places such as pubs and bars. In that sense, the music and performances of Bullet ya Kaoko return to the original meaning of the term 'citizen': an inhabitant of the city, defined by access and rights to goods and services provided in town rather than a 'rights-bearing citizen of a territorial nation state' (Holston and Appadurai 1999: 1). This 'being-in-the-city' is signified by the emblems of modern life: mobile phones, cars, formal education, metropolitan dress, electricity, television, soft drinks or, in the case of Opuwo, bottled beers. The city, then, metonymically represents the 'new' or 'modern Namibia', as Opuwans say. This analysis, however, will illustrate that this local (or cultural, see Dolby 2006; Ong 1996; Rosaldo 1994) notion of citizenship does not remain uncontested, and that it--along with the city's soundscape--is characterized by ambiguity and paradox (see Blom Hansen and Stepputat 2001).

The urban soundtrack provided by Bullet ya Kaoko fosters rather than mitigates ambiguity: it evokes realms of experience that are usually opposed in public and political discourse, but it does not aim at bridging this divide. As Fernandez and Huber (2001: 5) note:
   By stating one thing but suggesting more or less its opposite,
   ironists point to an alternative reading of a situation, while
   evading the challenge of direct dissent and protecting themselves
   from censorious response.... [T]he ambiguity inherent to irony
   (does the speaker mean to be ironic or not?) allows ironists to
   accept or condone contradictory intentions and ambivalence about
   where they stand.

In that sense, this urban soundtrack is truly ironical. Using rhetorical devices such as chiasm and oxymoron, it questions but does not answer; it articulates tensions but does not solve them. Irony, indeed, is not merely a discrepancy between intention and effect (as in 'the irony of history'): it is also a strategy, a way of dealing with uncertainty and with situations characterized by an imbalance of power (Brown 1999; Lambek and Antze 2004). (1)

   In the two traditions / Bullet of Kaoko / my child in Opuwo / in
   the sheep of Tjisewa of Kambe / the home of Bullet / even if you go
   to Otuvero / [the place] of the Ongange cattle / they are singing /
   Bullet of Kaoko / at Okatjange [the place where] the bulls were not
   gelded / they favour Bullet of Kaoko / At Otjokavare / the place
   where hulls were gelded after they had already put their legs on
   their mothers / they favour Bullet of Kaoko (italics refer to
   phrases borrowed from Himba/Herero praise songs). (2)

To most visitors Opuwo is a hot, dirty and dusty little town where the smell of dust mingles with the scent of local herbs and the aroma of fuel and motor oil. Many of these visitors will also associate Opuwo with its endless succession of bars along the city's main street, Mumbijazo Mahurukwa Avenue, with their excited (and exciting) ambiance of people drinking and shouting, the smell of sweat and stale beer, and the noise of music bursting through oversteered speakers. To uninitiated ears this urban noise consists of cheap synthesizer beats, repetitive keyboard licks and digitally processed vocals, with cryptic lyrics that even native speakers find difficult to understand and interpret; all songs seem to sound alike. In part, this is due to the conventions of Oviritje--a genre characterized by its language (Otjiherero), song structure (polyphony and the interweaving of chorus and verse), electronic instrumentation and the lavish use of vocoders (see below). This urban noise is also associated with the exalted atmosphere and with the set-up and furniture of the licensed bars and shebeens (as unlicensed bars are known throughout southern Africa) in Opuwo. One of the crucial assets of these bars and shebeens is a jukebox. These small metal boxes were introduced in 2004. They hold up to twelve CDs and, in Opuwo, they invariably contain the newest album by Bullet ya Kaoko, one of the local bands. In October 2006, for instance, the band had just released its new album, Ombura Ndji ('This year'). The opening song, 'Zemburuka' ('Remember'), could be heard through the speakers of almost every bar along Mumbijazo Mahurukwa Avenue: one could hear the song's intro blaring from the first pub along the avenue and hear it continue in the next. Often the song was repeated several times before one of the customers requested a different song.

Four years later, in August 2010, Bullet ya Kaoko had achieved local and national celebrity status. Thanks to a few strategic choices (that included a change of name from [Bullet ya Kaoko] Concert Group to Cultural Group) instigated by Masatu Thorn-the group leader and manager the group played gigs across Namibia: Bullet ya Kaoko even managed to secure an invitation by FIFA to play their music during the World Cup in South Africa. As they were the only Namibians to perform during this event they received nationwide coverage in the Namibian press and were heralded as the representatives and ambassadors of the nation (New Era 2010a, 2010b, 2010c; The Southern Times 2010). One of the ironies this article explores is how the band could achieve this status despite (or because of) the fact that they sing in a literally highly localized and localizing idiom (Schulz 2002: 798; Stokes 2004:59-60; Stroeken 2005: 494): was it necessary for them to 'go local' in order to become the nation's ambassadors?

Also in 2010, on 16 and 17 August, the city of Windhoek hosted the two-day Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit of heads of state and governments, an event that received ample coverage in the Namibian media, not least because, on the eve of his seventy-fifth birthday, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba took over the SADC chairmanship from Joseph Kabila. This thirtieth SADC summit's closing ceremony celebrated the achievements of the former frontline states (including the successful hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa), and remembered their long road to freedom. During an emotional climax, three heroes of the struggle (former Namibian President Sam Nujoma, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and General Hahim Mbita of Tanzania) were decorated with the Sir Seretse Khama SADC Medal. Star of the evening, however, was Robert Mugabe, who delivered the summit's keynote address. The Zimbabwean President warned against former and current colonizers, urged the gathered heads of state to take control over their own destiny, and entertained the public with memories and ancecdotes from the struggle.

This event was broadcast in its entirety by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and fragments, including Mugabe's speech, were repeated over the next few days. We mention it here because it illustrates how the current Namibian political elite defines Namibian citizenship predominantly by referring to the sacrifices members of the ruling Swapo Party made during the struggle for liberation; a nationalist discourse that is characterized by anti-colonial rhetoric and Cold War terminology. (3) This leads, according to Mattia Fumanti (2007: 169), to an idea of authority as self-evident:
   More and more often, the government is drawing its legitimacy from
   the moral weight of the nationalist past, especially from the
   heroics of the liberation struggle. The structures within the party
   are divided into ranks according to seniority, that is according to
   party members' involvement in the liberation struggle or their
   long-term commitment to party politics.

