The First Hair Cut

(Titus Kaumunika & Fiona Ilonga)

Introduction: The First Haircut-Ritual

Fransfontein is a small community with different ethnic groups, the majority being Damara, Nama and Herero, although there are other groups present. We had the difficult task of asking people the question: ''Why do we always cut the hair of a new born baby''? What we found is that there are similarities in the different cultures of the different ethnic groups. They all do the haircut ritual for mainly one reason: to ensure the healthy growth of the newborn baby.

Englisch Herero Khoekhoe
Giving birth Ombandukiro /Gora-!gâs
Mother called after birth Omuarikaze //Ora-taras
Pregnant Otjingundi /Gam-/kha
Tree-sort Omueze Hai-!nôa-i
Mother and baby’s private room Etuo romuarikaze  
Caretakers Ovatjevere //Ora-!kho-aon
Visitors Ovariange Sari-aon
Animal given as food for mother and baby Ombueneza //Ora-mas
Process of the hair-cut Epizo /Û-#homs
Drought year Mburajourumbu /Khurub-kurib
Scissors Otjiskonde Skersa
Umbilical-cord Ongua Sunis
Celebration Omukandi //Âudib
  Ozonguindi /Hunin
Table 1: Local words related to the first haircut ritual

The Different Stages of the Ritual

We differentiate seven stages of the ritual. All stages have to be lived through by a mother and her child.

1 Giving Birth

The first stage is giving birth, the beginning. Known as “/gora-!gâs” in Khoekhoe, and “ombandukiro” in Herero. Birth is given at a hospital or even at home, under the supervision of an elder woman who has experience in birth-giving at home. During the old days, the local women mostly had to give birth at home due to lack of medical facilities. Different natural herbs were then used to treat the women.

2 Staying Inside the House

This stage is where the woman is called ''//ora-taras'' in Khoekhoe and ''omuarikaze'' in Herero.
After giving birth, whether at home or at a hospital, the mother and her newborn baby have to stay one or two full weeks inside the room prepared especially for them. One or two women, called care-takers, are appointed to assist the mother with all her daily needs.

3 Being Cared For

After giving birth, the new mother and her newborn will need a lot of attention. The mother has already lost a lot of blood during child birth and is weak. The nine month pregnancy stage is called “otjingundi” in Herero and “/gam-/khas” in Khoekhoe.
During this stage (after birth) one or two women are nominated from the father’s side of the family to stay with the couple (mother and baby). If no one is available from the father’s side, then it will be taken from the mother’s side. These women must be of middle age or elder, they must be responsible and must have experience in care taking.
Their duties are to give the mother food, wash her clothes and the baby’s nappies and to prepare lukewarm water for the mother to bathe with. Basically, these caretakers must assist the mother in all her daily needs. When the mother sits down to bathe, she is covered with a blanket, and then a tree called “omueve”or “omueze” in Herero and “#gae-e” in Khoekhoe is burnt between her legs. This smoke then spreads to her private parts. It is believed that this will return her private parts to normal after the giving birth process.
Fig 1: First Haircut
No one else except the caretakers is allowed to enter the room where the mother and the baby stay, called the “etuo romuarikaze” in Herero and “//ora-oms” in Khoekhoe. Whatever takes place in this room is kept very confidential.
The caretakers sleep in the same room as the mother, or in a room in front of it. The caretakers are called “ovatjevere” in Herero and “//ora-!kho-aodi” in Khoekhoe. Any messages go through these two women. It is believed that visitors from outside will bring diseases to the mother and her newborn. This is the main reason why visitors are denied access to this particular room.
Even the caretakers are not allowed to go and sleep out/ have sex during this period. They have to be clean for the week(s) that they stay with the couple. It is believed that when the caretakers have sex, they will bring diseases to the couple. This is also done to prevent people who are jealous or want to cause harm to the mother and her newborn from succeeding in their endeavors.
The mother of the baby is given a lot of food and attention since she lost a lot of blood during childbirth and now must recuperate. During this stage, the father of the baby must give a sheep or goat or even a cow, depending on how rich or poor the father is. This animal, referred to as “ombueneza” in Herero and “//ora-mas” in Khoekhoe, is slaughtered and the caretakers, the mother and her newborn have to eat this meat alone. No one else should eat from this meat. The process of giving the “ombueneza” or “//ora-mas” from the father is a sign that he accepts that the child is really his. Later, when the father wants his child, the family from the mother’s side will handover the child without problems. If the father does not give the ''ombueneza'' the family will not give him the child.

