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Mukubal Father With His Child, Virie Area, Angola

Mucubal people are a subgroup of the Herero ethnic group, which means they are bantu speaking, and are supposed to have come from Kenya and to be related with Massais. They are semi nomadic pastoralists living of cattle raising and 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.

Mucubal people have some very specific customs and traditions. They don't know their own age and only are interested in cattle and do not care of the rest of the world outside of the bush. Mucubals are not allowed to mention people’s name in public, except their parent’s one, and children’s name in general. A married couple is not allowed to talk to each other in public, as long as the wife hasn’t had children. They only can speak to each other in private.

Men and women have specific and separated roles in Mucubal society. Boys are circumcised when they are very young, before becoming herdsmen and cattle raider warriors once they are adult. Girls go to get water while boys don’t have to do anything. Women are in charge of household and food. Later they 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, to go in a hole, dug to relieve themselves, and return in their mouth covered with excrement.

The family structure and organization is also 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. 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 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. 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 by selling her. A woman can be worth two cows, which is about 2000 euros and represents a lot of money. For a first marriage a woman can even be worth 3 or 4 cows.


© Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com

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Taken on November 25, 2010