Worms threaten Omagongo Festival

13 February 2020 | Local News

This year's Omagongo Cultural Festival in the north will likely not be as exciting as usual because of an outbreak of caterpillars attacking marula trees.

The caterpillars have infested marula trees in all four regions of central northern Namibia, ruining the fruit used to brew traditional beer called omagongo.

This year, the Ombalantu Traditional Authority will host the popular festival which attracts people from all walks of life, including cabinet ministers and other dignitaries.

The authority's spokesperson Angula Kanelombe says it has been difficult to collect enough marula juice.

“The festival is faced with the challenge of drought and worms. We collect marula juice from community members and they are claiming that their trees are under attack. We are hoping that there might be a few whose trees are not affected and they will save us,” Kanelombe said.

“We have a task team in the community collecting the juice and we are also assessing the quality of the juice because we do not want to give our visitors juice from worm-infested trees.”

Kanelombe said despite this crisis, the festival will go ahead.

The agriculture ministry has not responded to questions about the pests.

Last year, the Ongandjera Traditional Authority hosted the event and its queen, Adelheid Mupiya, vowed to commercialise marula products such as omagongo.

Mupiya says she intended to motivate women to continue processing marula fruit into omagongo and cooking oil, as well as those contributing to the festival, by rewarding them for their efforts.

When Namibian Sun contacted her yesterday, Mupiya said people were not coming forward due to the caterpillar outbreak.

“It seems like we are in marula juice crisis because even myself I am struggling to get the marula juice that I want to take to Ombalantu. Despite my promise of monetary rewards for those who assist me, people are not coming forward at all,” Mupiya said.

“When we enquired from our community elders, they told us that these worms used to appear in the past after drought years.”

The 'Oshituthi shomagongo' (marula fruit festival) is included Unesco's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, recognised for uniting the Aawambo tribes in the north of Namibia. The festival is a relaxed social gathering during which communities and guests socialise, sing and dance, and men recite stories of old.





ILENI NANDJATO

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