The Owambo People

The Owambo is by far the largest population group in Namibia, comprising about one third of the countries total population. Owabo is a collective name for twelve tribal groups that live in northern Namibia and southern Angola. The largest of these tribes is the Kwanyama which make up about 35% of the 700 000 Owambo who live in Namibia. The next largest groups are the Ndonga and Kwambi which respectively comprise 30% and 12% of Namibia's Owambo population. While the Ngandyela, Mbalanhu, Nkolonkadhi and Unda complete the 8 Owambo tribal groups found in Namibia.

The home of the Owambo people was once called Owamboland but is today divided into the Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto regions. These regions are now often referred to as the 4 'O' regions.

Traditionally each of the tribal groups was headed by a hereditary chief, who is assisted by several headman. Land is allocated by the chief or headman, land is never owned and upon the death of a tenant the appropriate chief will allocate the land to a new tenant. The new tenant will not necessarily be related to the deceased.

In rural areas each Owambo family lives in its own kraal or eumbo, which is enclosed by a wooden fence. The houses are situated inside this fence and can be either round or square thatched huts, outside of the fence are the families lands. In the centre of the kraal is the family sacred fire (omulilo gwoshilongo) which is kept burning at all times. The Nakambale Museum and Traditional village present an excellent way to experience an Owambo kraal.

The Owambo practice both agriculture (mahango or millet) and cattle farming and this is supplemented by fish from the shallow pools (oshanas) which characterise the region. Another source of income for may Owambo's is the cuca shops (small bars) and large food markets.

Traditionally the Owambo has practised a matrilineal system especially in matters of inheritance and succesion, however in recent years the system has shifted towards a patrilieal society.

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