As Fumanti illustrates, however, this rhetoric also excludes large parts of the Namibian population from access to moral authority and power (see also Becker 2011: 529). Today's youths were not involved in the liberation struggle, and most have no recollection of the border war. What is also important in the case of Opuwo is that the city (and the northern Kunene Region in general) is often, explicitly or implicitly, reproached for having sided with the South African police and military. Whereas the history of Kaokoland during the border war is much more nuanced (see Bleckmann 2012; van Wolputte 2004, 2007), the fact remains that until 2010 Opuwo remained one of the few constituencies where the Swapo Party failed to achieve electoral success. (4) Also at stake here is that many in the northern Kunene Region feel belittled by party representatives and government officials who often perceive inhabitants of the northern Kunene Region as 'backward' and 'ignorant'. What it boils down to is that, in Opuwo, most people find it difficult to identify with the idea of a Namibian citizenship as conceived and propagated by the Namibian government and by the ruling political party. (5) Instead, they understand citizenship (loosely defined as belonging to the Namibian community, otjiwana tja Namibia) by referring to an urban lifestyle characterized by modern commodities and city services, in which the city metonymically represents 'the government' (ohoromende). Still, does it not seem ironical that a band from an alleged 'backward' and 'remote' constituency, one that had hitherto defied the ruling party's claim to authority and power, represented Namibia at the World Cup?

The remainder of this article will first sketch the contours of Opuwo's cityscape, focusing on the borders that cross-cut town. This first part will also pay special attention to the context of bars and shebeens (or cuca shops, as unlicensed bars are also known in northern Namibia) along Opuwo's Mumbijazo Mahurukwa Avenue. In so doing, it seeks to highlight local, pragmatic understandings of citizenship in Opuwo. Second, the analysis concentrates on Opuwo's soundscape as shaped by the music, lyrics and performances of Bullet ya Kaoko, to document the ironic strategies the members of the band (and, more generally, the inhabitants of Opuwo) deploy.

   From the rock of Katambi / the nice rock of springboks / where this
   man Ketuu Hembe came from / I will take two or three steps to go to
   Okangwati / the place of the cattle of Uhongora with the fat on the
   chin / the place of the two sheep Tjizu and Tjiuenena / [where] I
   call this man Job Uariumwe Erema / Bullet belongs to boys and girls
   / Where it sleeps, it leaves a calf behind / This band from the
   land of Kaoko / the bullet in the gun / But this is me, from the
   land of Kaoko, I am crying (italics refer to phrases borrowed from
   Himba/ Herero praise songs). (6)

Opuwo is a small city in north-west Namibia. Nowadays, it is home to an estimated 10,000 people and it is the economic and political heart of the northern Kunene Region, an area also known as Kaoko. A former outpost of the South (West) African Administration, Opuwo received city status in 2000, to become the administrative seat for the entire Kunene Region a few years later. With this new status came additional government offices and banks, as well as shops and supermarkets to cater for this new (and growing) group of government employees, who often come from elsewhere in the country. In 2006, the tarred road to and from Windhoek was completed. Besides increasing the flow of mostly Western tourists, the road further augmented the role of Opuwo as a place of opportunities, not only for the local population, but also for the many entrepreneurs coming from elsewhere in Namibia or from neighbouring countries such as Angola. (7)

Like most cities in post-apartheid Southern Africa, Opuwo still bears the scars of its past (see Muller-Friedman 2005: 58; 2008): the concrete remains of the fence that once separated the 'white houses' (ozombapa) from the former townships (orokasie) are still visible. Moreover, most people live in either Katutura ('the place where we do not live', at the time intended for Oshivambo speakers) or in Otuzemba ('the place that smells like shit'), in the apartheid cityscape intended for Otjiherero speakers. The city is also divided along other boundaries, some of which are visible, some of which are not. These boundaries may refer to region of origin (each regional ward has specific places where its people go when in town) or language (notably, the opposition between English and Otjiherero), to kinship, or to the distinction between the formal and the shadow economy. Ethnic boundaries are also in play: whilst it is true that, because of Namibia's recent political history, the inherited tension between ethnicized political parties is somewhat fading, new divides are emerging. One of the ironies of the postapartheid era is that, more strongly than before, the new elites in Kaoko over the past few years have emphasized the differences, in history and traditions, between the different Otjiherero-speaking groups in the region. (8) Barred from both the traditional (patronage through livestock) and modern (party politics) roads to power by older generations, this emerging middle class (usually younger men, often employed, and often also active in civil society) claim access to authority and power by profiling themselves as the guardians of culture (ombazu). One of the most tangible outcomes of these processes of ethnic gerrymandering in both the past and the present is the fact that Opuwo is home to two competing 'royal' dynasties: the Otjikaoko Traditional Council, and the Vita Thom Royal House (see Friedman 2005, 2007, 2011). (9) In daily speech, these two dynasties are equated with 'Himba' and 'Herero' respectively, with the first ethnonym referring to the original, 'authentic' inhabitants of the region, and the second to more recent migrants who settled mainly in the southern parts of Kaoko. In reality, however, this distinction is difficult to uphold (see Bollig 1998: 507), as both ethnicized categories share many similiarities (including language and kinship) and show 'a significant degree of social heterogeneity ... as well as crossover between them' (Friedman 2011: 221).

One of the most tangible boundaries, though, is the difference between what Opuwans refer to as ombazu (culture, tradition) and oveta (state law, government). As people say, pointing out the 'mountain of kings' (ondondu yozombara, the cemetery where the leaders of the Otjikaoko Traditional Council rest, on a hill near the city along the road to Windhoek): this is the place where the two traditions (ombazu and oveta) meet. In daily praxis, however, this boundary between old and new is visualized by the colourful blend of metropolitan dress and customary attire women and men display in the streets and shops in Opuwo, by the fascinating mix of emblems of modernity (mobile phones, sunglasses, umbrellas, radios, bottled beer) with emblems of tradition (beads, leather skirts, 'Victorian' dresses, walking canes and corn beer). This boundary, in other words, relates to different realms of experience (the village versus the city) but is continuously crossed and challenged, and women and (especially) men find it easy to move back and forth. In 2006, for instance, Kanjax (Bullet's baritone lead singer) released a solo album on the cover of which he features in both a white suit and in traditional 'Himba' attire (see Figure 1). The DVDs released by Bullet ya Kaoko also display the ease with which people move back and forth between the 'ancient' and the 'new'. (10)


