A Culture of Sharing

(Charles O. /Uirab)


While I was growing up with my grandmother, she usually cooked more than we needed. At least three plates of food were given to other households. The next day, the same plates were returned to our house with different foods on them. For example, one plate was filled with meat, the second plate with flour and the third plate maybe with some type of cooked food. All households were involved in the exchange. It was a more common sight on Sundays and during the festive season. I learnt about the sharing of food while I grew up.
The sharing of food is part of our culture. This practice also enables someone without food to get something to eat. It was, I think, taken from the words of the greatest man who ever walked this earth: Jesus Christ who, in Luke 6:38, said: “Give, and it shall be given to you in good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you mete with, it shall be measured to you again.” One feels like heaven when sharing.

Sharing in Fransfontein

When I asked what “sharing” means, many elders told me: “Sharing basically means to look into the needs of others.” Mother Salinde !Gaoses explained to me: “When I share something with someone else, it is a security for me for another day, so as to get something in return.”. For the people of Fransfontein, the practice of sharing means a lot. Some of them emphasized during our conversations: “Sharing of food brings something to the table of those who do not have.”.
Sharing in Khoekhoe is referred to as “augu” and “okujandjazana” in Herero (cf. table 1). According to some of the Herero speakers interviewed, after their arrival in the Fransfontein region they adopted to the customs of the people who already inhabited the region, i.e. the Damara and the Nama people.

Englisch Herero Khoekhoe
Sharing Okujandjazana Augu
Wheat-cutting (harvest) Ovikokotua !Horo-!gaos
Table 1: Words related to sharing in the local languages

Sharing in Earlier Times

According to Grandmother Albertine Bowe the elders were already practicing the above described form of sharing when she was growing up. For a long time, the Fransfontein fountain has attracted different groups of people to settle. Besides the fountain, the people also found suitable soil for growing crops. It was impossible for everybody to harvest at the same time, so people started sharing. Sharing the wheat played a major role amongst the members of the community. Sharing united them. After the wheat harvest, every household baked delicious bread. The cattle-farmers brought fat meat. The big harvest took place annually at a fixed date in October. The people would come together and share what they got from the harvest. This was called the “!horo-!gaos” in Khoekhoe, which means “cutting of the wheat”.
Young men from different households also used to hunt together. After a kill, whether it was a small antelope or a big animal, each household would get something to put in the pot. This practice enabled different households to eat once in a while. According to the elders, sharing primarily was to overcome hunger and to provide at least something to each member of the community. Through this, they formed a strong relationship with each other. As one local mother told me, because of sharing people regarded all things, e.g. crops and cattle, as their own and there was no theft at all in the village. People shared mostly food, raw or cooked, getting their food from crop-farming, pastoralism, hunting and gathering.

Sharing today

Has sharing changed? If yes, how and why has sharing changed? My conclusion is that sharing has changed a lot after having interviewed several elders in the community. Today, it is very rare to see one household freely sharing something with his/her neighbor, like it was in the past. Nowadays, you might get something from your neighbor, but only if you ask. Otherwise, the people will only share with someone whom they regard as really needy. Some of the following factors have contributed to the steady decline of the earlier type of food sharing.
Money has started to play a major role in people’s lives. Wage labor has become very important. However, paid work is a scarcity in our village. The people now budget for months ahead, because groceries are very expensive. The elders receive a monthly pension allowance from the government. This has developed a sense of dependency amongst the people. Due to this and other factors, people have started to neglect the crop-farming. Only a few families are still working the land. Hunting freely is now prohibited. Currently, livestock-farming is the only valuable asset and income for most of the community members. It is due to these factors that sharing is not so common anymore. Unlike in the past, the things that are shared today are much more limited.


Because of a certain kind of food sharing, people were more united and closer to each other in the past. I would suggest that all of the community members of Fransfontein must look to the positive things that bind us all together.

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