of the Ovambo nation

6 Oshakati open market

of the Ovambo nation

01 July 2019 | Tourism

Not all of us are in the fortunate position, where you can timewise and financially afford a trip from Cape Town to Cairo. It is probably fair to assume that these trips are not undertaken to visit one historical museum after another or to just view historical sites. Africa does offer these sites too, but trips on this continent are mostly undertaken to get to know the people and their land. When it comes to natural spectacles, there are not many places, which can beat Africa and Namibia is no...

Over the years, Namibia has leaned towards developing the Kaokoveld and the Zambezi Region (formerly known as the Caprivi Region) as tourist destinations. In the former case this is much the result of the area being one of the least developed and pristine regions in the world, while the latter has always been a well-liked tourism destination on account of its abundant wildlife and natural splendour.

The regions less visited are the four so-called O-regions, essentially comprising of what was previously understood as being “Ovamboland”, the home of the Ovambo nation - more correctly known as the Aawambo people, Ambo or Ovawambo. The four Namibian O-regions are formally named Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto and they have lot to offer to those visitors, who are in fact interested in nature as well as the people, who live here. And you do not necessarily need an off-road vehicle, as you can easily remain on the tar roads throughout your trip, quite apart from the fact that you will remain within range of the cell phone network throughout, thus being out in nature, yet remaining safe.

Visiting the O-regions

Planning a trip to Ovamboland you would be well-advised to combine it as part of your visit to Namibia's Etosha National Park or you could use the Kaokoveld or the Zambezi region as entry- or exit points. Depending on your preference, you could start by spending time in the Etosha National Park and exiting the park on the eastern side through the Von Lindequist gate, having spent a night at the Namutoni rest camp. Should you like to experience the renowned Mangetti, you can turn towards the North along the B1 main road and turn off again onto the district road D3001 no more than 10 kilometres later, thus proceeding to Tsintsabis along a good farm road. Reaching Tsintsabis, you could still follow the route taken by Tourismus Namibia.

The same applies if you prefer to exit the Etosha National Park on the western side, by overnighting either in the Okaukuejo rest camp or the Dolomite camp closer to the Galton gate, which allows you to access the main road to Ruacana (C35) and still follow a personalized variation of the destinations chosen by Tourismus Namibia. You may even skip Ruacana and drive directly to Tsandi, by choosing to turn right at the junction of the C41 main road, which leads to Tsandi and Okahao in the Omusati region, instead of turning left towards Opuwo (in Kaokoveld).

Tourismus Namibia chose to skip the Etosha National Park for this trip and instead made sure that it focused on the Ovambo people, affording you some insight into you might expect.

Day 1

Oshikoto - Eastern Ovamboland

Having spent a night at Tsumeb, I followed the B15 towards Tsintsabis. It is refreshing to pass through an area in Namibia, where farmers have seriously taken up the challenge of filling the breadbasket of the country. This farming area is gradually replaced by bush veld typical for this part of the country with the roadside lined by Mopane trees and towering Makalani palms. Before you know it, you reach Tsintsabis, which traditionally was home of the Bushmen, but sadly they seem to have disappeared into the bush. The town is mostly inhabited by a conglomeration of Ovambo-, Kavango- and San-tribes. It does not offer much in terms of spectacular tourism sites, but it does offer tremendous natural surrounds. The settlement itself offers the Tree-sleeper Community Camp as an overnight facility. It is situated a mere two kilometres before reaching Tsintsabis, and while visitors are well-advised to be self-sufficient, it does allow for that unique tranquillity of the African bush.

Adolf Geiseb is the manager of the settlement's community centre in town, from where he also runs the Tree-sleeper Camp. It is best to arrange your stay through that centre, because he can arrange for a tour to the Bushmen villages outside town, where tourists get to know the local folk and are able to acquire local craft at these traditional settlements.

