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While the world is garnering thousands of “likes” for pictures taken in Sossusvlei, Swakopmund or Etosha, we took a drive off the beaten track and discovered what it is that makes Owambo worthy to visit. While all the above-mentioned destinations are totally worth logging travel hours for, it is always a good idea to veer off onto a lesser-discovered road along the way. This is where the truest magic of all is hidden.
Often referred to as the O-region, Owambo is divided into four smaller regions – Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena, and Oshikoto. Skip the crowds and visit Owambo for a dose of ‘o’ so much colour and culture. Here are 10 fun photographs we took on a recent trip of things you need to photograph on your next visit here. The authentic local spirit is only laid bare when you actually venture into the land of oshanas, eembe, makalani trees and more.
1. Dexterous donkey riders
There are nearly as many donkeys in Owambo as sand grains in the desert. At least that is how it feels when you have to decelerate for the so-manieth time when coming across the only traffic congestions up north – donkeys and cattle. These animals, however, serve a huge purpose to the locals, providing them with transport. We met this little boy and his donkey on our way to Outapi. When I asked him if I could take a picture, he answered, “yes madam” and dexterously signaled his donkey to turn around and pose for a quick picture.
2. Reflecting and reflections in Owambo
Take an Instagram-worthy shot at one of the many oshanas next to the road. Preferably where you can capture the reflection of lilies lining these pans filled with rainwater, or with makalani palm trees reflecting on the clear water’s surface. Maybe you will even catch a glimpse of yourself. Is that not the number one reason wanderlust has become such a thing?
3. Finding balance
When travelling in Owambo, you will witness the insane balancing skills of the Owambo people. The Owambo women carry everything on their heads from pots to stacks of firewood. Maybe you’d even want to try it out yourself! In this picture an Owambo woman is carrying omagongo, the traditional marula beer brewed at the annual Omagongo Festival. The marula fruit is vital to the livelihood of the people in the north. Read more here.
4. Encounter yet another culture
While we were visiting the Ruacana Falls, two curious children started following us about. We soon realised they did not speak a word of English, so my travel companion tried to speak to them in Owambo, but of little avail. From their clothing it was clear that they are from the Himba culture, a people living in the arid regions of north-western Namibia and southern Angola. They belong to one of the last semi-nomadic desert-dwelling groups in Africa. Read more here.
5. To the beat of the drums
Get to know the biggest population group in Namibia. One important part of the Owambo culture is dancing. I was lucky enough to snap a shot of a group of people dancing to the beats that only Africa knows how to drop.
6. Pretty in pink
A core of individuals who hail from the region organise the annual Omagongo Festival, which celebrates cultural heritage and gets young people in touch with their roots. Despite development in a world where more and more cultures start to become mainstream, the Owambo culture does not seem at risk of losing its true identity, making it all the more special to discover. I snapped a picture of this gorgeous lady at the Omagongo Festival 2018 held at the Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead.
7. Sunset at Ruacana
It is highly advisable to drive right up to the north-western corner where you will be rewarded with the stunning sight of the Ruacana Falls in the mighty Kunene, one of the two rivers on the border between Namibia and Angola. The roaring waterfalls are especially a sight to behold in the rainy season, mostly around April. When driving towards the falls at sunset we were spoiled to an incredible pink and orange sunset sky that only Africa is known for, complemented with different shades of blue mountains down below.
8. Market culture
Before bemoaning the fact that you do not get to know the true identity of a country (because mass tourism), go to an open market in Owambo. Here you will get a proper taste of the culture. The largest one in Namibia is the Dr. Frans Indongo Open Market in Oshakati. Snack on all sorts of interesting foods such as eembe, a date-like fruit that grows on the bird plum tree. For the brave and adventurous at heart, there are mopane worms and even chilis. Buy yourself a beautiful handmade ondelela – a traditional Owambo dress.
9. It’s art!
One thing that particularly stood out for me was the number of car wrecks strewn all over the region. These wrecks oftentimes turn into donkey cars. (See, Owambo is basically powered by donkeys.) I took a picture of this wreck against the trunk of a makalani palm with even more makalanis in the background. And I could not help thinking to myself that even when you’re a wreck there will always be that one person who believes you are a work of art.
10. Standing tall
The makalani palm tree is characteristic of the north. In a region where everything is flat, from town buildings to the landscape, these trees stand tall and proud. Along with the marula tree and the odd baobab tree, they make great photos, especially reflecting on the water surface of an oshana (refer to number 2).
Text by Annelien Robberts