Australians tend to have a very limited view of family. They are small units in large houses, often separated from each other. The ‘family’ is nuclear rather than extended.
Not so here in Namibia!
Families are complex and large and network all around the country and beyond. Families rely heavily upon each other in times of crisis. Where one family member cannot cope, another takes up the burden without question or thought.
When asking about a person’s family (what brothers and sisters do you have?) we have come to expect a complicated answer. When we asked a Christian man this recently he gave us a typical Namibian answer. “On my mother’s side we are seven – I am number 4. On my father’s side we are thirty-two – I am number 12.” There seems to be a ‘mother’s side’ and a ‘father’s side’ to most people’s history. Faithfulness in marriage or being married to only one person is quite unusual; hence the complex family structure.
In addition to this, in Herero culture your mother’s sister is also considered to be, and called, your mother and her children are your brothers and sisters. Similarly, your father’s brother is also your father and his children are your brothers and sisters. Your mother’s brothers remain your uncles and his children are your cousins, and your father’s sisters are your aunts and her children are also your cousins. So when someone is talking about their brother or their sister from our point of view it is hard to know whether this is a direct nuclear family relationship (but from which parent?) or the broader family relationship. To our African friends the distinction is irrelevant.
We have first hand experience in our own African ‘family’ here in Windhoek of how families look out for each other, with two girls living with “Mummy” because neither of them can be at ‘home’ at this point in time. One has parents whose work commitments make it difficult for either of them to look after her. She has lived here for four years now and has sisters and a brother living in various parts South Africa and Namibia. The other was recently involved in a terrible car accident and needed a quieter place to recover and get back into school life than could not be managed at her own house. They are very happy to be living here and are true daughters to our host. She provides for them in every way without a second thought. Throw two Australians into the mix and you can see that we are very much a blended family here!
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5 : 1
Some of our neighbours dropping in to say "hello"
Some of the local children playing outside our front door