Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": The Supreme Being of the Herero


The Herero are a Bantu Tribe of South-West Africa.

'The Hereros know a supreme being whom they call by two names: Ndjambi Karunga. The Karunga has an Ovambo derivation and is only known intimately to those Hereros, who have been in contact with the Ovambo in former times. . . .Ndjambi is the Heavenly God. He lives in Heaven, yet is omnipresent. His most striking characteristic is kindness. Human life is due to and dependant on him and all blessings ultimately come from him. He who dies a natural death is carried away by Ndjambi. As his essence is kindness people cherish no fear but a veneration for him. As his blessings are the gifts of his kindness without any moral claims, the belief in Ndjambi has no moral strength, nor has the worship of Ndjambi become a cult. At best his name is invoked only in Thanksgiving after some unexpected luck or they pray to him when all other means of help fail. For the rest, the utterance of his name is not allowed. In reply to a question I put to a Tjimba woman in the Kaokoveld as to the abode of Ndjambi Karunga, she said: 'He stays in the clouds because, when the clouds rise, his voice is clearly heard,' and further research has brought to light that the Tjimba look upon Ndjambi as the giver of rain.' (H. Vedder, The Native Tribes of South-West Africa, Capetown, 1928, p.164)

Dr. Vedder's statement that the sacred name should not be uttered is significant. It explains partly, if not wholly, why the missionaries who had lived in close contact with the Herero since 1844 heard his name for the first time only in 1871.


Dr H.Vedder, as quoted and commented on by Edwin W. Smith (ed.), African Ideas of God; A Symposium (2nd ed: London, 1950 pp.132-33)

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