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.