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Discover the colourful world of Owambo by Willie Olivier

2021-03-26  Linea Hamukwaya

Discover the colourful world of Owambo by Willie Olivier
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“If you want to enjoy what Owambo and its people have to offer, move over into the slow lane, put your watch away and enjoy the journey.” These are some of the many tips from Willie Olivier’s book to fellow othondoros, whose wanderlust might lead them to Owamboland – the land of the Aawambo – who live across as eight communities in the northern part of Namibia and others in southern Angola – whose land is a “tapestry of vibrant colours and textures”. Othondoro refers to one who wanders, a nickname that was given to the author because of his love for travelling.  

The 365-page guide provides descriptive information that will make a reader want to pack and begin their journey to Owamboland but there are tips that one should take note of to ensure they enjoy their visit, especially to take note that “greetings are a very important aspect of the Aawambo culture”. “It is not just a quick ‘Hi. How are you?’ but rather a process”. 

Also importantly mentioned in the book is the ‘R’ and ‘L’ phenomenon, which is “often a source of misunderstandings and sometimes ridicule by non-Oshiwambo speakers”. Olivier attributes this phenomenon to the fact that the “l sound is non-existent and is pronounced as r”. For example left is pronounced as ‘reft’ – so a traveller should not be surprised or confused when asking for directions and he/she is told to turn ‘light’ (right) – and because the Aawambo consider it offensive when non-Oshiwambo speakers make fun of the their phenomenon, it is best to avoid poking fun at the situation.

Other information that the traveller should be aware of is driving in Owamboland, ensuring the headlights of their vehicles are always switched on when travelling outside of rural areas, where “donkeys, goats and cattle are frequent obstacles”.

While donkeys, goats and cattle are obstacles to drivers, and often the main causes of road accidents in Owamboland, they are the core of the agricultural aspect of Aawambo, who are subsistence farmers. They are use oxen and donkeys to plough; moreover, goats and cattle serve as a great source of the supply of milk and meat. “Cattle plays an important role in the culture of the Aawambo and the wealth of a man is linked to the size of his herd… seldom slaughtered for meat, except for marriages, funerals and special occasions.”

The book confirms that the Aawambo practices are attributed to historical events such as the drought and famine and the arrival of the missionaries, as well as the history of the explorers, traders and colonisers, influencing the cultural and linguistic identity of Aawambo. These practices include naming practices, the replacement of traditional homesteads with brick and corrugated structures, as well as clothing and attire. 

Olivier has made a significant contribution to the literature on history and ethnography, which is usually not formally documented and stories are left untold in an intelligible platform. The book is more than a travel guide, and it can be recommended for use in schools or university for learners and students to cite a credible source of information that was researched and is therefore factual – thanks to Gondwana for this publication. 


2021-03-26  Linea Hamukwaya

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