Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Ovambo are matrilineal people living in north-central Namibia and south-central Angola. They speak a variety of languages, collectively known as Oshiwambo, part the Southern Bantu group. Traditionally, Oshiwambo-speakers resided in scattered, palisaded homesteads within independent polities led either by a monarch or popularly-chosen community heads, but shared religious practices and an agro-pastoral subsistence pattern.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Southern Africa




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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

Spatially, most sources only cover the former Ovamboland in north-central Namibia, but a few also cover south-central Angola. Temporally, the following general sources concentrate on the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Translated to English from German, Tönjes (1996) represents the first systematic study of the Ovambo by a European missionary. Hanh (1929), a colonial official, followed shortly after, documenting a number of aspects of the culture and providing some historical context. Loeb’s (1962) major ethnography provides extensive descriptions of Ovambo culture and society, framed by considerable historical research in an examination of the effects of colonial incorporation and Christian missions. Estermann (1976), a long-serving missionary, rounds out the general sources.

Among the focused historical studies, a major, two-part work by Hiltunen (1986, 1993) relies on missionary and native accounts to document and discuss the social functions of traditional witchcraft, sorcery, and “good magic” during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gewald (2003) examines the social and cultural effects of conflict and famine in the 1910s. Siiskonen (2009) covers the majority of the twentieth century in an examination of gender and land tenure, complemented by Gordon (2008) who discusses the implications of the matrilineal inheritance system for the property rights of widows and orphans during the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century. Among works addressing specific topics, Rodin (1981) draws largely on mid-twentieth century observations for a report on the ethnobotany of the Kwuanyama. Regarding the agro-pastoral practices of the late twentieth into the early twenty-first centuries, (Tapscott 1990) provides an overview of the socioeconomics of livestock production and (Fujoika 2010) covers changes in land use practices and resource exploitation among the Kwambi. Brown (2011) focuses on traditional child fostering practices and Brown et al. (2005) examine changing concepts of masculinity and sexuality under the threat of HIV/AIDS in the early twenty-first century.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Alloparental care – see "child fostering"

Amarula – fruit of the Sclerocarya tree, used to make beer

Child fostering – long-term child care by others than the genetic mother or father – use "ADOPTION (597)"

Efundula – girls’ puberty and pre-nuptial ceremony – use "PUBERTY AND INITIATION (881)"

Epasa – twins – use "DIFFICULT AND UNUSUAL BIRTHS (845)"

Eumbo – homestead – use "HOUSEHOLD (592)" with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)"

Marula – see Amarula

Olufuko – see efundula

Ombala – royal palace

Ompampa – royal grave

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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