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Hello Owamboland!

Avatar of inke inke - 17. mai 2019 - Tourism, Discover Namibia

In Owamboland the traditional and modern worlds merge. (Photo: Ron Swilling)

Ron Swilling

When you step into the Owambo regions in northern Namibia, be ready for a world of colour and culture unlike anywhere else in the country. After exiting Etosha National Park at King Nehale Gate, you reach the tarred road. The junction presents a choice of routes to Rundu and the Zambezi Region. Hmmm . . . You look to the left and right, and weigh up options. To the south-east, the road leads to Tsumeb and Grootfontein - and to the north-west, to Ondangwa and the B10 that skirts the northern reaches. But, hang on a bit, what’s the rush, Owamboland is calling.

Spend a day with a difference. Here, in Owamboland, the traditional and modern worlds merge so smoothly that it is possible to visit a traditional African homestead in the same afternoon as a shopping spree at one of the new malls that have sprung up in the towns like corn after the rain. You can hop between worlds by pounding grain with a large mortar and pestle at one moment and then by picking up the latest mod cons the next.

Home to the Aawambo people, the largest ethnic group in Namibia, this vast area stretches above Etosha National Park like the leafy crown of an ancient tree. It comprises of four regions all beginning with ‘O’ - Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto and Ohangwena. And although not totally PC, its pre-independence name ‘Owamboland’ has also stuck and remains an apt name for the Owambo regions, home to the eight Oshiwambo groups, some still headed by royalty.

Characterised by a hodgepodge of brightly-painted shebeens (informal taverns) with quirky names, makalani palm trees, oshanas (seasonal ponds), mahangu fields, car-spare yards and traditional homesteads, Owamboland is a new and interesting world. For the traveller eager and open to becoming acquainted with other cultures, it’s a fascinating Oshiwambo feast. Don’t miss:

Nakambale Museum – a century-old Finnish mission

Situated on the outskirts of Ondangwa in Olukonda, Nakambale is always a favourite. Martti Rautanen was one of the first Finnish missionaries in northern Namibia. He was instrumental in translating the bible into Oshindonga and made a large impression in the area. The sprawling old church built in 1889 still stands and his home now houses the Nakambale museum. The cool interior with its thick walls radiates its own special atmosphere and is steeped in history. The graves of Martti and family members lie in the graveyard adjacent to old church. The manager of the museum, Maggie Kanaante, offers village tours and will prepare a traditional meal – if notified in advance.

The Nakambale Museum was established in a former century-old Finnish mission. (Photo: Ron Swilling)

(When overnighting at Ongula Village Homestead near Ondangwa, guests will also have the opportunity to join a village tour and to try some traditional fare served as a supper option.)

Ombalantu Baobab

Heading westward on the C46, it’s worth stopping at the Ombalantu Baobab national heritage site in Outapi to celebrate these great and protected trees. The Omabalantu Baobab is 1000 years old and has a circumference of 25 metres. Thirteen people with arms outstretched are needed to circle its wide base. The baobab served as a place of safety for the Ombalantu people during the tribal wars long ago when it is said that they made a hole and climbed into its depths. It has also served as a post office and a chapel. Its old lectern and benches remain, as well as its sacred energy.

The impressive Omabalantu Baobab is 1000 years old. (Photo: Ron Swilling)

No matter how many baobabs you come across, you can never tire of the baobab’s grand beauty. As the story goes, Tate Kalunga (Father God) made all things on this earth. He made man and woman, animals and fish. By the time he got to the trees however, he was very tired and planted the baobab in the ground upside down, hence the root-like branches that extend into the sky. And, as remarkable as the branches of the tree are, there is nothing like sitting in the heart of a baobab. It is definitely something to add to a bucket list – and to tick off: ‘Sit in the heart of an ancient baobab tree!’ 

Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead

Circling round on the M123 to Tsandi, this old royal homestead is totally unexpected. It’s a traditional Oshiwambo homestead – enlarged to royal proportions; an African version of a palace and the former residence of Uukwaluudhi sovereign, King Taapopi. The homestead is encircled by a large palisade made of stout mopane branches and divided into partitions suitable for the royal family. A path leads in maze style through the homestead, a scheme to divert animals and enemies. Without a guide you are completely lost. The guided tour gives you invaluable insight into the traditional living quarters, lives and culture of the Aawambo people.

Ongulumbashe Heritage Site

Tsandi is also where you’ll find the road to Ongulumbashe, dedicated to the country’s liberation struggle. A larger-than-life statue of Sam Nujoma (Namibia’s first president) towers over the landscape and robust bronze statues mark this site where the armed struggle against apartheid began on 26 August 1966 when the South African police launched an assault against SWAPO’s (South West African People Organisation’s) armed wing.

The Ongulumbashe Heritage Site is dedicated to the country’s liberation struggle. (Photo: Ron Swilling)

To gain a feel for colourful Owamboland:

Pop into a shebeen, where locals gather at the end of the day for a bottle of good Namibian beer or a mug of local brew

Visit an outdoor market

Buy a bright pink, striped Oshiwambo dress along the roadside

Join a village tour

Sample the food: Mahangu (a type of millet) porridge and chicken or spinach relish drizzled with nutty marula oil. And if daring, the Oshiwambo delicacy – mopane worms!

Look out for Kalahari truffles sold at stalls after the rains - a delicious, nutty African truffle

Purchase an expertly-woven basket made from makalani palm fronds. Basket weaving is an age-old skill that has passed down through the generations

Keep eyes open on the calendar for the cultural festivals: the Marula festival that celebrates the importance of this golden fruit in the Oshiwambo culture in May, and Olufuko – the rite of passage for young girls into womanhood in August

Accept any invitations to a 7-day Oshiwambo wedding – for an extraordinary celebration!

Look out for Gondwana’s new lodge - Etosha King Nehale - set to open in 2020 on the plains to the north of King Nehale Gate.

Sunset in Owamboland. (Photo: Ron Swilling)

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