A Guide to the Aawambo People of Namibia

The Aawambo people from northern Namibia are a proud tribe with a rich culture and customs
The Aawambo people from northern Namibia are a proud tribe with a rich culture and customs | © Rukee Kaakunga / Culture Trip
Rukee Kaakunga

The Aawambo, or Ovambo, people are one of Namibia’s most vibrant tribes. They have retained many aspects of their cultural practices, despite concerted efforts – especially those of Christian missionaries – to wipe out what was believed to be ‘pagan practices’.
With smaller sub-tribes including Aandonga, Aakwambi, Aangandyela, Aakwaluudhi, Aambalanhu, Aankolonkadhi and Ova-aunda, and Ova-mbadja, the biggest of the Aawambo sub-tribes are the Ovakwanyama.

Loved by over 40s


Heavily impacted by the advent of Christianity, which was brought to Namibia in 1870 by Finnish missionaries, the Aawambo are a mostly Christian tribe who believe in God, or ‘Kalunga‘, but who have found a way to practice some of their traditional beliefs alongside The Bible’s teachings. An example of this is how wedding ceremonies are carried out or how children are welcomed into their paternal families and to the communities at large.

Ovambos people pictured in the early 20th century


This ethnic group resides mainly in northern Namibia, with some in Cunene, a southern Angolan province. Aawambo are one of the bantu tribes that migrated southwards to Namibia from the Great Lakes in East Africa, settling between the Kunene and Okavango rivers and moving futher south to what is now known as the ‘Four O’ regions of Namibia – that’s Oshana, Oshikoto, Omusati and Ohangwena. They live mainly in traditional homesteads built in a rondavel style, but nowadays modern brick houses can also be found in most homesteads.


When it comes to babies, for example, a father’s family usually gifts the baby a set containing a beaded necklace, a traditional baby carrier and a baby blanket. These gifts, to which a carry bag can also be added but isn’t compulsory, are symbolic of the father accepting the baby into his family and if this doesn’t happen, the baby is essentially not welcomed into the paternal family.

Traditional dance

Aawambo, like many other African tribes, are a patriachal society who place a lot of power within a family and in communities on men. In pre-colonial times, their communities were run through a royal lineage where the king was the supreme leader and headmen leading each of the sub-tribes. Chieftancy is, however, assumed through a matrilineal kinship system, where hereditary chiefs are chosen only from the daughter’s children, not the son’s.


There are few places in Namibia where traditional food is as widely available in a range of varieties as it is in northern parts of the country. Aawambo are proud farmers who toil their land for food sustenance. Their traditional food includes grains like sorghum and mahangu, which are used for a variety of foodstuffs ranging from porridge to traditional brews. They also grow vegetables and farm animals like cattle, goats and chicken. Fruits and berries from surrounding areas are collected for the brewing of traditional liquor such as ombike (distilled from fermented fruit) and even essential oils extracted for use in skincare products. A traditional feast in this area or among Aawambo people situated anywhere in Namibia always features a delectable buffet of mouth-watering foods that are both nutritional and filling.

Being ardent crop and livestock farmers, the Aawambo are known for their wide variety of traditional food and beverages, including delicious fruits, nuts and grains


Aawambo are easily recognisable by what they wear. Their most popular clothing item, the odelela cloth, is used to make long dresses with puffy short sleeves, skirts, and even shirts for men. The cloth has been widely modernised and is also used on the traditional garments of other tribes like the Ovaherero and the Namas. When it comes to weddings, traditional ceremonies like olufuko, the odelela skirt is adorned with waist beads, shells and animal hide belts that are all worn differently depending on a woman’s age and marital status.
The correct way of wearing traditional attire is something that some are starting to forget, with elders stressing the need to not only relearn but also preserve all cultural practices. Lucina Kangete, a retired woman based in Windhoek but originally from the Okongo village in the Ohangwena, is of the opinion that culture is at risk of dying due to some people’s lack of interest in preserving it. She says, “You’ll find people telling you that they don’t do certain things in their families, but it often turns out that they are just not aware of how things are done. Many families do things differently, but the traditions are mostly uniform.”
Fortunately, various events, such as the Olufuko and Omagongo festivals, are used as opportunities to expose the young and old from this rich tribe about its cultural practices. These traditions were and still are at risk of dying out due to western influence.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.