Travelling in Namibia you’ll meet the Owambo people (Aawambo). They make up the largest population group in Namibia. Tourists in Namibia love having their photos taken with Owambo ladies who come to town dressed in their finest traditional outfits.
The group is actually made up of twelve tribes that live in northern Namibia and southern Angola. The region they come from was once called Owamboland. Today, it’s been divided into what they call the 4 ‘O’ region; Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto.
Each tribe has a hereditary chief who is assisted by several headmen. Land is allocated by the chief but is never owned; it is reallocated upon the death of the head of a family. The new tenant may not necessarily be related to the deceased.
A family lives in its own kraal or eumbo, which is enclosed by a wooden fence. Their homes are rudimentary thatched huts and at the centre of the kraal is the family sacred fire which is kept burning at all times. A holiday to Namibia often includes a visit to a traditional Owambo village. It’s a fascinating experience for tourists in Namibia.
Typically, the Owambo live on flat, sand plains but there are belts of tropical vegetation with permanent water courses. This means the Owambos can farm land that is flooded by annual rainfall. In the dry season, the livestock grazes on the grassy plains.
Fishing and farming are important part of the Owambos lifestyle but they are also skilled craftsmen. They sell baskets, pottery, jewellery and beautifully decorated daggers and musical instruments to supplement their income.
The Owambo traditions are heavily influenced by the Finnish missionaries that arrived in Owamboland in the late 1800s. In fact, the elaborate dresses that the women wear are fashioned on the Western-style dresses of the female missionaries. Weddings and special occasions are a combination of beliefs adopted from the missionaries and their own ancient Owambo traditions.
The Owambos live a life that is highly influenced by a combination of magic and religion. They believe strongly in good and evil spirits but have also adopted a religion based on Lutheran and Catholic beliefs.
A key element to their daily diet is a thick porridge made from millet which is their primary crop. They also grow beans, watermelons, squash and sorghum and keep goats, cattle and a few pigs. The young men follow the livestock to better grazing grounds during the day and bring them home in the evening to be kept safe in the kraal.
If you visit a traditional Owambo village while on holiday in Namibia, you must remember to take off your shoes or sandals when you enter the chief’s kraal. It is believed that someone that enters the kraal wearing footwear brings death to one of the royal inmates. Another belief is burning fire in the chief’s kraal. If the fire burns out, it is believed the chief and the tribe will disappear.
A treat for the more adventurous travelling in Namibia is a glass of a traditional Owambo brew called Ombike. It is distilled from fermented fruit mash. The fruit is collected from Makalani Palms, Jackal Berries, Buffalo Thorns and a mixture of other local fruit. It is brewed in the cities but be careful; it’s very potent and slightly toxic for people who don’t have a stomach for it.
Read more: People of Namibia – the OmuHimba
Experience the sights and sounds of Namibia. Lekker Adventures specialises in providing you with the complete travelling experience to Namibia. Click here to find out more about travelling to Namibia with the assistance of Lekker Adventures.