Opuwo jettisons most conventional understandings of what makes a city into a city and, in many regards, it feels more like a village (De Boeck et al. 2010). Temporary city dwellers (who make up an important part of the city's population) often build their tents or huts in accordance with the region or ward they come from; most plots in Katutura resemble the traditional Ovambo 'labyrinth' homestead, whereas those in Otuzemba are more like the Herero style of dwelling, in which a homestead is conceived as a node on a network of paths. In many other regards, though, Opuwo is a (if not, for many, the) city: it has infrastructure such as electricity, sewerage, and running water (even if many are excluded from it), and offers services such as government offices, banking, education, communication, shops and healthcare-items that until 2005 were associated not with Opuwo but with 'real' cities such as Otjiwarongo, Walvisbaai or Windhoek. This association is also exemplified in commodities such as suits and ties, metropolitan dress ('fashion'), electronic equipment and bread. To most Opuwans it is the access or right to these goods and services that defines what it means to be part of the city and, on several occasions, informants confided that being in the city also meant 'to enter into the [government's] law' (okuhita moveta).

One example of such a service or good is mobile communication. Mobile telephony was introduced in Opuwo in 1998, but was then the prerogative of a small elite. In 2004, the mobile network became available to a larger public. Since then, mobile communication has become a flourishing business in both the formal and shadow economy (witness to this are, for instance, the stalls for mobile phone repairs, street vendors selling phone credit, or the fact that this credit is sometimes used as currency). People in Opuwo do not have an address (only three streets have a name), but they do have a mobile phone number. Until 2008, however, coverage was limited to the immediate vicinity of Opuwo, and being able to call or text was (and is) seen as a sign that one is 'in' the city and also as one of the more tangible signs of Opuwo's newly acquired city status. On different occasions informants cited mobile phone coverage as one of the signifiers of being part of 'the Namibian community' (otjiwana tja Namibia), of being a Namibian citizen. In popular imagination, indeed, the city is coterminous with the modern, in terms of technology, development, the state and citizenship. These notions, however, are understood and signified in terms of the practical imagination rather than defined by the rigid dichotomies of political, public discourse.

Opuwo, in short, constitutes a semi-urban space where the boundary between the village and the realm of the city, between old and new, or between non-citizen and citizen is continuously challenged and negotiated (Low 1996; Mamdani 1996; Pile 2006; Starfield and Gardiner 2000; van Wolputte 2004). Opuwo is a border zone where these two spheres overlap and intersect, allowing for agents' idiosyncracy and eclecticism (van Wolputte 2010).
   Outside the bar, the Toyota pick-up is loaded with people. The
   music pounds from the car's worn speakers, while people share their
   cigarettes and beer. Muhenye and Tjazapi, two ovaramwe
   (cross-cousins) fulfil their obligation to joke while discussing
   the inebriating powers of oserandu ('the red one', Carling Black
   Label). Katjite tries to seduce one of the ladies. Mouye is
   luckier: in her stretch jeans and with her hat pulled deep over her
   eyes, she has already attracted the attention of a few of the guys.
   Omusuverwa wandje, indjo! ('Come, my love, come here!') They try to
   lure her into a private conversation at the back of the car. But to
   no avail. Kakarereua starts dancing next to the pick-up. His moves
   trigger laughter. But then Muhenye, secretary to one of the
   ministries in town, an eminent member of Swapo Party and this
   night's omuhona, ('leader', but also 'giver') decides he is hungry
   and wants to continue the evening at the Opuwo Recreation Club.
   Inside the club, people dance one behind the other, moving through
   the entire bar and disturbing the guys at the pool table. As the
   lead keyboard pitch goes up, they bend their knees and go down to
   the ground (okusaka or pehipehi).

As this vignette suggests, many of the boundaries mentioned above gain special salience in the context of bars, shebeens, bottle stores and drinking stalls, after banks and offices have closed their doors and the shadow realm takes over from the overt, public daytime realm. In popular imagination, visiting Opuwo is often coterminous with going drinking; when a truck loaded with crates of Tafel Lager or Carling Black Label arrives, people cheer that 'the petrol of town is here', and the city is circumscribed as the place 'where women drink so much that they lose their child and they are too drunk to notice'. The many bars along Mumbijazo Muharukua Avenue (with most government offices located across the street), the shebeens and drinking shacks in Otuzemba and Katutura, or the drinking stalls in Epupa (the informal market) further help to create the image of a city drinking its way into modernity. Still, as argued elsewhere (van Wolputte 2010: 87-90), these different drinking occasions are best understood as arenas where revellers experiment with sometimes widely diverging notions of identity and self (see Figure 2). Therefore, such occasions can best be characterized as marginal spaces, but not because they are at the periphery or on the outskirts of town. On the contrary, 'marginal' here refers to anticipation of or reaction to change, to 'site[s] from which to explore the imaginative quality and the specificity of local/ global cultural formation' (Tsing 1994: 279). Bars and beers then appear as nodes where different systems of value intersect (van Wolputte 2010: 81-4; see also Guyer 2005; Das and Poole 2004).


On the one hand, drinking is characterized by strong symbolic boundaries represented by the various beer brands and by items such as clothing, umbrellas, sunglasses, or mobile phones. From this perspective, bars and pubs function as boundaries, as markers of identity and spaces of exclusion, and it is tempting to see in Opuwa's bars a celebration of ostentatious consumption, individual achievement, or personal success. The latter (erau, 'to be in good luck') is symbolized by the beeps of the slot machine that, like the jukebox or pool table, is part of a bar's standard furniture (van Wolputte 2010: 89-91). Consumption and achievement are vaguely associated with modern life, but also with nationhood, state and citizenship (see, for instance, Holston 2006; Pile 2006): some informants pointed out that these (licensed) bars belong to, or even are the state, as an important part of their clientele consists of the urban professionals and government employees from across the street (one of whom referred to his favourite place as his 'other office'). Others, in contrast, referred to the link between the owners of these bars--successful businessmen--and the political elite in critical terms, stating that "[T]hese are Ovambo bars. They are run by people in the government, or their family, by members of the ruling (Swapo) party. They get licensed to keep us down with poison.' (11)

