Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/228

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he belongs. If meat is offered a Damara, he will accept it; but, before he ventures to eat it, he carefully inquires about the color of the animal, whether it had horns, &c.; and should it prove forbidden food, he will in all probability leave it untouched, even though he might be dying of hunger. Some even carry their scruples so far as to avoid coming in contact with vessels in which such food has been cooked; nay, even the smoke of the fire by which it is prepared is considered injurious. Hence the religious superstitions of these people often expose them to no small amount of inconvenience and suffering.

The fat of particular animals is supposed to possess certain virtues, and is carefully collected and kept in vessels of a peculiar kind. A small portion of this is given in solution, with water, to persons who return safely to their homes after a lengthened absence at the cattle-posts. The chief also makes use of it as an unguent for his body.

When an ox accidentally dies at a chiefs werft, his daughter (the offspring, probably, of his favorite or chief wife) ties a double knot on her leather apron. Should this be neglected, a "curse" is believed to be the consequence. She also places a piece of wood on the back of the dead animal, praying at the same time for long life, plenty of cattle, &c. This woman is called Ondangere, and is to the Damaras what the vestal was among the ancient Romans; for, besides attending to the sacrifices, it is her duty to keep up the "holy fire" (Omurangere).

Outside the chief's hut, where he is accustomed to sit in the daytime, a fire is always kept burning; but, in case of rain or bad weather, it is transferred to the hut of the priestess, who, should it be deemed advisable to change the site of the village, precedes the oxen with a portion of this consecrated fire, every possible care being taken to prevent it from being extinguished. Should, however, this calamity happen, the whole tribe is immediately assembled, and large expiatory