D irectly north of Windhoek lies Okahandja, a town of great significance to the Herero people because it was once the seat of the famous Chief Samuel Maharero.

Every year on 26 August – with the exception of 2011 when it was held in Gobabis, and referred to as Heroes’ Day – thousands of Hereros converge on the town to pay homage at the graves of their great chiefs. Some of the women are dressed in traditional red and black, others in green and black, while the men wear full military regalia, complete with medals.Visitors are welcome to view this rich and colourful ceremony.

According to historian Dr H Vedder, the name Okahandja comes from Herero and means ‘small widening’, the place where the rivers meet. The earliest records of the town date back to 1844 when the first two missionaries arrived there. The year 1894, however, is regarded as the birth of the town, as Okahandja became a military- base in this year and a fort was built. On 26 August 1923, Chief Samuel Maherero was laid to rest in Okahandja at a funeral attended by approximately 2 000 people. Since then this day has been celebrated annually at Okahandja by the Herero people.

The town is an important centre for woodcarvers from the north. They practise their ancient skills at the wood-and-thatch Mbangura Woodcarvers Market next to the main road, both at the entrance and at the exit of the town. Also at the main entrance to the town, right next to the service station, is a biltong, coffee and gift shop that makes for a good pit stop. Okahandja is also a good place to buy biltong, at CLOSWA and Piet’s Biltong.

A new concept by cultural entrepreneur, Bertha Mbundu, is the Okahandja Cultural Village, which houses homesteads of seven of Namibia’s cultural groups – the San, Tswana, Caprivians, Damara, Ovahimba-/Ovahere and Owambo – with the aims of preserving and teaching the country’s cultural diversity. It is situated 10 km outside Okahandja off the Hochveld Road.

In the surroundings The Elegant Farmstead draws visitors with its fusion of old and new.

Many farmers around Okahandja farm with goats. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
Herero women in traditional dress. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

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