On the other hand, however, pubs and licensed or unlicensed bars are also places of inclusion, where achievement, 'good luck' and nationhood are measured against the background of a local understanding of kinship, place and the forces of the occult (Devisch 1996; Englund 2005; see also Ceuppens and Geschiere 2005). This inclusive dimension of bars is exemplified, for instance, by the music they play: the performances, videos and songs by Bullet ya Kaoko present a contemporary cross-media blend of highly cryptic phrases praising local celebrities, kinsmen, and places in Kaokoland with evocations of modern achievement, ethnic identity and Namibian citizenship. This mix of local belonging with markers of a more discursive identity makes these songs popular in all the bars along Mumbijazo Muharukua Avenue, across ethnic and political divides, and among both the old and the young. The juxtaposition of sometimes starkly contrasting tokens and fragments of identity makes these bars into spaces--arenas--for the negotiation of received boundaries. The same goes for the music they play: music, lyrics, performances and visual representations simultaneously offer different models of identification, placing the possibility to choose (or not) firmly in the hands of the audience.

   When you are in the world, please be careful / It is a world full
   of deceit / Full of jealousy, full of sickness, full of death / The
   way of the world is difficult, Mother, it will make you cry /
   Father, not these difficulties make you cry, but the words I say
   [will]. (12)

Bullet ya Kaoko plays Oviritje music, a local genre (oviritje is Herero slang for 'songs') that, in the 1960s, developed out of the ombetasaneno (music competitions jointly organized by sport teams and church and school choirs in Central Namibia, see Erlank and Haakuria 2002; Alnaes 1989). (13) Influenced by gospel, township jive and traditional Herero music, Oviritje musicians nowadays use a predominantly electronic instrumentation (mostly Casio or Yamaha keyboards). Still, the polyphonic blend of male baritone with female soprano voices, the syntactic pattern of the songs and the highly stylized moves are reminders of Oviritje's origin in the traditional Herero omuhiva dances and songs, and in Herero omitandu praise songs; these are seen as the genre's most characteristic traits. Oviritje albums are usually recorded in Windhoek, and burned and printed on a home computer to be distributed mainly through the informal circuit. More important than these albums, which are regarded as promotional material, are the concerts (including festivals and competitions) organized at weekends. Even though transportation swallows the majority of their budget, these shows are the major source of income for these bands, and Oviritje groups spend a lot of effort on choreography and on the visual aspects of their performances: each band, for instance, has a stage outfit, and besides singers and keyboard players most bands also have a dance section. Also, Oviritje bands are rather flexible organizations. Bullet sometimes plays two gigs at the same time, dividing its members across different stages in Namibia, and its singers take turns in releasing their solo projects (usually with the back-up of the other members of the band). Nowadays there are more than a dozen Oviritje groups in Namibia that enjoy national and even international popularity (see, for instance, Sunset ya Kaoko Concert Group; Onyoka Concert Group; Wilddogs Music Group). (14) Unlike, for instance, the 'mannerless generation' Mark Lamont (2010) describes for Kenya, they pay tribute to Herero leaders and their 'flag', or sing about relationships or other challenges that confront Namibian youths in general, and Herero youths in particular (see Hendrickson 1996; Durham 1999, 2004; Gewald 2002). Often these songs are also instructional, providing warnings and advice (Bullet ya Kaoko, for instance, also released a CD as part of a government HIV/ AIDS awareness campaign). This, and the fact that these groups usually sing in Otjiherero, sometimes in Oshiwambo, further distinguishes Oviritje from most other popular Namibian musical genres, mainly from Kwaito and R & B artists. It also sets the genre aside from the more cosmopolitan-oriented music found elsewhere in Southern Africa (Turino 2003): even though the ambitions of these bands reach beyond Namibia and even Africa (CD liner notes invariably thank their fans around the world), their music can perhaps be best characterized as metropolitan.

Most members of Bullet ya Kaoko are from various wards in the northern Kunene Region and Otjozondyupa Region in Namibia and, for various reasons, ended up in Opuwo where they were recruited by Masatu Thom, Bullet's manager. Their first performance was in 2004, and Bullet quickly obtained local fame and success, culminating in the release of their album Ombura Ndji in 2006. However, according to Thom, they felt that Opuwo and the Kunene Region was too small for them to secure their living, and looked for a way to distinguish themselves from the other Oviritje bands. According to Thom, they then decided that the culture of their home town, Opuwo, and of the Himba living there, of the 'ancient Herero tradition' as it is still alive among the Himba in Kaoko, should become their unique selling proposition (interview, Masatu Thom, 14 August 2010). In 2008, with elections due in 2009, the band was offered the opportunity to perform at election rallies organized by the two major parties in Namibia: Swapo Party and DTA (Democratic Turnhalle Alliance). Swapo Party, however, also offered to finance the band's next album as part of its electoral campaign. Through these political contacts, Bullet ya Kaoko now had the chance to perform nationwide; these contacts also enabled Thorn to persuade the South African Minister of Tourism to invite Bullet ya Kaoko to South Africa for the World Cup. The band was looking for sponsors to finance their trip and were granted sponsorship by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Air Namibia, as well as other sources. By then they had started to perform in traditional Himba attire, and changed their name to Bullet ya Kaoko Cultural Group. (15) On this discovery of culture, the New Era (generally regarded as the government newspaper) quoted Thorn as saying:

my first gratitude goes to the Ovahimba culture that has made it possible that we have been invited to perform at the opening ceremony of the World Cup finals. Without the Ovahimba culture, in which the group is rooted, this could not have been possible. (New Era 2010a)

During an interview in March 2010, Kanjax expressed it thus: 'People used to say that the Himba are stupid and backwards. We want to show in our songs that it is not like that, but, instead that the people have to be proud of their culture' (Kanjax Taausuverwe, 3 March 2010).

