Raising my Hat to the OvaKuvale

Years ago, while I was in Namibia, I traveled North to Opuwo and the Epupa Falls, almost reaching the Southern border of Angola.  I considered crossing over as I had read about the numerous tribal groups of Southern Angola, but back then (2014), getting to Angola was still a challenge (as in plenty of remaining land mines), even though a long civil war had ended on 2002.  I decided then that it was probably safer to come back at some later point though I certainly did not expect that it would take so long for this trip to happen.  But here we are. 

Many of these various ethnic groups live in the Southern part of the country in Namibe and Cunene provinces, so that is where we began our visit after a day in Luanda, the capital city, a brief stop in Lubango, a prominent city in Southern Angola, and (what seemed to be) an interminable drive. The first tribal group we spent time with was the OvaKuvale (also called Mucubal, Mucuvale, Cubal). 

As with many other tribes, the OvaKuvale are semi-nomadic pastoralists: cattle are their wealth, but they also practice agriculture.   The women have certainly adopted a sartorial style that distinguishes them from other groups I have seen.  They wear a large headdress, often very colorful (sometimes entirely blue), called an ompata.  Under the hat, they wear another layer of cloth, often in a shade of blue.  The other unusual part of their attire is wearing a string over their naked breasts, called an oyonduthi.  I can’t say that it looks comfortable, but I assume that like most things, one gets used to it.  We are told that this is to facilitate breastfeeding though plenty of women no longer of child-bearing age are still wearing it.  The last surprising traditional detail is that women get their upper teeth filed in an inverted V-shape and a lower-middle tooth extracted.  When I asked the purpose of this procedure, I was told that this is for aesthetic reasons, although it seems likely that it once had some functional motivation.  Young women and girls cover their upper chest and throat with ochre, and some of the young girls put some on their hair.  We spent time one morning with women carefully and lovingly applying the ochre to their daughter’s bodies.  I noticed that women wore metal bracelets on their ankles, though some only wore them on one leg. Young girls also wear some ankle bracelets, but theirs are made of straw. 

Like other tribal groups, their dwellings are minimal as most of their lives are spent outdoors.  As men are often away with the cattle, women, and children have to deal with the rest of the chores.  But of course, at the end of the day, all enjoyed making music and dancing. 

But of course, at the end of the day, all enjoyed making music and dancing. Now, the OvaKuvale are part of the Herero family of tribes and are Bantu speaking.  However, it is alleged that they have come originally from Kenya and are related to the Maasai (Soaring Maasai), which is easy to believe when one sees them jumping. 

On to other tribes of Southern Angola.

France

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25 Responses

    1. Dear France,

      I am quite amazed by your zeal. Reading your blog is always a learning experience. As I was reading your account and looking through the photographs and the video, I couldn’t help wondering about the tribes and their customs. I don’t know if it would be unfair to ask if they are aware that the earth is round or that it moves around the sun. What with the Webb telescope searching now for the birth story of the universe, what do these people think about as they sing and dance and bring up children? Not that it matters. Perhaps they should remain this way. That will be a part of the birth story of mankind. I have never been to Africa. But I always wished to visit Victoria Falls, having seen Niagara in great detail from both sides of the border. Also, it makes me think of David Livingstone. Unlike you, he didn’t drive. Nonetheless, you remind me of him. Great post.

      Dipankar

  1. What fascinating traditions, particularly the band across the breasts and the filling of the teeth. The dance images, acrobatic in nature, show movement when many still photographs don’t quite communicate that swoooosh through the air. Great job! And thanks!

    1. Thank you, Kathy. I really wish I could have learned more about the traditions. It is a challenge when there are no written records as communication is not easy. And yes, they can jump! France

  2. Hi, I loved your images and especially the videos. I am pretty certain the guy who kept running towards you with the strange look in his eyes I met when I was in Angola with Piper. You can’t forget someone like him. Excellent record of your trip.

    1. Thank you, Vaughn. Always nice to see familiar faces, I guess. I assume he was a good “jumper” then as well. Best, France

  3. Fascinating as always! I love the depths to which you go to understand what these people are doing, and then show us. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Tania. Learning about these cultures is a big part of the experience. But communication was not trivial this time. Thanks for taking the time, Tania. 💙

    1. Dear Holger, I am sure Angola was an exciting place to go in 2010 and 2017. You are braver than I am. But from what I can see, the tribes have not changed much. Beautiful people indeed. And thanks for your kind words on my images, I enjoy your work as well. Warmly, France

  4. hello France – I so much enjoyed your pictures, story and explanations. With this pictures you have outdone yourself – congratulation, I love them!

    1. Hello Doris, Thank you for your kind words on my story. This must all look familiar to you. Quite a journey, wasn’t it? Sending warm wishes, France

  5. Beautiful images. With your photos you always manage great emotions. Many thanks France

  6. Beautiful photos 🥰
    The string around the naked breasts looks very uncomfortable and I wonder why it is believed to facilitated breast feeding…would love to ask a lactation specialist !
    Some of the dancers looked like they had been resourceful and made homemade rubber foot protection , it is hard to imagine one’s feet ever toughening up enough to not need footwear on the hot harsh ground .
    Love the vibrant cloth textiles they wear, the patterns and vibrancy are as full of life as they . 😊🌺

    1. Greetings dear Emilie,

      I think the strings around the breasts lift the nipples so that the child has easier access. That is the belief, at least. And the “shoes” are all made of old tires that are cut to the size of one’s foot at the local market. So custom-made shoes 😏. And yes, the ground is harsh and rocky; my knees can attest to that. I am also amazed by the textiles they used and how great they look, even in this harsh and dusty environment. Warmly, France

  7. You are such an amazing photographer! I love that you write about the tribe and their traditions, and that you actually spend time with them. Just love the photos! Makes me want to drop everything and go there myself!

    1. Thank you, Vera! Learning about the culture is a big part of the experience for me, though not always easy! I wish we all speak the same language 😏! I am glad my photos make you want to visit. Go if you can; they are amazing people. Then yet, there are so many places in the world with amazing people. Be well, France

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