Ovambo people

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Ovamboland flag.svg
Flag of Ovamboland
Total population
(~ 1,079,000 [1])
Regions with significant populations
 Namibia 654,000[1]
 Angola 425,000[1]
Related ethnic groups
Other Bantu peoples

The Aawambo or Ambo people (endonyms Aawambo [Ndonga], Ovawambo [Kwanyama]) consist of a number of kindred Bantu ethnic groups who inhabit what is called Owamboland in northern Namibia and the southernmost Angolan province Cunene. In Namibia, these are the AaNdonga, Ovakwanyama, Aakwambi, Aangandjera, Aambalantu, Ovaunda, Aakolonkadhi and Aakwaluudhi. In Angola, they are the Ovakwanyama, Aakafima, Evale and Aandonga. They are the largest ethnic group in Namibia.

The Ambo people migrated south from the upper regions of Zambezi in the period around the 14th century. They constitute the largest ethnic group and a majority of the population in Namibia. They settled in this area because of its rich soil. The Ambo population is overall roughly 1,500,000.

The Ambo are part of the greater Bantu family. They speak Oshiwambo, which includes the Oshikwanyama, Oshingandjera, Oshindonga and other dialects.


Flat sandy plains of Northern Namibia and Southern Angola make up Ovamboland, with water courses that bisect the area. These are known as oshanas. In the northern regions of Owamboland are thick belts of tropical vegetation. The average rainfall in this area is around 17 inches during the rainy season. As the oshanas become flooded, sometimes three-fifths of the region can be submerged. The Ambo people have had to adapt to the widely varying seasonal weather patterns with their housing, agriculture, and livestock practices. In the dry season they use the grassy plains as grazing areas for stock.

The Aawambo raise cattle, fish in the oshanas, and farm. They are skilled craftsmen. They make and sell basketry, pottery, jewelry, wooden combs, wood iron spears, arrows, richly decorated daggers, musical instruments, and also ivory buttons

Culture and beliefs[edit]

Since the late 19th century, most Aawambo have come to identify as Lutheran Christians. Finnish missionaries arrived in Owamboland in the 1870s and converted the Aawambo, in the process causing most of the traditional beliefs to die out. As a result of the missionaries and other cultural influences from the German colonial period and later, almost all Aawambo people wear Western-style clothes and listen to Western-style music[citation needed]. Their traditional dancing is done to drumming (Oshiwambo folk music). Most weddings feature a combination of Christian beliefs and Aawambo traditions.

The traditional home is built as a kraal, acomplex of huts surrounded by a fence of large vertical poles. Some families also build a Western-style cement block building within that area. Each hut generally has a different purpose, such as a ondjugo (sleeping quarters), storeroom, or elugo (kitchen). Most families collect water from a nearby public water well or tap.

Most families have a large plot of land. Their primary crop is millet, which is made into a thick oshimbombo. They also grow beans, watermelons, squash, and sorghum. Most households own a few goats and cattle, and occasionally a few pigs. Young men are tasked with attending to the goats and cattle, taking them to grazing areas during the day, and bringing them back to the home in the evening. Chickens roam freely inside and out of the dwellings. as with most farms, dogs and cats are common pets. When the rains come, the rivers to the north in Angola overflow and flood the area, bringing fish, birds, and frogs.

Traditionally, the Owambo people lived a life closely woven with their religious beliefs and based on the practice of magic. They believed in good and evil spirits as part of their system. due to the influence of missionaries, the majority are Lutheran or Catholic, but have integrated traditional beliefs into a syncretic Christianity.

Traditional beliefs are related to Kalunga, in which the chief is a representative of the gods. For example, when a tribe member wants to enter the chief's kraal, they must first remove their sandals. It is said that if this person does not remove their sandals it will bring death to one of the royal residents and throw the kraal into mourning. Another belief deals with maintaining a burning fire in the chief's kraal. If the fire burns out, the chief and the tribe will disappear. An important ceremony takes place at the end of the harvest, where the entire community has a feast and celebrates.

Each tribe has a hereditary chief who is responsible for the tribe. Many tribes have adapted representation by having a council of headmen who run tribal affairs. Members of the royal family of the Owamboland are known as aakwanekamba; only those who belong to this family by birth, through the maternal line, have a claim to chieftainship. The tribes figure their descent by a matrilineal kinship system, with chiefs arising from the mother's children. The chief's sons have no claim in the royal family. They grow up as regular members of the tribe.