The videoclips by Oviritje groups often combine moving images with still images that refer to important Hereto festivities, evoke particular places, depict Herero in their military uniform or Victorian dress, or honour Herero leaders of the past and present. Often these images are cross-cut by images of nature of the kind found in coffee table books and brochures on Namibia's nature and wildlife. Some clips entirely consist of a succession of slides: one example starts with a picture of an Afrikaander bull, followed by (among others) a screaming (white) child, an emaciated patient in a hospital bed, a happy and an anxious smiley, a (white) model in typical pose, praying hands, and a picture of a blessing Christ. (16) Yet, most videos by Bullet ya Kaoko mix images of dancing youngsters in metropolitan stage outfit with dancers dressed in traditional Himba attire. They dance in Oviritje style (the modest omuhiva movements mixed with Kwaito moves); while the dancers in city outfits incorporate elements from the Himba/ Herero omuhango (the 'warrior dance' performed at circumcision ceremonies and burials), those in leather dress blend their Oviritje moves with metropolitan elements or with references to Kaoko's military past. These embodied oxymorons thus question and challenge received dichotomies such as village versus city, modernity versus tradition, and so on. (17)


Most of Bullet's videos have a similar outlook and structure, in which images of a rural (yet contemporary) Kaoko are alternated with iconic images of the city (such as Opuwo's Mumbijazo Mahurukwa Avenue, Okahandja's Hereto Day, and see Figure 3--Hosea Kutako's statue in Windhoek), and images of Herero identity or of the Namibian nation state (see Becker 2011). These videoclips portray the ease with which people move between both the old and the new; they entail a simultaneous traditionalizing of the modern and a modernizing of the old, creating a space of ambivalence between the village and the city. It is this ambivalence that characterizes the bars and shebeens where music by Bullet ya Kaoko and other Oviritje groups bursts through the speakers, creating the necessary room for the eclecticism and idiosyncracy by which Opuwans negotiate the old and the new. This 'cultivated ambivalence' (Friedman 2007) also permeates the structure and contents (the lyrics) of the songs by Bullet ya Kaoko: they address their audience not just as Namibians or ovazorondu ('blacks'), but also as members of an eanda (matriclan, a kinship group that cuts across the different Otjiherero-speaking communities) or as bearers of an ancient tradition (in the videos embodied by dancers in leather Himba dress). The songs criticize the lack of (political) unity among the Herero, but also draw on the many ethnicized labels in Kaoko and Namibian politics. They voice the challenges of today's world that is 'turning round' (okutanaura) while at the same time they embed the audience in networks of kinship and place. (19) As Kanjax sings in 'Kotjitoporo' ('To the place of the borehole', a local designation of Opuwo):
   People at the homestead in Otjitoporo / at the sheep of Tjisewa, of
   Kamba / we are here, we are coming, Bullet of Kaoko / A surprise:
   the spirits / the deceased forebears of our father / have protected
   us / We are here, and we scream / We scream in the land of Maendo,
   the language of the Omukweyuva matriclan / of this man Isak
   Viakondo [...] / When you are alone, you are nothing (italics refer
   to fragments borrowed from Himba/Herero praise songs). (20)

One of the most characteristic features of Oviritje songs, and an important narrative technique, is that the songs move from place to place. As in Himba/ Herero omitandu, these places are evoked by short descriptive phrases (the italicized phrases in the examples presented here) evoking real or mythical events, culture heroes, or the place's particulars. In the above song, for instance, the phrase 'at the sheep of Tjisewa, of Kamba' refers to Opuwo. In general, these poetic evocations constitute more or less fixed expressions; also, they differ from ordinary speech by their form, emphasis, rhythm, and particular word sequence, especially so in an urban setting. One of the songs by Bullet ya Kaoko, for instance, evokes the sun (eyuva) by referring to 'the words of the people who have cut off their fingers' (romambo ovandu mbekerika kominwe). In another song ('Ombura', 'Rain') from the same album, references to 'Namibia' are alternated with references to the country as "the land of Kauakovere, of the dog of Kuzema' ('Mehi raKauakovere kozombwa zaKuzema'). Usually, however, these evocative phrases remain unexplained: their exegesis and transmission is the prerogative of the ovakuruhungi ('the people of the stories of old'), an institution that places this duty and prerogative firmly in the hands of the lineage elders. (See Bollig 1997; Kavari 2002.)

Traditional Himba/Herero praise songs, then, consist of a creative, often improvised, combination of different evocative phrases or verses. This combination of praise verses in a song--a sometimes seemingly endless conjunction of names and characteristics interlinks people, events, landscape features, animals or even cars. It (re)creates genealogies, discloses someone's character, or lays political claims to land, to water or to political office. These claims are based on the ancestors' itineraries, on the places where they sojourned and where their graves are found. Performing these praise songs then becomes a topography of memory, in which landscape features (such as graves, mountains, springs or roads) function as memory markers linking places and people (Bleckmann 2012: 82; Forster 2005, 2010; Henrichsen 2011). This linking occurs at three levels: first there are the more or less fixed evocative phrases (such as 'the place of the cattle of Uhongora with the fat on the chin', an expression referring to Okangwati, see above) that, at a second level, are combined into a praise song; a third level, then, refers to the way different songs are combined in the performance of praise. In that sense, praise poems travel through time and space, as do Oviritje songs and dances (see Figure 4). To praise means to link: places to persons, persons to cattle, cattle to kin, and so on (see Kavari and Bleckmann 2009).


Yet, Herero praise songs are much more than a storage of knowledge that saves memories in a poetic and thus 'stable' form (see, for example, Assmann 1999). As it takes specialists to interpret, and because its meanings are the result of a creative combination of praise verses and songs, its interpretation is contested and negotiated, especially in an urban context.

When composing a song, Bullet ya Kaoko band members borrow these fixed omitandu phrases after consulting or interviewing their lineage elders or ovahoko (matrirelatives). This technique of cutting and pasting praise verses (which can be compared to sampling) renders their songs highly elusive and difficult to understand even to native speakers, as their precise exegesis and background is only known to a small elite. Yet, because of this, they also sound familiar. As with praise songs, the songs by Bullet ya Kaoko also intertwine names of people with places, kin and animals, carving out the itineraries and trajectories of the ancestors and the lineage, placing the different Hereto matriclans right at the centre of city life, and extending urban intersubjectivity to include the ancestors, shared representations of place, and even of cattle (on the relation between memory, music and affect, see Qureshi 2000).
   Community, how can I remain silent / When I grow corn and it dies,
   child, you forget / You African people, you eat and you finish
   everything / then you forget to remember the many things that have
   been done in our land of Kauakovere / The war of Hamakari of
   Kakonge [...] this war has separated people / Many died and sleep
   in their grave, some have run to Botswana / towards the hats,
   towards the leopard of Kazaoro / some are in Tjihitwa, some are at
   Solowe / where the bones of Maharero came from. Listen well, I am
   talking about [our] history / about my mother's people [...] / they
   are omukweyuva omutati [matriclan] / of Mwakaheke, his mother, the
   sister of Kanawanga / listen to me well, the omukweyuva is talking
   (italics refer to phrases borrowed from Himba/Herero praise songs).

