The Ovambo community also commonly known as the Ambo, are an ethnic group that belong to the southern Africa tribal groups (S


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The Ovambo community also commonly known as the Ambo, are an ethnic group that belong to the southern Africa tribal groups (Saarelma-Maunumaa, 2018). The Ovambo are found in Namibia and are the largest group in the country fetching to more than 1.2 million individuals that represent around fifty percent of the Namibian population. In Namibia, they are found in the northern regions to where ghetto are popularly known as the Ovambo. Furthermore, the Ovambo people have an extension to Angola in the southern province of Cunene; here they are commonly referred to as the Ambo. In Angola, the Ambo people contribute to a population of around 425,000 individuals and are a minority group that account to about two percent of the general Angolan population.

The Ovambo are among the kindred Bantu ethnic tribes inhabiting the previously known Owamboland. The Ambo people migrated from the upper regions of the Zambezi towards the south around the 14th century. The total population of the Ambo people is estimated to be around 1.6 million. Christianity is the most predominant religion among the Ambo population accounting for almost 97 percent. The Ovambo people are ethnolinguist speaking the Ovambo language that is also referred to as Ambo or Kwanyama. The ethnic language belongs to the southern branch of the families that are found in the Niger-Congo regions.

The Ovambo community resides in the flat sandy and grassy plains in northern Namibia and Angola in the Cunene province (Meissner, 2016). The area is commonly known as Ovamboland characterized by being flat and high altitude with the ground being less rocky. The oshanas are the water courses found in the area and are used to irrigate the region. Tropical vegetation is found in the northern regions of the owamboland. The vegetation is sustained by the abundant though seasonal rains that flood the plains forming temporary islands and lakes to which empty out during the dry season making the ambo people adopt to the varying weather patterns in the region with their daily activities that include agriculture, livestock keeping as well as the housing practices.

The Ovambo community is a Bantu speaking group and has several sub-tribes that include: Ovakwanyama, Aandonga, Aambalantu, Aakwambi, Aangandjera, Aakolonkadhi, Ovaunda, and Aakwaluudhi that are found in Namibia. The Aakafima, Ovakwanyama, Aandonga, and Evale are the Ovambo speaking groups found in Angola. The Ovambo community speaks the Oshiwambo language that is associated with many dialects from the sub-tribes including the Oshingandjera, Oshikwanyama and the Oshindonga (Stell & Dragojevic, 2017).

It is estimated that the Ovambo community commenced their migratory journey around the 15th century to their current location from the Zambia region settling around the Namibia-Angola borders and further pushing to the south of Namibia in the 17th century (Cleveland, 2014). The Ovambo tribe have a close linguistic, historical and cultural relationship with their neighbours. The Herero people border them in the southern parts of Namibia while the Kavango community settles to the east in the region near the Okavango River.

The low-density nomadic lifestyle adopted by the community left them unaffected by the European and the Swahili-Arab traders before the 19th century which is in contrast to the majority of the ethnic groups in Africa. The intactness remained due to their migratory behaviours that the traders couldn’t catch up with the population to conduct business. Also, during the colonial establishment in Namibia by the Germans the Ovambo community were not affected as the Germans put their focus on to the southern and the coastal regions. It is until after the World War I that the community got affected.

The British annexed Namibia into the South African administration as the South West Africa province. The annexing contributed to the changes in the plantation, mining activities as well as the cattle breeding entering Ovamboland. In retaliation by the Portuguese to counter the territorial expansion by the British in the south, the Portuguese abandoned their interest on the coast, eastern and northern operations and headed to the south to counter the British interests. As a result of the interaction, the Ovambo community initiated a series of armed resistance during the 1020s and 1930s. All the resistance were subdued and crushed by the Portuguese and the British military.

As a result of their defeat, the South African administration maintained a police zone in the region established by the Germans who by then covered almost two-thirds of the province which later became Namibia. The Ovambo people were not allowed to enter or move closer to the police zones, and none of the Europeans nor were the other tribes allowed to move to the north without permission (Perstling & Rothmann, 2014). The migratory restrictions separated the Ovambo community, but due to the labor shortages in South Africa and the so-called police zones, the government of South Africa opened the boundaries allowing migrant wage labor.

The opening of the boundaries saw numerous numbers of the Ovambo people becoming migrant laborers working in the police zones as well as in South Africa. In 1948, the South African apartheid rule was introduced in Ovamboland, and in 1973, the south African government declared Ovamboland as an independent province to which led to the appointment of chiefs who were aligned to the policies of the south African government. The appointment was done against their will, and therefore the Ovambo community rejected the developments leading to the assassination of the appointed chief minister of Ovamboland. As a result of the continued struggle, in 1990 Namibia and its inhabitants the Ovambo people attained independence from the South African administration.

The traditional religion of the Ovambo people contributes to 3% of the total population as the primary faith. The religion envisions a supreme being known as Kalunga. Just like the majority of the southwestern Africa ethnic groups, the Ovamba people performed their rites and rituals in the centre of a sacred fire. According to the cosmology of Kalunga, the Supreme Being was responsible for the creation of the first man and woman of the tribe as the original ancestors. They later had a daughter and two sons and that it is through the daughter’s lineage that the Ovambo tribe came into existence. The Ovambo community still maintains their rituals that involve elaborate fire making, rainmaking dances as well as keeping ceremonies and rites which involves throwing of herbs in the fire and inhaling the corresponding rising smoke (Akuupa, 2015). The king of a tribe traditionally was the head priest whose role was to attend to the supernatural spirits partly and as well act as a representative of the Ovambo community to the deities.

