20 Jan 2021
Many local travellers and those from abroad are often itching to travel further northwards than the King-Nehale-Gate at the north-eastern corner of Namibia’s famous Etosha National Park but did not dare to conquer the unknown so far off the beaten track.
Travel literature about Namibia’s north-central areas – informally known as ‘Owambo’ – has been virtually non-existent. A brand-new book has filled this gap in a unique way, providing all round information about the Aawambo people, their way of life regarding their rich culture and traditions, rural agriculture and bringing readers tips about fascinating places of interest.
“Armed” with this new book “Discover the colourful world of Owambo” one can now travel to the far north with the fascinating landscapes of iishanas, omulunga palm trees and rural life where traditional ploughs with a span of oxen are still in use, parallel to modern tractors. Nowhere else in Namibia will you find as many creative names for cuca-shops, also called shebeens, than in the central north - a photo collection of which, among others is found in this book.
‘Do in Rome as the Romans do’
Veteran travel journalist and documentary film-maker Willie Olivier tapped from his countless travels to the Oshana, Omusati, Oshikoto and Ohangwena Regions to pen a travel guide of a different kind. Instead of the usual introduction about geography and history, Olivier starts with essential tips for travellers who want to explore a still deeply rural and traditional area, - how to “do as the Aaawambo do” when meeting and greeting the locals; not to take photos without permission and paying a fee for them if so asked and etiquette
like not entering a traditional homestead without first announcing one’s presence.
The author gives valuable advice for drivers about roads and that goats, cattle, donkeys have the right of way as well as the many pedestrians on one page. Another page deals with medical care in case of need with telephone numbers and locations of medical centres in the major towns like Ondangwa, Ongwediva, where to stock up on food and groceries and fuel.
Let the journey begin
The first three of the ten richly illustrated chapters explain why this vast shallow land and its seasonal lakes (oshanas/ishanas) is so different from the rest of Namibia, which trees with their fruit are so important for the locals and why some trees are inherited by daughters from their mothers.
Switching between the origins of the Aawambo, who arrived centuries ago from central Africa and how they till the land, Olivier in passing provides a wealth of information snippets in short paragraphs.
Many photos accompany each page and lure the reader into learn more with each page turned. Dried up lakes, traditional salt expeditions, initiation rites, weddings and the intricacies of the traditional homesteads are explained as well as how several traditional beverages are made. In between, the author describes the various Aawambo kingdoms and chiefdoms, which makes an equally fascinating read.
Chapter three deals with traders and hunters during the pre-colonial era as well as the role missionaries played and who left an indelible mark still prevalent today...
The recent past, which includes the struggle for liberation and its difficulties for the local population up to shortly before Independence on 21 March 1990, is also contained in the book.
The Aaawambo are excellent potters and basket weavers as the reader discovers and travellers can buy them along the road. Their deep affinity to the ancient and nourishing “mahangu” (pearl millet) and sorghum crops they still cultivate today is explained with a thorough understanding. And if you wondered, why enormous baskets from dark wood bark rest on poles, which traditionally are made by men, Oliver writes that the mahangu and other grain is stored in there.
From Chapter Four onwards, six different road routes are described in detail with many sightseeing spots described and how to get there, even with GPS coordinates, kilometre distances and road names. Most pages contain short tips. There are many historic places and monuments in ‘Owambo’, and even museums, including Namibia’s only medical museum at Olukonda!
Each chapter ends with a bibliography, which encourages further reading. Most pages have small extra tips and hints, recognisable as colourful boxed texts.
This first comprehensive travel guide about the central north is the result of a successful team effort by the author and employees of the local tourism company Gondwana Collection Namibia, that also published the book.
If at any time a follow-up edition might be planned, a map could perhaps be added to provide an overview about the four north-central regions.
The book “Discover the colourful world of Owambo” by Willie Olivier is a successful mix of travel information, history and contemporary topics about north-central Namibia, the most densely populated part of the country. Its 360 pages are a delightful read – complemented by over 450 photos - and bring the reader closer to the rich culture, traditions and heritage of the Aawambo people. It was published by Namibia’s tourism company Gondwana Collection Namibia and is available at the company’s Windhoek headquarters, its online store The Narrative, curio shops at Gondwana properties and in leading book shops.
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