In this example, the song almost simultaneously evokes belonging to Namibia ('the land of Kauakovere'), to Herero society at large (its history--the battle at Waterberg--and the Hereto communities in Botswana), and to the singer's matrilineage (omukweyuva) by 'sampling' and linking different praise verses evoking belonging and identity. Songs like these imagine tradition and origin and express belonging whilst, at the same time, voicing uncertainty and fragmentation. This fragmentation surfaces, for instance, in the alternation between praise verses and normal speech, 'authentic' form with contemporary concerns, and relatedness with self-assertion and self-praise ('Where it sleeps, it leaves a calf behind', for example, alluding to the sexual successes of the members of the band, see above).

   This is where I decided to go to Opuwo / to the sheep of Tjisewa of
   Kambe near Otjihinamaparero / the borehole amidst the mindumha
   (trees) / where we met with Masatu Thorn of Kaoko / the
   omukwenambura [name matriclan] man, the son of Nangombe of Korue /
   Mama, yesterday when I was there in the land of Tjomupanda / at the
   house of the wife of the stick of Ruhemhonde / at our beautiful
   dryland, with the birds in the trees / we never knew (then) that
   once I would become important / in the community of Namibia
   (italics refer to phrases borrowed from Himba/Herero praise songs).

As Fernandez and Huber (2001: 5) suggested, the musical performances by Bullet ya Kaoko offer an alternative reading of modernity and its ideals of progress and development (see Goankar 2001). In popular discourse, these ideals are often equated with nationhood and 'good' citizenship: a proper citizen has a job and pays taxes; he owns property and is a consumer, preferably of Namibian goods. In the public imagination these ideals are exemplified by the city, by its streets, pavements and monuments, and also by the services and goods provided by the offices, shops and bars in town. Contrary, however, to the nationalist discourse promulgated by Namibia's ruling political elite, the music of Bullet ya Kaoko does not define Namibian-ness by reference to the hardships experienced under apartheid, nor to the legitimacy of the struggle for liberation, nor to one's loyalty to the ruling political party. Neither does it understand the city as a realm clearly different from and opposite to the rural hinterland. On the contrary, the city is the place where two traditions (ombazu, 'culture,' and oveta, 'being in the state') meet, and Bullet's music and performances, whether posted on YouTube or published on Facebook, are characterized by phrasing the modern in terms of the old (for instance, the praise verses borrowed from the elders' omitandu), and framing the old in terms of the new (for instance, the discovery of culture and authenticity). Citizenship is thus reinterpreted and reappropriated in localizing terms: to be important in Namibia first of all means to be someone in your eanda (matrilineage), and to remember the paths the forebears took. To be a good citizen, to be part of the city, means to be 'in tradition', to have worn the epando (a leather belt symbolizing a woman's fertility) and the other items of dress associated with Himba and Herero culture (see for instance the song 'Ombazu' by Bullet ya Kaoko). (24) In Bullet's videos, this general idea is underscored by alternating scenes from the city and village with pictures deemed to be iconic of Namibia (its flag, weapon shield, president, or sand dunes, a San family, and so on). At the same time, though, the village they evoke is far away from the untouched ('authentic') anachronism cherished by tourists and tour operators venturing into the 'Last Wilderness' (as one tourist brochure describes Kaoko). Like the many tourists and film crews before them, the members of Bullet ya Kaoko also discovered Himba tradition (see Warnlof 1999). Yet, they do not portray modernity as a threat.

One of the ironies that permeates the music and the rise to national fame by Bullet ya Kaoko is that local elites in Kaoko started to emphasize their different histories and traditions only recently, little more than a decade after the waning of apartheid. Of course, this imagination of tradition (Ranger 1993) is also heir to the uncertainties brought about by globalization, and to the commodification of authenticity and ethnic identity (see Comaroff and Comaroff 2009). The irony then is not that Bullet ya Kaoko turned to tradition for rather pragmatic reasons, but that the music by Bullet ya Kaoko is an authentic reproduction (see Bruner 1994: 397), with the simulacrum having become the true--at least for the many urbanites for whom the music and the 'cultural turn' by Bullet ya Kaoko struck a chord.

In its first meaning, irony indeed refers to the discrepancy between intention and effect, or between discourse and praxis. In that sense, for instance, we referred to the irony that Bullet needed to 'go local' in order to represent Namibia at the FIFA World Cup. Another irony is that Bullet's South African adventure was sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism; in the meantime the band is often invited to perform at cultural festivals throughout Namibia, but hitherto was barred from doing so before a Western audience, such as tourists in Opuwo (Interview, Masatu Thorn, 13 August 2010).

Irony, however, is also a strategy. It consists of juxtaposing two perspectives or ideas that are commonly regarded as incommensurable. In this particular case study, this agentive form of irony consists of cross-breeding the old and the new--the two traditions, village and city, Himba and Herero, ombazu and oveta--thus challenging and reworking both. Still, Bullet ya Kaoko's music does not offer a counter-discourse: it merely evokes, creating a soundscape in which received boundaries have blurred and ambivalence rules, where different models of identification and subjectivation are offered simultaneously (also see Askew 2003). The songs by Bullet ya Kaoko and other Oviritje bands, for instance, may address the members of their erapi ('flag', a metonym of the three Herero subgroups), or an imagined Herero-speaking community. However, they also address their ovahoko (members of the same eanda or matriclan--an institution in northern Namibia and Botswana that cross-cuts ethnic divides) or a wider black or Namibian audience.

