Saturday, February 4, 2012

The King is dead, may he rest in peace


You can learn a lot about a people by how they treat their children and elderly, by how they marry and bury, two weeks ago, I had the privilege to learn a lot about the Otjiherero culture, via the Royal Funeral of Chief Christian Zeraua a man I first met 1997 when I relocated to Omaruru. Over the years when we met, pleasantries were always exchanged, in spite of language barriers (mine not his) I knew his greetings were sincere, I found this slight, humble man, to be possessed of a quiet yet inherently powerful confidence that naturally inspired respect from those he encountered.  Until last week I knew nothing of the traditions surrounding a Royal Otjiherero funeral, having photographed a number of Omaruru White Flag celebrations and being present for the von Trotha’s apology I was honored to be named the official photographer for the funeral, by the Royal Family. So began my education.
My efforts to document the Chief’s final journey began on Wednesday with the digging of his final resting place in Omaruru’s historic Rhenish cemetery. 


It was a bitter sweet labor punctuated by the sounds of hard work and quiet laughter, done without complaint, shared by many hands.  


Thursday brought hundreds of mourners to the main road into Omaruru, waiting to greet the Chief as he passed through on his way to the tiny village of Okaumbaaha and his home.


The procession stopped at the border to the traditional homeland of the Chief, and there a small group of people sang a quiet hymn in a language I did not understand, and yet it was amongst the most moving humble tributes I have ever witnessed.


Surrounded by hundreds, escorted by horse mounted Commando’s he was taken to a small in his modest home where prayers and hymns were quietly sung and said. To be in the presence of such intense feelings of sorrow and celebration was deeply moving.



I was just at the door jam to the bedroom where the Chief was laid in state this is from a moment between prayers
The Chief spent Thursday at his homestead, and Friday came back to Omaruru for an evening service at the Ozondje Lutheran Church. 



It was at this service that the VIP’s started to make their presence felt.  Ministers, senior clergy, regional councilors, governors, members of parliament, yes they were all there, but for me the story of Christian Zeraua has far more to do with the nameless thousands who came to pay their respects, to a great Chief then all VIPs who’s presence may or may not have been sincere expressions of condolences.   The Church was standing room only, in fact many people were outside the church listening to the service on loudspeakers, and to me it is these people and all the others like them that are the true measure of the man.
Saturday Morning the Chief went to his Commando in Ozondje one last time, where again he was met by thousands, there to pay their respects and to listen all day long to speakers singing his praises.


One unifying theme throughout the entire funeral from Thursday until Sunday was the humility of the Chief and his role as unifier, freedom fighter and peacemaker.  There were some ceremonial expressions I found wonderful, there was a group of men with mock spears, chanting to the Chief, and transferring strength to him for this last journey.



I also asked about the women who always seemed to sit with the casket.  I was touched to be told that the Chief was never left alone, these were his guardians, a tradition that my culture could well learn from.

Sunday the old Rhenish Chapel was filled to capacity for the final service. If the church was full the surrounds were bursting, not in the 15 years I have lived in Omaruru have I seen such a gathering for any event or circumstance.  


At graveside the final words were said and the Chief was lowered into his tomb, adjacent to his forebears.  With the ceremonial sprinkling of dirt by senior Clerics and the President, ashes to ashes dust to dust, the funeral ended and gradually the crowd dispersed. 



The Royal House of Chief Zeraua, The Municipality of Omaruru, the Offices of the Regional Council, and the Police are all to be commended for their efforts and organization. For my part it was a privilege to be accepted by all and allowed to document this historical event.

Farewell Christian.

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