The Oruuano Church
The Oruuano Church is an African Independent Church in Namibia. One of the things I do most mornings is to look at my diary for 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, to see what I was doing back then, and 40 years ago was my first visit to an Oruuano Church service in Gobabis, in eastern Namibia.
Back then I was an Anglican deacon, and once a month went to Gobabis to visit Anglicans there, and usually took other people with me. On this occasion i had taken Gerry Robinson, a teacher from the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice, in the Eastern Cape, Heidi Burger, a student at Wits University in Johannesburg, and John Ngava, an orphan who was on holiday from his school in Swaziland. We left Windhoek on the Saturday evening, and took John to stay with his sister who lived in Gobabis, and then camped at the side of the road outside the town. In the morning we visited a farmer’s wife, Mrs de Vos, who was Anglican, and had Morning Prayer in their house.
Sunday 8 Feb 1970 – diary extract
… We then went to the old location to see Assaria Kamburona, but he had gone to the Epukiro Reserve.
There was singing coming from the Oruuano Church building, however, so we went in, after some hesitation, as Dave had told us they were very secretive, and Fr Frank had said they practised ancestor worship, in a way which suggested that they practised weird pagan rites. In fact it was all very ordinary.We went in and sat down on the floor at the back. The men sat on chairs on the right, women sat on the floor on the left, or on benches at the side, like an Orthodox Church. Children sat in the front. The singing was very impressive. Almost all the women wore modern Herero dress – the younger they were, the wider were their turbans in front, which seems to be the trend in this particular fashion. There were prayers and hymns – the singing very good, far better than in our Anglican congregation. The church was hung with bright coloured paper streamers, and there were pictures and calendars and Christmas cards on the walls. At one point four men began playing melodicas, a sort of keyboard mouth-organ, and the effect was not unlike that of a harmonium. After the service everyone went out and shook hands with everyone else, and they seemed very welcoming. It seemed that there was also a “disciple” of the “Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church”, which had its headquarters in Botswana.
The Oruuano Church Herero national church, founded in 1955, Namibia. A meeting was held in Windhoek, at which it was decided to break away from the Rhenish Mission, which later became the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELK). From the start the Oruuano Church was closely related to the Herero Chiefs Council under Hosea Kutako, and his deputy Clemens Kapuuo. For a while at least those who remained in the Rhenish Mission faced discrimination from Herero social institutions: they were not allowed to become members of the Red Flag Club (Otjiserandu). and would not be helped at funerals.
At the same time reports reached South West Africa (Namibia) that there was a famous prophet in Bechuanaland (Botswana) who became very influential among Hereros. This was Jacob Mokaleng Motswasele, the founder of the Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church. Some Hereros living in Botswana joined this church in 1954, and many Hereros therefore travelled to Botswana to visit the prophet, even when they did not join his church. These included both members of the Rhenish Mission and those from the Oruuano Church. When Mostwasele blessed the Red Band Club in 1956, however, this gave the impression that the prophet regarded the Oruuano Church as the true Herero Church, and many Rhenish Mission members who made the pilgrimage to Botswana switched their allegiance to the Oruuano Church on their return. It also became almost obligatory for leaders in the Oruuano Church to make the pilgrimage and get the blessing of the prophet. A prophetess, Thusnelda, came from Botswana and settled in Windhoek, and held charismatic prayer meetings in which the sick were healed and people were filled with the Holy Spirit, and preached against witchcraft, beer brewing, and promiscuity (Kandovazu 1968:28). The Pentecostal style was alien to many in the Oruuano Church, who retained the Lutheran style of worship, and as a result some began to return to the Rhenish Mission, and as a result the prophetess was expelled. Another charismatic prophet, Petrus Tjijombo, came from Botswana, but his charismatic style of worship, with handclapping, singing choruses etc also gave offence to some. He too was expelled, but attached himself to the Mbanderu chief Munjuku II Nguvauva, and formed the Church of Africa.
Some of this information comes from a booklet by Ehrenfried Kandovazu, published by the Rehenish Mission, so it is probably polemical and rather biased against the Oruuano Church. At the time of my visit the Oruuano Church seemed to have adopted something of both. From my own observations, on this occasion and later, during services in the Oruuano Church hymns from the Lutheran hymnal were sung, and so were choruses with clapping. Prophets from the various Pentecostal or “spiritual” Churches were welcome guests at services, and when present were invited to preach. I didn’t notice anything of the “secretiveness” that some Anglican clergy had warned me about.
The Oruuano Church seemed to be very much within the Lutheran tradition, and this was especially so in its relation to the Herero Chiefs Council, where it functioned as the kind of national church that some Lutheran missiologists had proposed as the aim of mission — the “Christianisation of peoples”. Yet it was also incluenced by some aspects of Pentecostalism through the Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church (now known as the Spiritual Healing Church — the Botswana government said that there were to many churches with “Apostolic” in their names, and insisted that it be dropped) and other Pentecostal-type churches from Botswana.
Kandovazu, Ehrenfried. 1968. Die Oruuano Beweging. Karibib: Rynse Sending (also published in Herero as Oruuano rua pita vi?.