The music by Bullet ya Kaoko interprets city life and citizenship through the prism of the village realm. (25) Conversely, it appropriates tradition through metropolitan eyes. This way, the music of Bullet ya Kaoko (and other Oviritje bands) makes up a fitting soundtrack for life at the liminoid (Turner 1988) or heterotopic (Foucault 1986) places constituted by leisure spaces such as bars and shebeens. These are characterized by the simultaneous articulation of different models of subjectivation and modes of identification: on the one hand, bars and cuca shops are spaces of exclusion with leisure and consumption divided by strong symbolic boundaries. Kinds and brands of beer, for instance, relate to one's socioeconomic status, gender, or even ethnic background. On the other hand, pubs and bars also are places of inclusion where these boundaries can be, and often are, transgressed and overcome: bars and shebeens are creative arenas where revellers experiment with different fragments of self and identity. The outcome of these experiments, however, is uncertain: a common theme in Oviritje music is, indeed, that the world can 'turn around' at any moment.

These experiments are also testified to by the music and performances of Bullet ya Kaoko which engage in negotiating received boundaries, and in making new ones. This means that these experiments go beyond, to use Foucault's (1990) term, a mere aesthetics of the self. From the point of view of these musicians, commercial and aesthetic values, or 'ethnopreneurship' (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009: 56) and authenticity are not opposed: their cross-breeding is the foundation of Bullet ya Kaoko's music and success, both of which the band attributes to the fact that its music is a mere reflection of life in the city. Bullet ya Kaoko's reworking of the existing genre of praise songs and a reimagination of place and kinship, though, remind urbanites that their and their ancestors' itineraries are crucial in the making of their urban subjectivity; thus they locate the village realm right at the centre of city life, in the exalted sphere of pubs and shebeens or wherever their music is played. Conversely, they also show villagers that interdependency and sociability are not confined to the boundaries of kinship or ethnic affiliation but also take place within the city and, metonymically, the nation.


Steven van Wolputte carried out extensive anthropological research among rural communities in western Kaoko between 1995 and 1998, and during regular but shorter stays between 2002 and the present in the city of Opuwo. Laura Bleckmann undertook fieldwork in the villages of southern Kaoko and in Opuwo mainly between 2007 and 2009. This research was made possible by different research grants by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), and by the project 'Beyond the Border' funded by the same institution. An earlier version of this article was first presented at the AEGIS thematic conference 'Tuning in to African cities: popular culture and urban experience in sub-Saharan Africa', jointly organized by the Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa (IARA), University of Leuven, and the Centre of West African Studies (CWAS) of the University of Birmingham, 6-8 May 2010. The authors would like to thank the editors and the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript for their comments and criticism. We are also indebted to Michael Bollig, Larissa Forster, John Friedman, Mario Kramer, Kaviruka Muharukua, Fatima Muller-Friedman and Tjivehatja Ndovazu, Masatu Thorn, Kanjax 'Zemburuka' Taausuverwe, and the other members of Bullet ya Kaoko for sharing their time, thoughts and suggestions. All mistakes and shortcomings, though, are entirely ours.

doi: 10.1017/S0001972012000319


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Bullet Ya Kaoko Concert Group (2006a) Ombura Ndji. Audio CD, Bullet Concert Group.

--(2006b) Ombura Ndji. DVD video production. Windhoek: Criminal Productions. (Parts of this DVD are also on YouTube. See <http://www.>, accessed 7 December 2010).

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New Era (2010a) 'Bullet to represent us at World Cup opening' by K. Matundu-Tjiparuro, 23 April < articleid=10638>, accessed 10 November 2010.

New Era (2010b) '"Bullet" off to World Cup' by I. !Hoaes, 9 June, <http://www., na/article, php?articleid=1347>, accessed 10 November 2010.

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The Southern Times (2010) 'Bullet at world cup' by L. Nashuuta, 16 June, < &id=4270&id=99795>, accessed 10 November 2010.

(1) Space limitations prevent us from discussing the notion of irony in detail. See instead Fernandez and Huber 2001: Lambek and Antze 2004.

(2) Excerpt from the song 'Zemhuruka' ('Remember', Bullet ya Kaoko 2006a, 2006b). Mozombazu mbari / Bullet ya Kaoko / muatje wandje mOpuwol mondu yatjisewa Yakambe / omomaturiro wo bullet / nangarire tjiwai ko Tuvero tongombe ongange maveravaere / o bullet ya Kaoko / moruuwa rwa Ndungawa otjirongo oKatjangee imo vezuva uriri vezera / o bullet yaKaoko / mozombombota zakaeru ndakapindwa / zatwa maoko kozoina otjirongo Tjokavare vezera / o Bullet va Kaoko. See also <>, accessed 9 November 2010.

(3) We follow Heike Becker (2011: 523, fn 7) in referring to the ruling political party by its official name, Swapo Party. Becker reserves the former acronym SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization) to refer to the period before Namibia's independence.

(4) During the 2009 national elections, Swapo Party fell short of obtaining a majority in Opuwo by a handful of votes. During the Regional Council elections on 26-27 November 2010, however, the party gained a landslide victory in Opuwo, despite the lowest voter turnout ever recorded since independence.

(5) To an important extent, these sentiments (that have also, especially in the past, included an ethnicization of party politics) are still a consequence of South Africa's propaganda and its efforts to destabilize political opponents inside Namibia (see, for instance, Katjavivi 1988; Gewald 2004).

(6) Excerpt from the song 'kOpuwo' ('to Opuwo', Kanjax 2006). Kezorongo ra katambi / ewa rozomenj pona / pazo mundu Ketuu Hembe / vivari vitatu meviese pehi mbiyende koKangwati / kongombe ya Uhongora ondindc tjatinda zondjeo / imba pozondu mbari ondjiri Tjizu naTjiuenena / imba meisana Job Uariumwe Erema / O Bullet ondjingairiyo yovazandu novakazona / puyarara opuiso ndana / indji yehi ra Kaoko ohanga mondjembo / posiya oyehi raKaoko omundu owami ngwi meriri.

(7) Like so many cities, Opuwo occupies a rather ambivalent position in the local imaginary. It is a place of opportunity, but also of problems and threat (see van Wolputte 2007, 2010).

(8) These distinctions are certainly not new to the region (see Friedman 2011: Bollig 1998). Still, the contemporary political discourse on difference can at least partially be attributed to the fact that, since 2003, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), seen by many in Opuwo as 'the Herero party', has fallen into different competing t:actions such as the National Unity Democratic Organization (NUDO) headed by Herero paramount chief Kuaima Riruako. Swapo Party also had its share of dissidents. This resulted, for instance, in the founding of The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), headed by Former Foreign Minister and Swapo Party heavyweight Hidipo Hamutenya. (On the background to the process of ethnicization in Namibian politics, see Gewald 2004.)