4 The Haircut and the Name-Giving Ceremony

In the Herero language, this stage is called the “epizo” and “/û-#homs” in Khoekhoe.
After staying one or two weeks inside the house the mother and her baby will now be brought out of the room for the first time by the caretakers. This process takes place very early in the morning. The reason why it is done early in the morning is that the baby has never seen daylight and must mark its first coming-out-of-the-house by witnessing the first light. This symbolizes a “new world” or “new beginning.” A carpet or dried goat- or sheep-skin is laid down on the ground, for the mother and baby to sit on. Then the aunt, uncle and grandparents or any other elder from the two families are nominated to do the haircut. The haircut is always and usually done with a pair of scissors, called “otjiskonde” in Herero and “skersa” in Khoekhoe. In the old days, when there were no scissors, the elders used a traditionally made sharp knife to do this.
During the haircutting the baby is also given a name by the person doing the haircut. For example, the haircut of our baby was done by Dr. Michael Schnegg, who was selected by us. Even the name of the baby, “Dawid”, was given by him. To name a child is a major thing in our culture. The name that is given must have a meaning. The child remains with this name until the day he/she dies. In the old times, our ancestors gave children traditional names with special meaning, e.g. born during the year when the big rains came. Sometimes, when a child comes from a poor family, the child will be named like that. For example, if you would ask a Herero child his name, he would reply that it is “Mburajourumbu”, meaning “the year of the drought”, and called “/khuru-kurib” in Khoekhoe. Some children are even called “Untag”, referring to the year that Namibia won its independence from South Africa, when the United Nations group, UNTAG was in Namibia.
The name “Dawid” came about because, when Dr. Schnegg’s wife, Dr. Julia Pauli was expecting their first child, he (Dr. Schnegg) said that if it is a boy, he would call him Dawid, but the result was a beautiful baby girl. That is why I say, every name that is given has a history and a meaning.
The person giving the name to the child must take care of the child and treat him/her like his/her own. This specific person also has to be present at the child’s baptism and stand as the child’s godparent(s). During this process, an animal has to be slaughtered and a feast held.

5 Gift Giving

During this process, anyone having a present will give it to the mother and the baby. The caretaker(s) will also receive a sign of gratitude. The gift giving is important. Only the people offering presents will be allowed to look at the newborn. The presents will help the parents in raising the baby.

6 The Cut Hair

The hair that has been cut is kept together with the umbilical-cord called “ongua” in Herero and “sunis” in Khoekhoe. The cord is used as medicine for the baby when it gets sick. The cord is dried, crushed and mixed with white herbal powders and then fed to the sick baby. The dried and crushed cord is also mixed with a cup of tea the baby drinks. Even the hair, though old and rotten, is burned in small quantities and the baby is made to inhale the smoke. This goes on until the hair and umbilical-cord are finished.

7 The Celebration

This is the last stage in the haircutting process, called the “omukandi” in Herero and “//âudib” in Khoekhoe. Everyone who has attended the haircut ritual will now be invited to a celebration. Food and drinks will be served to the guests.


Although there are different ethnicities in Fransfontein, we can now clearly see the similarities amongst them, in the sense that they do the same things, e.g. the hair cutting ritual. All Fransfonteiners regardless of their ethnic group also believe that if the ritual is not done the child will grow up childish or abnormal, which is referred to as “!hompo” in Khoekhoe and “otjipuizi” in Herero.

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