Ovambo, Nyaneka-Humbe, Herero, and Others

Angola Table of Contents

In far southwestern Angola, three categories of Bantu-speaking peoples have been distinguished. Two of them, the Ovambo and the Herero, were more heavily represented elsewhere: the Ovambo in Namibia and the Herero in Namibia and Botswana. The Herero dispersion, especially that section of it in Botswana, was the consequence of the migration of the Herero from German South West Africa (present-day Namibia) after their rebellion against German rule in 1906. The third group was the Nyaneka-Humbe. Unlike the other groups, the Nyaneka-Humbe did not disperse outside Angola. In 1988 the Nyaneka-Humbe (the first group is also spelled Haneca; the latter group is also spelled Nkumbi) constituted 3 percent of the population. The Ovambo, of which the largest subgroup were the Kwanhama (also spelled Kwanyama), made up an estimated 2 percent of the Angolan population. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Kwanhama Kingdom of southern Angola was a powerful state involved in a lucrative trade relationship with the Portuguese, who, together with the Germans, occupied Kwanhama territory in the early twentieth century. In the 1980s, the Ovambo were seminomadic cattle herders and farmers. The Herero constituted no more than 0.5 percent of the population in 1988. Traditionally, the Herero were nomadic or seminomadic herders living in the arid coastal lowlands and in the mountainous escarpment to the east in Namibe, Benguela, and Huíla provinces. Many Herero migrated south to Namibia when the Portuguese launched a military expedition against them in 1940 following their refusal to pay taxes.

In the southeastern corner of the country the Portuguese distinguished a set of Bantu-speaking people, described on a map prepared by José Redinha in 1973 as the Xindonga. The sole linguistic group listed in this category was the Cussu. The Language Map of Africa, prepared under the direction of David Dalby for the International African Institute, noted two sets of related languages in southeastern Angola. The first set included Liyuwa, Mashi, and North Mbukushu. These languages and other members of the set were also found in Zambia and Namibia. The members of the second set, Kwangali-Gcikuru and South Mbukushu, were also found in Namibia and Botswana. The hyphen between Kwangali and Gcikuru implies mutual intelligibility. Little is known of these groups; in any case, their members were very few.

All of these southern Angolan groups relied in part or in whole on cattle raising for subsistence. Formerly, the Herero were exclusively herders, but they gradually came to engage in some cultivation. Although the Ovambo had depended in part on cultivation for a much longer time, dairy products had been an important source of subsistence, and cattle were the chief measure of wealth and prestige.

The southwestern groups, despite their remoteness from the major centers of white influence during most of the colonial period, were to varying degrees affected by the colonial presence and, after World War II, by the arrival of numbers of Portuguese in such places as Moçâmedes (present-day Namibe) and Sá da Bandeira (present-day Lubango). The greatest resistance to the Portuguese was offered by the Ovambo, who were not made fully subject to colonial rule until 1915 and who earned a considerable reputation among the Portuguese and other Africans for their efforts to maintain their independence. In the nationalist struggle of the 1960s and early 1970s and in the postindependence civil war, the Ovambo tended to align themselves with the Ovimbundu-dominated UNITA. Many also sympathized with the cause of SWAPO, a mostly Ovambo organization fighting to liberate Namibia from South African rule.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress