Thursday, November 2, 2017

Excerpt Of 2005 Dissertation: Sakari Loyity - "An Investigation Of The Musical Developments Born Out Of The Encounter Between Finnish Missionaries And Owambo Culture

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides an excerpt of the 2005 dissertation by Sakari Lovity (University of Namibia) about music in Namibia, Southwest Africa.

The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural purposes.

Pancocojams present hyperlinked excerpts from online articles, books, and dissertations as a means of alerting people to these texts. Pancocojams visitors are encouraged to read these entire texts.

Thanks to Sakari Lovity for his research and writing and thanks for sharing this dissertation online.
Click for the pancocojams post entitled "Seven YouTube Examples Of Namibian Student Christian Movement (SCM) Choirs".

DISSERTATION EXCERPT (given without citations or notes)




[page] ii

Pre-colonial Owambo culture in northern Namibia was rich in music and dance. Following the arrival of the Finnish missionaries in 1870, a long process of interaction between the Finns and the Owambo people brought about a decline of certain cultural practices, while it simultaneously contributed to the creation of new musical categories.

This study investigates the historical background and contemporary cultural interaction between Finnish missionaries and Owambo people in northern Namibia. It aims at finding answers to important questions on the nature, structure, history and contextual meanings of contemporary music in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN). What effects did the Finnish missionaries have as music educators in the interaction between the music they represented and the local musical practices? How were they equipped to meet a foreign culture and what were the underlying factors in the missionary approaches to local customs?
This study posits the theory that, while there were cultural collisions, the end result was bi-directionally creative contributing to the birth of new musical phenomena.


A visitor entering Namibia, loaded with presuppositions based on the information provided by the international media, literature and the general idea of an African country, will be embarrassed about the state of the culture s/he is arriving to. Despite the expectations about “African music“, one of the surprises is the musical reality s/he encounters.

Already on the way from the airport, sitting in a taxi and observing the modern profile of the capital Windhoek, the local radio broadcast surprises her or him with a variety of imported music. In the hotel room, the television confirms the first impression of the multinational music supplied to the consumers. If s/he decides to take a walk in the shopping centres, the notion is but strengthened: American pop, rock and R & B hits, rap, hip hop, reggae, country & western, in addition to South African sounds of kwaito, jive, mbaqanga and Afrikaner music. If the visitor happens to attend a church service on Sunday the surprise is even greater. The congregation sings the well-known European and American hymns in a devout and sincere way. Only a closer examination reveals certain characteristics distinguishing the performance of the hymns as well as the choir songs from their European origins. Yet the view does not match at all with the expectations of what an African church event is supposed to be according to stereotypical prejudices: dancing and rejoicing with an accompaniment of drums and percussion. “Where is the ‘real’ Namibian music?“ s/he might ask. “This is supposed to be an African country”. The answer: “The indigenous culture was destroyed by colonialism and the missionaries“ explains something but seemingly leaves more questions open.

Being a son of a missionary family, born in Namibia, a return to Namibia in 1991 after 34 years was different for me, since I knew about the historical and the cultural development of the country under colonialism. My parents worked as missionaries, employed by The Finnish Missionary Society (FMS) in northern and central regions of Namibia, in

[page] 2
Engela and Elim from 1956 to 1960 and in Otjimbingwe from 1963 to 1967. However, at first, similar questions as above came to my mind. My primary reaction against the church music of the Owambo congregation was rejection and anger. “I don’t understand this, why don’t they sing Namibian songs instead of the hymns imported by the Finns?

Where is all the Namibian music?” In 1996 I was offered a chance to revisit the country in connection with voluntary music training in Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN). The project resulted in a further invitation from the church, for me to take a longer period contract as a music teacher and consultant. The possibility to observe Namibian music while participating by means of teaching music and studying Namibian songs opened my eyes and activated my curiosity to scrutinise what really was the state
of music in the country and particularly in the areas where my forefathers, the Finnish missionaries had acted. What eventually struck me was a statement of an experienced church musician in Owambo who, annoyed by the criticism the visitors (including me) expressed towards the European-influenced congregational singing, said: “I don’t like the way these people come and criticise our way of singing. First they taught us to sing like this, and now they come and criticise when we do as they told us to do." I felt that
the need to question existing musical practices and different forms of Namibian music, as well as a need to study their historical derivations, had become imperative.


The missionary activities in the southern part of Namibia started in beginning of the 19th century by London Missionary Society (LMS) and English Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. In 1840 the LMS mission in Namaland was taken over by the Rhenish Missionary Society (RMS), which after few attempts managed to monopolise the country and establish a string of stations in Herero-land in central Namibia. The station in Windhoek was founded in 1942, Otjimbingwe in 1949 and Omaruru in 1870, just to mention a few. The Finnish Missionary Society came to the country in1869 following the proposition of German missionary Carl Hugo Hahn. From 1870 onwards the Finns worked among Owambos in the northern and north eastern regions of the territory.

The diversity of Namibian socio-cultural nature stems from the existence of the various language groups and the effects the history of the colonial occupation had on them. It is needless to speculate how different a culture would be without alien intruders to the area. Particularly the missionaries had a strong impact on the culture of the people they interacted with. Their actions were not limited only to preaching the Gospel, but also to

[page] 4
various fields of life. Considering that nearly 80% of the population belong to some Christian churches at the present time, the missionary societies have been the major non-violent factor contributing to the socio-cultural transformation of the country. In the search for an answer to the question with regards to Namibian music, this history cannot be ignored. The questions like “What is Namibian music today?”, “What are its characteristics and features?” and “How did it come to be as it is now?” lead us to a deeper
investigation of the phenomena of the present time, as well as the history they derive from.


[page] 8
From all the above mentioned researches I learned to understand the nature of the Owambo society as an organised and structured entity. It underwent changes in the course of time caused by factors like politics, contract labour and acts of other missionary societies. Other informative books telling about the history during the colonial era are those by Tötemeyer (1978), Katjavivi (1988), Hishongwa (1991) Nujoma (2000) and Nambala (1994).

[page] 9
As my musicological analysis requires reference on a broader scale, I tried to establish what has been written about African music in general, and about church music in Africa.

Regarding the studies in African ethnic music, such as Nketia (1975), Kubik (1994) and Jones (1959) as well as Floyd (1999), have helped me to find the approach to the analysing process. Authors, such as Weman (1960) gives a useful reference to the influence of European church music on the Zulu culture in South Africa and the music established in the churches in Tanganyika and Rhodesia in the Fifties and guided my thinking in terms of an encounter between European mission and African culture. Instead of referring
only to the missionary activities of the European colonial powers, an interesting perspective was to have a look at the role of Finland’s neighbour country’s, namely Sweden’s and Norway’s missionary expedition in Southern Africa. The Nordic countries are in many ways similar, culturally, socially and looking to a long religious history of Lutheranism.


[Page] 12

Four-part harmony: Four voices sung simultaneously, soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Calendrical rites: Cultural rite celebrated in some particular season, or time of a year.

Hymns: Religious church songs that have a western background, or songs composed
to that particular style

Liturgical music: The melodies used in the worship service liturgy, excluding hymns.

Okakorasa: A small chorus. A short, repetitive community or choir song.

Owambo: People belonging ethnically to the Oshiwambo-speaking group and their culture.

Performance: A piece of music or dance performed for the public or in the community,
including all the values and rules surrounding it.

Traditional: A song, a melody, a dance or a custom based on the cultural heritage of

Two-part singing: Two voices sung simultaneously.

Uudhano: Traditional Owambo dance or play accompanied by singing, drumming,
stamping of feet and hand clapping.

Uukorasa: Short repetitive songs sung by youth at different church occasions and meeting


[page] 172
4.3.5 Call and response in uukorasa
As it has emerged earlier, the performance modality dictates aspects of musical structure. In many cases the songs are sung in a communal way in which all the voices, one by one, get their turn to act as leading part. This is a kind of a call and response form, produced by “recycling” of the leading voice, the call. The word recycling means that the

performance of the song usually starts with a single lead vocalist singing an initiative first introductory round. That is followed by all voices singing the same melodic line in response, but with four voices. Then the next voice, alto, takes a turn, which again is followed by all voices, ayehe singing together. The following diagram gives a picture of a typical recycling or circulation of call -part.

CALL: A soprano solo singer sings the melody line

RESPONSE: By all voices together, four parts

CALL: Alto

RESPONSE All voices, four parts

CALL: Tenor

RESPONSE: All voices, four parts

CALL: Bass

RESPONSE: All voices, four parts

The whole structure can be repeated, or the call of each voice with response can be repeated. For example uukorasa like Mwene lengalenga, Ngeng’ otashi nyengana and Mwenyo wange are usually sung with this structure. Ee, yambuka is not because it already comprises of a call and response form and three different verses.

The tradition of recycling the call presumably derives from the process of teaching new songs for participants in the meetings or other public occasions (Hellberg, 1993; 94). It provides a manner through which all the parts are orally transmitted and thus taught to everybody present. It also supports my notion of the equality of different voices. Although the soprano is starting the round, all other voices are equally important. They will all take equal turns, and a spirit of competition can be sensed in the process. The intensity grows as the new round of voice starts. The growth of intensity causes a gradual
rising of the pitch. It is not unusual that the key of the song in the end of the performance can be a (interval) third higher than at the beginning of the song. This is characteristic to

[page] 174
the performance of uukorasa as whole, and indicates a certain aesthetic value appealing to the participants and listeners. Without the gradual transposition, the inner, emotional function of the message of the song is not achieved. The concept differs from that in western choral music, where remaining in the key is considered important.

The tradition of recycling the call is common in Namibia among ELCIN youth and in Southern Angola. It seems to differ from the tradition in Botswana, where I have not come across the lead voice recycling. Call and response as form, however, is common in choruses in Botswana. That means usually, that a single vocalist or the group of sopranos are singing the call.

4.3.6 Conclusion
Drawing from the above analyses, the following can serve as a summary of uukorasa:
a) The form. As stated by Mans, “cyclic forms are common in Namibia” (1997:143). The repetition of the simple structures enable the singers to “feel and hear all the levels of music” and thus to “build up energy” for the singing and dancing, which is applicable to the performance of uukorasa (ibid.). The sense of communality is strong and as Munyika explained earlier (3.4.1), repetition of a single Biblical phrase in a pleasant musical context enables the message to “bear in mind”, and touch the emotional side of the singer (2001). Uukorasa follow a varied cyclical structure. A call and response form appears in two different ways. In some cases soprano can take a leading role by singing a call in certain bars. The other voices will sing a response and join in later. Many uukorasa are performed by recycling the call, using each voice as call, successively, one at a time. The response is sung by all voices together.

[page] 175
b) The tonal range and structure. The first voice (lyotango) often moves within a relatively small tonal range. The tonal structure reflects that of western choir music, and the western diatonic scale.

c) The harmonic structure of uukorasa is four part homophonic and homorhythmic. The melodies are harmonised by using a sense of chord functions, mainly the three principal major chords and their relative minor chords. The cadences are commonly used (Hellberg, 1993: 94) resembling the choral arrangements of hymns. Only the seventh degree diminished chord does not appear. Each voice, however, comprises of linear melodic elements, which in some cases dominate the formation of the harmonic structure. The first degree major chord with additional minor seventh appears occasionally, but might be acculturated from South African Zulu and Xhosa melodies. Soprano always sings the actual melody or the lead vocal, though the term “melody” as such can be misleading. The holistic view on the harmonic formation of uukorasa reveals that, they are compositions in which all the voices are equal units, comprising of melodic functions, which become meaningful only in a combined configuration.

d) The rhythmic shape of uukorasa could be called syncopated (Hellberg 1993: 94). This makes their transcription difficult with staff notation. In some cases, the vocal phrases are stressed with a continuous series of up-beats against the primary pulse emphasised by dance steps In Mwene lengalenga the quarter note triplets are actually sung with continuous off beats by starting the first word with the up-beat before the first beat of the first measure. This way of accentuation is similar to the pounding songs (oshiimbo shokuhwa) or cultivating the field (oshiimbo shokulima), in which the primary pulse is produced by the actual work and the melody is “syncopated” around the pulse.

Four part-harmony was not common in Owambo vocal tradition. Men and women hardly ever sang together, since the singing was largely categorised according to

[page] 176
genders and functions. The above brings one to the conclusion that, the harmonisation of uukorasa is a blend of western four-part harmonies deriving from the choral arrangements, and the two-part harmonies of the Owambo melodies, such as work and dance songs.


At the beginning of this thesis several problems were identified. They included a general question regarding the state of Namibian music at the present time and how it came to be the way it is. For this study more specific questions were identified; the influence of the missionaries as music educators on the local inhabitants; the musical interaction between the western church music and the local musical practices and the musical categories that have emanated from the cultural encounter. In the course of the preceding discussion and the information gathered and analysed, preliminary points of conclusion
have been reached.

Early Owambo music culture:
• In pre-colonial Owambo culture music was integrated in the whole sphere of human life.
• It appeared in the variety of religious and calendrical ceremonies, rituals and rites.
• Music was related to work and leisure time activities of both genders and all age
groups. Songs and dances were practised gender-specifically according to the underlying
rules and hierarchical system of the society.
• As whole it formed part of a well structured, organised system and served the communal
events functionally.
• Vocal music and singing was the most common social means of musical activities,
whether connected with work, dances or instruments.

From the data studied, it seems clear that:
• Multipart singing in the Owambo music predates colonial influence. A typical character of this multipart is the organum technique. This means two-part harmony in parallel thirds involving a single skipping technique between the voices.

[page] 184
• Call and response appeared in responsorial and antiphonal forms. Sometimes call and response appeared in creative variations.
• The overall structure of Owambo music was cyclical and repetitious. The cyclic structure contributed to the intensity of the performance as well as to the aesthetic value of it. Through repetition the intensity of the performance increased, which stimulated new creative variations.
• In pre-colonial musical practice, drums, percussive instruments, horns and whistles were used in relation to dances and also to announce certain news and festivities. String instruments were mostly used for self delectative purposes and they were either played alone or as an accompaniment of songs.
Following this it has become clear in my research that the arrival of missionaries in northern Namibia from 1870 onwards brought a drastic change.
• The missionaries were invited and welcomed by the Owambo kings and the development and modernisation they brought along was desired to a certain extent. It was not understood by the locals that the intention of the missionaries was not only to bring development, but also a new philosophy of life.
• The message the missionaries conveyed, from their perspective, was supposed to release the local inhabitants from the bondage of heathendom.
• The missionaries, especially during the first decades of the mission, were not trained nor educated to meet the foreign culture and accept the “other” on an equal cultural level. They pictured themselves, as representatives of the civilised, Christian world, guided by noble principles and compassionate Christian love. The Owambo people were seen as an uncivilised and undeveloped nation constricted by their superstitious religious beliefs.
• Anthropology was not included in the training of missionaries in the beginning, but music was. And it was soon proved to be an important vehicle reaching local people.

[page] 185
• As part of the literacy work and also in formation of the Christian congregations, music and hymns was a dimension appealing to the locals. This is understandable against the background of Owambos as a singing culture. However, the music of Owambos was not acknowledged by the missionaries.
• This caused a decline of many cultural practices, but it could not destroy it all. Christianity
was adopted but the western values and way of life, represented by the missionaries, were not accepted without questioning.
• Music was assimilated into new forms, which cannot be recognised as pre-existing.
• Musical influence from the side of the missionaries was intended to be unidirectional.
They decided and selected the songs, translated to the local vernacular. They controlled the customs regarding public gatherings. Notwithstanding the social superiority of the missionaries as leaders of the Christians, the creativity of the Owambos was not destroyed.
• Thus the encounter between the Finns and Owambos eventually turned to bidirectional interaction. From patronising attitudes the interaction developed towards mutual co-operation and the church leadership was gradually indigenised in the sixties and seventies. However it was too late to return back to the indigenous culture which on the other hand was not even desired anymore. The cultural being of the Christian Owambo congregation had taken a new shape. I have investigated the bidirectional interaction through music in the categories stemming from the blend of the element from different cultures.
• The plurivocality of Owambo vocal music found a new existence in the western four part harmony.

[page] 186
• The congregational singing with the technique of free communal harmonisation was accessible for every participant.
• The choir singing and the compositions imitated western practice, but were seasoned with indigenous flavours, parallelism in voice leading, and rhythms deriving from Owambo work and dance songs.
• New song categories were born, for example uukorasa, where people could put in practice the aesthetics and values originating from pre-colonial musical categories.
• Cyclical forms of call and response, dancing and the strong sense of community were incorporated. In other words, culture adjusted and changed, but was not destroyed.
• A most significant change concerned the gender-specific organisation of the Owambo music categories. The Christian congregation became a forum welcoming both genders, and all age groups to join in communal singing.

As a whole, the musical analyses of Owambo songs, uukorasa and hymns sung with a free communal harmonisation method, revealed the synthesis of different cultural factors.

All of these categories have been found to comprise similar elements:
• A combination of African and European influence emerged in the form of unique new musical styles. They can be described as new forms of multi-part singing with an expanded mode of harmonic structures deriving from the pre-colonial vocal tradition, with an additional dimension of functional chord progressions. Hence I have to disagree with Weman (1960: 208), who claimed that the four-part technique of African
churches has nothing in common with the traditional African song technique. My analysis proves that there are identical characteristics in the traditional Owambo vocal music and the four part harmonic singing technique. These are the concept of two part harmony appearing in combination of two settings: Soprano –alto and in

In addition to political songs, documented by Zinke (1992).

[page] 187
soprano-tenor, and parallel movements in thirds in the inner voices. This could only be the result of the creative blending of aspects from both cultures. Furthermore the fact that both genders were invited to sing together by the first Christian congregation, has acted as creative stimulant forcing the people to accommodate a new concept of harmony, as well as a new mode of social interaction through music.

This research supports the knowledge, that many cultural practices have declined and some have vanished during the encounter process. On the other hand, some customs were preserved precisely because of the fact that they were discarded and ignored by the missionaries. I have confirmed that there still exists a vital portion of traditional customs, which were hidden from the missionaries and are still maintained. This includes the performance of Efundula, oongovela and uudhano in the cultural festivals and else where.

The bidirectional character of the encounter of Finnish and Namibian cultures does not exclude the other factors contributing to the process. I have shown that factors such as migrant labour and political resistance were related to missionary activities and colonialism in the form of a chain reaction. Modernisation was a side product of the mission and imported by colonialism. Educational achievements of the missionaries, the well organised school and health care systems, supported the awareness of national identity.

The Owambo sense of human dignity was disturbed by colonial oppression and apartheid policy. The whole process eventually resulted in the political resistance. The latter again was a stimulant factor to creativity both in church and in the secular field. Singing became a channel to address political demands for freedom. It was also a way of expressing the grievance in a time of human sufferance. Hence the directions of interaction were multiple and influences affected people in many ways.

[page] 188
An interesting factor in this picture is that the actual encounter happened in a new cultural landscape. The meeting or collision between Finns and Owambos did not take place in the geographic ground of Finland nor the cultural landscape of Owambo, since the major part of the culture of the latter was expelled. What happened led to a formation of a new cultural landscape or forum"...

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment