I remember having heard something like this sometime ago, but I never paid serious attention to it feeling it was virtually impossible. But on a second thought, I decided to find out the credibility of such weird practice. Lo and behold, it’s absolutely true that a tribe in Namibia have a cultural practice in place which they call “wife swapping”. The practice, referred to as “Okujepisa Omukazendu”, is common among Ovahimba and Ovazimba tribes in the Kunene and Omusati regions, a nomadic tribe in Namibia. These communities are largely isolated from the rest of the country. They have resisted the trappings of modern life, they keep livestock, live off the land and practice ancestral worship. Many still reside in pole-and-mud huts and both men and women go bare-chested. The phrase, ‘Okujepisa Omukazendu’, literally means, ‘offering wife to a guest’. It is a practice, whereby a man decides to please a friend or a highly esteemed guest by allowing him sleep with his wife the night of his visit.
That particular night, the husband has to sleep in another hut altogether and in a situation whereby there is no other hut or room, he will sleep outside. Imagine such an absurd practice! This practice has been in place for generations in these Namibian communities. It started raising some global dust when Mr Kazeongere Tjeundo, a lawmaker and deputy president of the opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance of Namibia made a move towards soliciting for enshrining it into the Namibian Constitution. He argued that it should be made legal with some reasons which he felt are enough. Hear him:
It’s a culture that gives us unity and friendship, it’s up to you to choose [among] your mates who you like the most … to allow him to sleep with your wife, We just need to research more on how the practice can be regulated.
The headman of Oukongo village, Uomiti Ruhozu, also said there is no reason why they should discontinue the ancient custom of sharing wives. He said HIV/Aids can also be contracted by cheating spouses not in open relationships. According to Ruhozu, most men and women in Namibia already have more than one partner whom they meet secretly, but the Ovahimba and Ovazimba men take away that secrecy aspect to relieve their wives of stress and the fear of being caught cheating.
Mr Kazeongere Tjeundo
They do not see it as any big deal, some say it helps to strengthen their friendships and reduces promiscuity, while others avow that it brings in variety, thereby making their marriages stand the test of time. It is left only in the discretion of the man to decide who to offer his wife to or not. The malignant aspect of this obscure practice is that the wife has very little or no say in the matter, she has to humbly and wholeheartedly submit to the arms of the man she is offered to whether she likes him or not. Worse still, Namibia is a country where almost 20% of her entire population are living with HIV/AIDS.
The chief of the Otjikaoko Traditional Authority, Uziruapi Tjavara, is also strongly defending the customary practice of sharing wives with friends, despite its high potential of spreading HIV-AIDS. Hear him:
Sharing of wives is a unique traditional custom that smothers jealousy amongst both sexes, and strengthens friendships. Hence, I advocate its continuation, together with HIV-AIDS education to minimize infections.
It is quite surprising to discover that some women in these communities give full support to the continuation of the abusive practice of “Okujepisa Omukazendu”. Hear what one of them said:
I did it this year, she said, and “I have no problem with the arrangement”. It’s good because it’s part of our culture, why should we change it?
Notwithstanding, the truth must be told. A lot of critics see this practice as rape since there is usually no mutual agreement between the husband and the wife on the choice of whom to sleep with or not. The practice puts women at health risk and is not benefiting them if not men who want to control their partners and also want to continue feeding their insatiable desires.
However, Traditionalists, claim that a woman has the right to refuse to sleep with the man to whom she was offered to, but she cannot refuse to share the same room with the man on that material night. You may now ask what she will be doing in the same room with the man. Sounds quite funny! They insist the custom does not violate the rights of women, noting that women are also free to choose partners for their husbands – even if this rarely happens in practice.