(9) The 'two traditions' in the song 'Zemburuka' may refer to these two royal houses; they may also refer to the distinction between oveta (state law, governance) and ombazu (tradition).

(10) See for instance the clip for the song Ndjambi ('God') (Bullet Ya Kaoko 2006b). Also see the clip on YouTube, <>, accessed 7 December 2010.

(11) Interview, Anonymous, 15 August 2006. For a more elaborate discussion on the relation between drink and state, see van Wolputte and Fumanti 2010: 17-20: see also Bryceson 2002: Crush and Ambler 1992; Mager 1999, 2010.

(12) Excerpt from Ouje ('The World', Bullet ya Kaoko 2006a, b). Tjiuri mouje arikana kengeza / ouje mbwi weura novineya, / ouje mbwi weura nomaruru, ouje mbwi weura nomitjise,ouje mbwi weura nozondiro,/ Ovio uje ovizeu mama oviyetisa mahoze / tate vio uje kambiri vio oviyeteka mahoze omambo mehungire.

(13) One contact referred to Oviritje as 'New Age Herero Music' (Larissa Forster, personal communication).

(14) Next to their English (or Hereto) band name, they may also perform under the Herero (or English) translation of that name (The Wire becomes Ondarata, Bullet becomes Ohanga, Wilddogs becomes Ohakane, and so on). Each band, moreover, is also associated with a particular place or town.

(15) The original addition "Concert Group' was replaced by 'Cultural Group" when the strategy to incorporate elements of traditional Himba/Herero elements seemed successful. See for instance the pictures posted on Bullet ya Kaoko's Facebook page, where, in the meantime, the band advertises itself as 'Traditional Music Group', <>, accessed 16 February 2012.

(16) This videoclip by Onduezu Oviritje ('the Oviritje Bull') from Botswana is available on YouTube, see <> accessed 11 November 2011.

(17) See, for instance, the video clip for Zemburuka (Bullet ya Kaoko 2006b); also see < http://>. accessed l0 November 2010.

(18) Also see the clip on YouTube, < >, accessed 8 December 2010.

(19) In Himba/Herero cosmology, okutanaura (to turn around, or outanaura, the turnaround) is a crucial concept that refers to a complete, sudden and violent change of the world, the moment that, in the words of one of our informants, 'the skies become earth, and the earth becomes sky'.

(20) Excerpt from Kotjitoporo ('To the place of the borehole', Kanjax, 2006). Vandu konganda Kotjitoporo / kondu yaTjisewa Yakambe / owetemha tweya o Bullet ya Kaoko / Otjihimise otjitemise ozombepo / zakambura zotate mbakarara / Owetemba maturavaere / Ete turavaere mehi raMaendo eraka raravaere romukweyuva / womundu Isak Viakondo [...] / ouye tjivinguruka .... Ourike katjina.

(21) Also see the clip on YouTube, <>, accessed 8 December 2010.

(22) Excerpt from the song Omakuruhungi ('the stories of old', Bullet ya Kaoko 2006a, b). Hapo tjiwana me mwinavi / ambawish'e ondanga mezuko mwatje tjita tjizembwa / periwa pepwa / ene vandu ovazorondu muzemba okuzemburuka ovina ovingi mbiatjitwa mehi retu raKauakovere / Ovita viaHamakari via Kakonge [...] ovita mbio viamana ovandu / ovita mbio viahana ovandu ovenge veri mozombongo rata vakarara / Tjiva vatupuka ko Tjauana / tjivikori kongwe ya Kazaoro tjiva veri moMauaneno / tjiva veri moTjihitwa, tjiva veri koSolowe / kukwaza omatupa waMaharero / Ndjipuratenee nawa mehungire omakuruhungi / metamuna ovamama [...] I vamama mbumehungire ovakweuva wo mutate / waMwakaheke ina mutena waKanauanga / ndjipuratenee nawa omukweuva mahungire.

(23) Excerpt from the song Kakoto (person's name, Kanjax 2006). Opumbatandera ouyenda okoyenda koPuwo / kondu yaTjisewa yakambe / kotjihinamaparero omotjitoporo mindumba I omundu oputwawanena Masatu Thom waKaoko. / Omukwenambura womundu ingwi woyaNangombe ya Korue / Mama katutjivirwe kutja mekarira omundu omunahepero motjiwana tja Namhia / erero tjimbari mbena mehi raTjomupanda / kondjiuo yomukaendu wo kati kaRuhembonde/komaheke wetu omawa inga wondera komiti. Omukwenambura and omukweyuva are the names of two matriclans (omaanda).

(24) See, for instance, the following excerpt from the song Ombazu ('tradition', 'culture') by Bullet Ya Kaoko: 'I wore this beautiful necklace as a good married woman should, this ozondengura [a woman's copper wire collar] of the pretty wife [...], I wore my belt as a good spouse should, our epando [adult woman's belt] of the pretty wife, I wore the skirts as a good married woman should, every person came from his (own place), we are talking about the culture of Kaoko.' (Mbazara oundjendje ouwa tjomukaendu omuwa omukupwa ona ndo zondengura zomukaendu omuwa omukupwa, [...], mbazara ekwamo randje tjomukaendu omuwa omupwa ona ndo epando retu romukaendu omuwa omukupwa,mbazaro ohorokova (jomukaendu omuwa omukupwa omundu auhe waza koyao ete matuhungire omambo ouhunga nornbazu yaKaoko.)

(25) For a visual illustration, see Bullet ya Kaoko's Facebook page, < sk=welcome#!/pages/Bullet-Traditional-Music-Group/194421920575521>.

STEVEN VAN WOLPUTTE is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Institute for Anthropologial Research in Africa (IARA), University of Leuven, Belgium. At the time of writing (2010-11) he was Fellow at the International Research Institute Morphomata, Universitat zu Koln, Germany. Email:

LAURA E. BLECKMANN (IARA, University of Leuven) recently submitted her PhD on the performance of memories and identities in southern Kaoko (Bleckmann 2012). She has also published on the poetics of Herero praise songs. Email:
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Author:van Wolputte, Steven; Bleckmann, Laura E.
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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