The Owambo people are synonymous with Namibia and are the largest cultural sector found in this country, representing over a third of Namibia’s total population. Concentrated mostly in the north, the Owambo consist of eight tribes, namely the Ndonga, Kwambi, Ngandyela, Mbalanhu, Nkolonkadhi and Unda tribes.
The Owambo people are a resourceful and productive tribe and are active in all areas of the economy from agriculture and fishing to trading. They cultivate maize, sorghum, beans, melons, onions and mahango, a type of millet. They fish when the low lying areas fill with water from Angola and then drive their cattle onto the fertile grazing lands which are left behind when the waters subside. Manure produced by these cattle is used to fertilise their crops which are cultivated on the higher ground where the floods do not reach.
They are keen traders and cuca shops (small bars) and food markets are plentiful wherever the Owambo’s are found. Home industries selling clothing, carvings, pottery and baskets are another favourite business venture of the Owambo, particularly the womenfolk. Most Owambo families are involved in retail activities of some kind and many have extended their enterprises further into Namibia and beyond, to Angola.
Before colonisation, the Owambo society consisted of a king and his headmen in each of the Owambo groups and although succession was matrilineal, the king had the final say in all matters. The women were responsible for cultivating the land and raising the children while the men attended to the cattle and important tribal matters. Today only three of the Owango tribes still recognise a chief and many of their traditional customs have made way for Christianity and modern ways of life.
Traditional homesteads consisting of palm huts enclosed with wooden pole fences can still be seen in some places and the Nakambale Museum and traditional village is a good re-creation of a traditional Owambo kraal. This facility is also an example of community-run accommodation in Namibia, where the local tribesman own and manage the facility.