Christianity is the most prevalent religion among the Ovambo people. Christianity is believed to have arrived in their territories around the 19th century where the first Finnish missionaries arrived at their land around the year the 1870s. The Ovambo people were predominantly converted to Christians and have been therefore adopted the identity of the Lutheran Christians. The finish influence was not only directed to religion alone but also related to the cultural practices such as dressing styles that include a head scarf and the wearing of the full-length maxi introduced in the 19th century. The community until now follows the Christian theology festivals as well as the prayer rituals but as well have maintained their traditional religious practices alongside the Christian ones such as the use of the sacred fire and also invoke Kalunga, their supreme creator. Therefore, the Ovamba community has been practising the syncretic Christianity where most of the weddings feature both the Aawambo traditions and the Christian beliefs as well and also incorporate the traditional dancing done through drumming (Akuupa, 2015).

The Ovambo people practice a sedentary lifestyle relying mostly on animal husbandry and agriculture. They grow sorghum and millet as their staple foods and also produce beans. During the drier seasons, the community embarks on pastoral activities keeping herds of cattle sheep and goats. The main purpose of animal husbandry among the Ovambo community is for the production of milk as their diet is supplemented by gathering fruits, fishing and hunting. The community lives in traditional homes that are built as kraal. They are complex huts that are surrounded by a fence consisting of large poles arranged vertically. Each of the huts has a specific purpose, for example, the Ondjugo is the sleeping quarters while the Epata is the kitchen. The community also practised games and sporting activities with the Forza game being their favourite in their lives.

The Ovambo community also participated in trading activities as one of their economic activities. During the pre-colonial period. The community engaged in the hunting of the elephants for tusks, for the ivory was in due demand that almost saw the extinction of the elephants in their region. Each of the Ovambo tribe is headed by a hereditary chief who is given the responsibility of taking care of the tribe (Fortes & Evans-Pritchard, 2015). Only those individuals who are born from the royal family are eligible for becoming the leaders of the tribes. The matrimonial kinship system is still recognized where the hereditary chiefs arise from the daughter’s children and not the son’s. Polygyny is accepted within the tribes with the first wife being identified as the senior.

The Ovambo community raises their cattle and fish in the oshanas and farms. They are also skilled craftsmen making and selling pottery, jewellery and basketry and many other items that enable them to earn a livelihood. They brew the traditional liquor popularly known as the ombike, distilled from fermented fruit mash which is popular in the rural areas. Fruits for the preparation of the ombike are gathered from the makalani palm, jackal berries and the bird plumes and additives such as sugar is added to the ombike for the consumption in the urban areas.

Culturally, the Ovambo community enjoyed the division of labor in the society with men and women being assigned different roles from the other (Ndinelao Shanyanana, & Zongwe, 2017). Men were made responsible for the construction of households as well as the granaries known as the omaanda. The men also cleared the waterholes and the fields and did the manufacture of the wooden items and hide products, salt purchase and hunting and as well conducted the iron production. Women on the other side were most concerned with the child care, practised craft for the production of pots and baskets, performed all food productions and preparation, thatching of houses, gathering vegetables and fruits as well as the collection of water.

The Ovambo community has a rich and diversified culture that has made them survive for so long remaining intact and true to their traditions. The community occupies the flat terrains of Namibia and Angola with soils that are agriculturally supportive; this has enabled the community to grow their crops and feed their populations. Also, the community practice apprenticeship as well as trading as a supplement to their economic activities keeping them away from languishing poverty. In the pre-colonial period, the Ovambo community was among the resisting communities that were against the imposition of the colonial rule in their land.

The exposure to the colonial government and strong fighting experience led to the granting of Namibia’s independence with Sam Nujomah a member of the Ovambo community becoming the first president of the Republic of Namibia. The community as well is composed of 97% Christians while 3% cling fully to the traditional religion. Although the 97% of the community are Christian, it doesn’t mean that they don’t practice traditional belief, they still incorporate the traditional cultural aspect especially during marriage ceremonies. The use of both has enabled the community to maintain their culture to date. In summation, the Ovambo community makes up to almost 50% of the total population in the country and thus are a majority tribe with an upper hand enabling them to survive without marginalization.


Akuupa, M. (2015). National Culture in Post-apartheid Namibia: State-sponsored Cultural Festivals and Their Histories (Vol. 15). Basler Afrika Bibliographien.

Akuupa, M. (2015). National Culture in Post-apartheid Namibia: State-sponsored Cultural Festivals and Their Histories (Vol. 15). Basler Afrika Bibliographien.

Cleveland, T. (2014). Stones of Contention: A History of Africa’s Diamonds. Ohio University Press.

Fortes, M., & Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (2015). African political systems. Routledge.

Meissner, R. (2016). Hydropolitics, Interest Groups and Governance: The Case of the Proposed Epupa Dam. Springer.

Ndinelao Shanyanana, R., & Zongwe, D. (2017). From Cheerleaders to Team Leaders: Employing Omuuntu for Women’s Meaningful Participation in Leadership in Namibia.

Perstling, M., & Rothmann, S. (2014). From South-west Africa to Namibia: Subjective well-being twenty-one years after independence. In Positive Nations and Communities (pp. 231-262). Springer, Dordrecht.

Saarelma-Maunumaa, M. (2018). Edhina Ekogidho-names as links: The encounter between African and European anthroponymic systems among the Ambo people in Namibia(Vol. 11). BoD-Books on Demand.

Stell, G., & Dragojevic, M. (2017). Multilingual accommodation in Namibia: An examination of six ethnolinguistic groups’ language use in intra-and intergroup interactions. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 36(2), 167-187.