Owambo

The Owambo are Namibia’s largest cultural group making up slightly more than half the population. What is commonly known as Owamboland in the north of Namibia consists of four regions known as the four O regions: Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto. By Namibian standards Owamboland is has an unusually dense population. Omusati has 228 364 inhabitants (according to the 2001 census) which makes it the Region with the second largest population. Ohangwena has 227 728 making it the third largest.

The Owambo migrated from East Africa around 1550 and settled between the Okavango and Kunene Rivers in southern Angola and northern Namibia. Today there are four groups in Angola and eight in Namibia. Traditionally each group had a king, but today most Owambo groups are ruled by senior headsman. Traditionally the Owambo lived in rondavels surrounded by farmland with kraals for the cattle. A quarter of the O Regions is in private ownership, while the rest of the land is run by the tribal headsman. The Owambo farm cattle and cultivate pearl millet (mahangu), sorghum and beans. The farming is aided by fishing in the oshanas, shallow depressions that gather water in the rainy season. The largest towns in the area are Oshakati and Ondangwa, which have colourful markets and many small businesses such as stalls, cuca shops and shopping complexes. Many Owambo women make an income through dressmaking, woodcarving, pottery and basketry. While most of the Owambo still live in their traditional land an increasing number of people are moving into other urban centres. Owambo women are finding employment as nurses, teachers and clerks. The workforces of the mining and fishing industries consist mainly of Owambo men. The Owambo have also been politically active. The ruling party SWAPO (South West African People’s Organization) started as the Owambo People’s Organization and produced Namibia’s first president, Sam Nujoma.