Kwanyama people


Kwanyama / Ovambo / Cuanhama / Humba / Kuanjama / Wambo

The Kawanyama are found in the southern province of Cunene (Angola).

Also known as Cuanhama, Humba, Kuanjama, Kwancama, Kwanjama, Kwanyama, Ochikwanyama, Oshikuanjama, Oshikwanyama, Ovambo, Oxikuanyama, or Wambo.


Population & Ecosystem

400.000 Kwanyama reside in the flat sandy grassy plains of Cunene Province, sometimes referred to as Ovamboland. These plains are generally flat, stoneless and at high altitude. Water courses, known as oshanas, irrigate the area. In the northern regions of Ovamboland is tropical vegetation sustained by abundant but seasonal rainfall that floods the region into temporary lakes and islands. In dry season, these pools of water empty out.


Economy & Society

Kwanyama people lead a settled life, relying mostly on a combination of agriculture and animal husbandry. The staple crops have been millet, sorghum, and beans. In drier regions or seasons, pastoral activity with herds of cattle, goats and sheep becomes more important. The animal husbandry is not for meat, but primarily as a source of milk. Their food is supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering.

During the colonial era, the Kwanyama people were active in elephant hunting for their tusks to supply the ivory demand, and they nearly hunted the elephants in their region to extinction.

Kwanyama are skilled craftsmen. They make and sell basketry, pottery, jewellery, wooden combs, wood iron spears, arrows, richly decorated daggers, musical instruments, and also ivory buttons.

Each Kwanyama clan has a hereditary chief who is responsible for the clan. Many clans have adapted representation by having a council of headmen who run tribal affairs. Members of the royal family of the Owamboland are known as ovakwaluvala. Only those who belong to this family by birth, through the maternal line, have a claim to chieftainship. The clans figure their descent by a matrilineal kinship system, with hereditary chiefs arising from the daughter's children, not the son's. Polygyny is accepted, with the first wife recognized as the senior.


Culture & Religion

Kwanyama speak Ovambo language.

The traditional religion of the Kwanyama people is the primary faith of less than 3%, as most state Christianity to be their primary faith. Kyanyama traditional religion envisions a Supreme Being named Kalunga, with their rites and rituals cantered on sacred fire like many ethnic groups in southwestern Africa. The Kalunga cosmology states that the Supreme Being created the first man and first woman, who had a daughter and two sons. It is the daughter's lineage that created Kwanyama people, according to the traditional beliefs of the matrilineal Kyanyama people.

The rituals involve elaborate fire making and keeping ceremonies, rain making dance, and rites have involved throwing herbs in the fire and inhaling the rising smoke. The head priest traditionally was the king of a tribe, and his role was in part to attend to the supernatural spirits and be the chief representative of the Kyanyama tribe to the deities.

Christianity arrived among the Kwanyama people in late 19th century. The first Finnish missionaries arrived in Ovamboland in the 1870s, and Kwanyama predominantly converted and thereof have identified themselves as Lutheran Christians. The influence of the Finnish missions not only related to the religion, but cultural practices. For example, the typical dress style of the contemporary Kwanyama women that includes a head scarf and loose full length maxi, is derived from those of the 19th century Finnish missionaries.

Kawanyama people now predominantly follow Christian theology, prayer rituals and festivities, but some of the traditional religious practices have continued, such as the use of ritual sacred fire. They also invoke their supreme creator Kalunga. Thus, the Kwanyama have preferred a syncretic form of Christianity. Most weddings feature a combination of Christian beliefs and Kwanyama traditions.


Source: Joan Riera - Anthropologist