2012 Cheetah Conservation Awards – BiosJuly 16, 2012
Bird’s-eye view – Marabou storkJuly 17, 2012
A large percentage of Namibia’s inhabitants live in the Owambo regions of Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto. Referred to in former years as Ovamboland – the ‘homeland’ established during the sixties for the Owambo people by the South African Government – nowadays the area is referred to informally as the Four O regions. The major portion of these four regions, which have a total surface area of just over 56 100 km2, consists of communal farming land, that is land where there is no individual ownership or demarcation, and where the majority of the inhabitants live from subsistence farming.
Life on the vast plains of these essentially agricultural regions depends on the seasonal efundja, the floods that feed the rivers and oshanas. The latter are flat shallow depressions, many of which light up with copious growths of white lilies soon after they have filled with water in the rainy season. The origin of these waters is the highlands of Angola. After a long journey southwards, the Cuvelai River disperses its contents into many channels, covering the sandy flats of southern Angola and spreading into northern Namibia to form a large expansive delta of rivulets and oshanas. These, in turn, provide drinking water to humans and animals, protein in the form of fish and a habitat for large numbers of aquatic birds.
The essentially flat landscape is characterised by huge spreading marula trees and sporadic stands of the tall makalani palm, Hyphaene petersiana. Sap is tapped from the growing tip of the stems of these palms and left to ferment into a potent drink called palm wine. The fruit of the makalani palm takes two years to mature and has a white, bony kernel. Referred to as vegetable ivory, the hard kernel is suitable for carving small ornaments, jewellery and curios.
The best time of the year to visit these regions is April or May, after the rains. By this time the roads are suitable for driving on, the heat of the summer has abated and the wetlands still host many water birds, such as cranes, storks, ducks, herons and small waders.
Towns in Owambo
Owambo’s two main centres, Oshakati and Ondangwa, are in the Oshana Region. These two bustling towns have the same informality and happy-go-lucky nature as urban centres throughout the rest of Africa. Their main streets are lined with a haphazard arrangement of residential houses and shops, and the traffic varies from donkey carts to the latest in luxury four-wheel-drive vehicles. Both towns have airstrips suitable for medium-sized aircraft during the daylight hours.
Since independence the Oshakati-Ongwediva-Ondangwa complex has experienced dramatic urban growth. After Windhoek it has the second-largest concentration of people in the country. The complex plays an increasingly important commercial role in the north and has considerable industrial potential.
Tourism in Owambo
Tourism in this vast flat region, typified by oshanas, makalani palms and herds of cattle, is virtually non-existent, although the area has a rich and interesting cultural and historical tradition. An exception is the Nakambale Museum, a community-based tourism institution established at Olukonda in 1995 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) and today managed by NACOBTA.
Guided excursions can be undertaken to sites of interest such as the Oponono Lake, Omandongo Mission Station, Onoolongo cattle post and the Ombagu grass plains. Visitors are treated to traditional Owambo food, music and dancing. A good option for learning about Owambo culture firsthand is to visit the Uukwaluudhi Traditional Homestead at Tsandi. A visit can be arranged to the historical Omuguluwombase where the guerrilla warfare waged by SWAPO forces for Namibia’s independence was launched. Tsandi can be reached by normal sedan car on a well-maintained gravel road from Otapi or Okahao.
A good place to stay when visiting Owambo is at Oshakati Country Lodge, a large three-star establishment with a total of 50 rooms arranged in a U-shape around a courtyard featuring a swimming pool and lush green lawns. Recently taken over by the United Africa Group (UAG), who owns all Protea Hotels in Namibia, the Lodge has undergone some upgrades to meet UAG standards.
Protea Hotel Ondangwa, conveniently situated 6 km from the airport is another popular hotel in the region. These lodges are a good base from where to explore the area, and are conveniently situated for travellers entering Kaokoland via Ruacana.