Only a short distance from Tsintsabis you will pass through the Bravo Gate, thereby accessing the Northern Communal Areas found above the veterinary fence, which stretches from below the Kavango Land in the east of the country, right through to the west of Namibia, splitting the Kavango- and Ovamboland as well as the Kaokoveld from the central and southern regions of the country. Known as the “red line”, which dates to the serious outbreak of rinderpest and foot- and mouth disease, parts of this fence were erected as far back as the 19th century in order to prevent the disease from spreading to what was- and is known as the commercial farming areas.

Once you enter these communal areas, the itinerary is left to you. Having loaded the requisite GPS-software, you might deviate from the tar road and prefer to traverse these areas following your personal moods and likings - wild camping is easily arranged with the local folk. I stayed on the tar road and worked my way up towards Mpungu, which is essentially still a settlement inhabited by the Kavango people. Along the way I met people tending to their animals, but I also witnessed people like Erastus Kanderera erecting a hut and I further encountered something typically seen in these sandy areas - an ox-drawn sled, which was fetching water.

Mpungu is an inconspicuous settlement, but here as much as all along these minor settlements and towns in the O-regions, you can buy necessities and fill up your vehicle while also allowing access to clinics, should you require medical assistance. Having reached Mpungu, I turned left onto the B10 main road to Okongo. This strip gives your soul a rest as you drive along lush Mopane woodland. It is up to you to visit a village or two, or simply enjoy the surroundings. This is the thing: In tourism there is a tendency to visit “cultural villages”, where people show off their traditional way of life. In this part of the country it is different, because people still stick to their culture in many ways - so it is not a show.

Simply stop and talk to people, who are approachable, friendly and welcome your interest in them.

Okongo is the only bigger settlement between Nkurenkuru - close to the Katwitwi border point northwest of Rundu in the Kavango region - and Eenhana. Both, Okongo and Eenhana, are situated in the Ohangwena region, which borders Angola along a stretch of roughly 200 kilometres. The road runs parallel to that boundary and you are never further away than 25 kilometres from the border. In this regard it needs to be remembered that the northern borders of what was then German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika), were defined by the Portuguese- and German colonial governments in 1886 as regards the stretch between the Kunene River mouth and East Kavango, while a further agreement between Great Britain and Germany in 1890 defined the border extending to Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Strip (now the Zambezi region).

If you do not like wild camping you may try to overnight in the Uuandja Village Lodge at Okongo, but you would save time by pre-arranging your accommodation with the owner in advance - he has two separate entities in Okongo. At Okongo you will start encountering one of the numerous Mahangu and millet storage facilities and -mills, which have been erected by the government in the north in their attempt to secure food reserves. I satisfied my curiosity and moved on to Eenhana, which offers visitors a typical African environment. You can camp comfortably at the Eenhana Woodland Campsite, which can also be looked up in the internet under “woodlandcampsite.com.na”. A board outside the camp provides a contact number, should you simply decide to camp there at the spur of the moment. It offers secure camping sites with tents erected on cement slabs (fenced in with 24 hours security guard), and it offers access to shared ablutions. On your way to the camp, be sure to make use of the opportunities to buy wood for your braai or campfire in the evening.

Day 2

Ovamboland proper

The Eenhana Woodland Campsite is found about three kilometres before you reach the Eenhana shrine. You must turn right towards the border and Ohainana but will not have to drive further than another kilometre. It is found in an area, which is surrounded by local folk and thus binds you into the hustle and bustle of village life without interfering with your privacy.

Eenhana is situated in an area, where much of the military conflict between the South African led forces and PLAN, the military wing of Swapo, occurred during the freedom struggle. On the eastern fringes of the town you find the impressive Eenhana Shrine, which was erected in memory of the contribution made by female soldiers towards the struggle for independence and it features a massive tomb, where the remains of soldiers were laid to rest, after a mass grave had been discovered near Eenhana. The shrine was tellingly inaugurated on 26 August 2007.

Eenhana is in the process of developing into a neat and modern small town, which allows you to replenish whatever you need. An open market is found next to a modern shopping complex, typically providing that unique African flavour, which is found where the “old ways” encounter the “new”.

I remained on the B10 and moved on to reach the main road B1, which leads up from Ondangwa to the border point at Oshikango. At the T-junction at Onuno I turned right, i.e. north towards Helao Nafidi and Oshikango, but after a mere 10-kilometre stretch turned left again onto the D3608, thus driving to Engela. All along this is still a tarred road, which took me past Okalonga and on to Outapi. It is in this area that the Mopane thins out and starts making place again for the Makalani palms associated with Ovamboland - I had now entered the Omusati region.

At Outapi I turned towards Ruacana, where I set up camp in the Hippo Pools Community Camp, which is found just below the Ruacana Falls as you take the road to Swartbooisdrif in the Kunene region. This camp is found at the outlet of the Ruacana turbines, i.e. just below the hydro-electric power plant of NamPower, Namibia's electricity provider. The camp is pure bliss and offers the only luxury an otherwise self-sufficient camper needs: a shared ablution block with showers and toilets. An evening fire for a braai next to the Kunene River is the perfect ending to a day, which has offered insights into this part of Namibia, which always seems so close and yet so far. Unfortunately, the Ruacana Falls have virtually dried out on account of the serious drought in Namibia as well as in southern Angola.

Day 3

Ombalantu and beyond

I got up early and returned to Ruacana, where I was more than pleasantly surprised to find the absolutely beautiful Ruacana Aha Lodge (managed by NamPower) as well as the Ruacana Guesthouse, which both offer real nice alternatives to those, who do not wish to camp as I did. Halfway to the Olushandja Dam, I made visited the Etunda green scheme, which grows maize, millet, tomatoes and cabbage (to name just a few) and has become a major provider of fresh produce to the north of Namibia.

Instead of passing the Olushandja Dam as I had done the afternoon before, I now turned south onto the D3616, which is a gravel road leading to Onesi. This substantial dam is often underestimated - it stretches right down to Onesi for about 20 kilometres. Its banks are lined with development projects and private farms, which grow crops. You will encounter massive Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) in this otherwise extremely dry area, especially now that Namibia experiences one of its harshest droughts ever. Many of these areas would in better years still be covered by water at this time of year. The area is intriguing though and before you know it, you are in- and past Onesi, driving towards Tsandi.

Turning right onto the main road (M123, aka D3612) I entered this small town and spent time in a settlement, which reminds the visitor of Eenhana. Here too you find the modern supermarkets next to traditional open markets, where fresh produce and craft products are offered for sale next to the butcher, who sells his meat and traditionally prepared Kapana meat strips, braaied on an open grill. And all the while you are accompanied by the ever-present African style guitar music.

I decided to drive to Omugulugwombashe, also known as Omugulu-Gwombashe, Omugulu-gwOombashe or plain Omgulumbashe (which means giraffe leg in the Otjiherero dialect). Omugulugwombashe is located 22 kilometres west of Tsandi at the end of the D3633 gravel road. In Omugulugwombashe the first battle of the South West African Border War was fought on 26 August 1966, thus marking the beginning of the struggle for independence. A monument in honour of this battle was erected and next to it is a bronze creation, which shows a military order group planning its actions at the exact spot, where the commander Johnny Otto Nankhudu, known as Kashiwanda, had met with his subordinates. The original wood stumps, which had been set up as meeting place, remain as they always were next to the statues - this historical site was inaugurated on 26 August 2013.

Leaving the memorial, I backtracked to Tsandi, where I turned right onto the D3614 and drove on to Okahao and Oshakati (the road becomes the C41 as from Okahao). As you approach Oshakati you can visit any number of traditional vil ou can get to know this area combined with the sightseeing opportunities at Ongwediva and Ondangwa.

Day 4

Home via Etosha

I left for the Etosha National Park on the next day, proceeding from Ondangwa past Okatope and on to the administrative centre of Omuthiya, which is situated along the B1 main road. A mere 20 kilometres outside Omuthiya (towards the Oshivelo Veterinary Gate) I turned right onto the D3646 towards the Andoni plains, allowing me to experience true Ovamboland one last time, before I entered the Etosha at the King Nehale Gate. From there I drove down to Namutoni, enjoying the abundance of game in this world-renowned park. Here I spent my final night before returning home on the next day.

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