The Aawambo – People of the North

The people referred collectively to as the Aawambo live in central northern Namibia, an area formerly known as Owambo, and southern Angola. In about 1550, groups of these people, who have a common origin and culture, moved southwards from the Great Lakes in East Africa and settled between the Kunene and Okavango rivers. Eight of these communities, representing around half of Namibia’s population, live in northern Namibia, while four communities live in Angola’s southern Cunene Province.

The Aawambo communities are administered by traditional authorities headed by a king, queen or a chief. The Aandonga, Aangandjera and Aakwaluudhi are ruled by a king, while the Aakwanyama made history when a queen was installed in November 2005. The traditional authorities of the Aakwambi, Aambalantu, Aambadja and two small communities in western Owambo, the Aakonlonkadhi and Unda which are under a single traditional authority, are administered by traditional authorities headed by a chief. A council of senior councillors and councillors assists the king, queen or chief in the performance of his or her duties.

It is often mistakenly assumed that Oshiwambo is the language of the Aawambo, but it is in actual fact a cluster of closely related dialects. The languages of the Aandonga and the Aakwanyama, the two largest communities, as well as the Aakwambi, have been developed into written languages.

The Aawambo people who live on the land practise a mixed economy of subsistence agriculture and stock farming with cattle and goats. Omahangu (pearl millet), sorghum, beans are the main dryland crops. A wide variety of leafy green vegetable plants and wild fruits are collected to supplement the staple diet of oshithima (pearl millet porridge). Fish are caught in the watercourses (iishana) during seasonal floods and in the rainy season.

Aawambo houses are traditionally of the rondavel type, mostly surrounded by wooden palisades and often connected by passages. Cattle kraals (enclosures) usually form part of the complex which is surrounded by fields which are cultivated seasonally.

Numerous small bars, locally known as cuca shops, small enterprises and locally owned shopping complexes are testimony to the business acumen of the Aawambo. Open markets, a feature of all the towns in Owambo, are bustling places where vendors sell a variety of traditional food and other products.

 

EXPERIENCING AAWAMBO CULTURE

The Uukwaluudhi Traditional Homestead at Tsandi in the Omusati Region is a good place to learn about the history and culture of the Aakwaluudhi. Guides take visitors through the homestead, the former palace of King Josia Taapopi, pointing out the customs and history of the Aakwaluudhi.

Historic photos and maps of the Finnish Mission Society and early Owambo can be viewed in the Nakambale Museum at Olukonda. There are also several displays of traditional domestic implements, clothing, decorations and weapons of the Aandonga. The museum forms part
of the historic Finnish mission complex which is a national monument which includes the church and the nearby cemetery. A guided tour through the adjacent traditional Aandonga homestead provides an interesting insight into the history, culture and way of life of the Aandonga people.

The Oshituthi Shomagongo (Marula Fruit Festival) is rotated among the eight communities. The two-day event is usually held in March or April during the marula season. The festival was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015.

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