Ovambo brew a traditional liquor called ombike. It is distilled from fermented fruit mash and particularly popular in rural areas. The fruit to produce ombike are collected from Makalani Palms, Jackal Berries, Buffalo Thorns, Bird Plumes and Cluster Figs. Ombike, with additives like sugar, is also brewed and consumed in urban areas. This liquor is then called omangelengele; it is more potent and sometimes poisonous. New Era, one of the English-language daily newspapers, reported that clothes, shoes, and tyres have been found to have been brewed as ingredients of omangelengele.[2]

Ovambo tribes[edit]

The following table contains the names, areas, dialect names and the locations of the Ovambo tribes according to T. E. Tirronen's Ndonga-English Dictionary. The table also contains information concerning the classification of noun class of the Proto-Bantu language for these words.[3]

Area Tribe Dialect Location
Classes 9 (*ny > on-), 11 (uu-/ou-) Class 2 (*wa-, a-) Class 7 (*ki > oshi-)
O-ndonga Aa-ndonga Oshi-ndonga Southern Ovamboland
Uu-kwambi Aa-kwambi Oshi-kwambi Central Ovamboland
O-ngadjera Aa-ngandjera Oshi-ngandjera Central Ovamboland
Uu-kwaluudhi Aa-kwaluudhi Oshi-kwaluudhi Western Ovamboland
O-mbalanhu Aa-mbalanhu Oshi-mbalanhu Western Ovamboland
Uu-kolonkadhi Aa-kolonkadhi Oshi-kolonkadhi Western Ovamboland
Ou-kwanyama Ova-kwanyama Oshi-kwanyama Northern and Eastern Ovamboland, Southern Angola
E-unda Ova-unda Oshi-unda Western Ovamboland, Epalela vicinity
O-mbadja Ova-mbadja Oshi-mbadja Southern Angola, Shangalala region

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Ambo, Ndonga people group are reported in 2 countries". Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Shaanika, Helvy (26 October 2012). "Ombike – a potent traditional brew". New Era. 
  3. ^ Toivo Emil Tirronen: Ndonga-English Dictionary. Oshinyanyangidho shongeleki ELCIN. Oniipa, 1986.


  • (German) Karl Angebauer, Ovambo : Fünfzehn Jahre unter Kaffern, Buschleuten und Bezirksamtmännern, A. Scherl, Berlin, 1927, 257 p.
  • (German) P. H. Brincker, Unsere Ovambo-Mission sowie Land, Leute, Religion, Sitten, Gebräuche, Sprache usw. der Ovakuánjama-Ovámbo, nach Mitteilungen unserer Ovambo-Missionare zusammengestellt, Barmen, 1900, 76 p.
  • (German) Wolfgang Liedtke & Heinz Schippling, Bibliographie deutschsprachiger Literatur zur Ethnographie und Geschichte der Ovambo, Nordnamibia, 1840–1915, annotiert, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, Dresde, 1986, 261 p.
  • Teddy Aarni, The Kalunga concept in Ovambo religion from 1870 onwards, University of Stockholm, Almquist & Wiksell, 1982, 166 p. ISBN 91-7146-301-1.
  • Leonard N. Auala, The Ovambo : our problems and hopes, Munger Africana Library, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena (Cal.), 1973, 32 p.
  • Allan D. Cooper, Ovambo politics in the twentieth century, University Press of America, Lanham, Md., 2001, 350 p. ISBN 0-7618-2110-4.
  • Gwyneth Davies, The medical culture of the Ovambo of Southern Angola and Northern Namibia, University of Kent at Canterbury, 1993 (thesis)
  • Patricia Hayes, A history of the Ovambo of Namibia, c 1880-1935, University of Cambridge, 1992 (thesis)
  • Maija Hiltunen, Witchcraft and sorcery in Ovambo, Finnish Anthropological Society, Helsinki, 1986, 178 p. ISBN 951-95434-9-X
  • Maija Hiltunen, Good magic in Ovambo, Finnish Anthropological Society, Helsinki, 1993, 234 p. ISBN 952-9573-02-2
  • Matti Kuusi, Ovambo proverbs with African parallels, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki, 1970, 356 p.
  • Carl Hugo Linsingen Hahn, The native tribes of South-West Africa : The Ovambo - The Berg Damara - The bushmen of South West Africa - The Nama - The Herero, Cape Times Ltd., Le Cap, 1928, 211 p.
  • Seppo Löytty, The Ovambo sermon : a study of the preaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambo-Kavango Church in South West Africa, Luther-Agricola Society, Tampere (Finland), 1971, 173 p.
  • Giorgio Miescher, The Ovambo Reserve Otjeru (1911–1938) : the story of an African community in Central Namibia, Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Bâle, 2006, 22 p.
  • Ramiro Ladeiro Monteiro, Os ambós de Angola antes da independência, Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, Lisbon, 1994, 311 p. (thesis, in (Portuguese))

External links[edit]