Namibia is full of hidden treasures and Ongula Village Homestead Lodge near Ondangwa is one such treasure. The lodge can be found nestled next to a traditional Owambo homestead and guests staying there are afforded a unique opportunity to experience life in traditional northern Namibia.
What is Ongula?
Ongula Village Homestead Lodge is community run lodge near the northern town of Ondangwa where travellers who are willing to go out of their way can experience a side of Namibia that most tourists do not ever manage to see.
Ongula in relation to some well-known locations across Namibia.
(Image courtesy of Ongula Lodge)
The whole point of the lodge is to invite tourists, local and international, to take a step back from the frantic urban world and take a peek in to how a rural community in Owamboland lives.
A video briefly explaining how the lodge operates.
(Video courtesy of Ongula Lodge)
The Lodge is built next to a traditional and functional homestead- this is no sterile museum or staged theatrical production- and at Ongula you will be shown exactly how the Owambo people of Namibia’s under-explored northern regions live on a day-to-day basis.
The homestead's entrance.
From the granary, to the kraals, to the central fire pit, visitors are not only shown how the local tribe/community goes about their daily chores but will also be afforded opportunities to take part in some of these daily routines.
A visitor helps grind Mahangu.
Mahangu is a delicious staple found in Namibia’s north.
The focus of the your trip to Ongula will be on getting you immersed in the local culture so that you can get a better understanding of how the community there lives and as such there are several activities that are on offer.
Activities at the Lodge
As mentioned you can take part in several of the day-to-day chores that need to be carried out around the homestead on a daily basis. This could include clay-pot making, basket weaving and even cattle herding.
This structure houses an underground traditional clay-baking facility-
you’ll have to visit to find out what it looks like inside!
While at the lodge you will be taken on a tour of the homestead and the basic functions and purposes of all the various rondawels (traditional huts), living spaces and quarters will be explained to you.
This well has serviced the homestead for generations and it is still in use.
In addition to the various package activities that you can enjoy on-site there are also several day trips that can be organised by the staff at the lodge. These trips will show you a bit more of the surrounds if you have a little extra time to explore the greater Ondangwa area.
Here is a list of some of the day trips on offer at the lodge:
** When you get to the lodge simply ask any of the hospitality staff if there are any activities you can get involved in. The list of things to do is dynamic and there are always new experiences to be had for those willing to get involved.**
The Lodge has electricity, WiFi, bar and restaurant, credit card facilities and four spacious twin bed rooms with private en-suite bathrooms.
Click here to have a look at the lodge’s rates. Book here.
The rooms are appointed with furniture made from recycled materials.
(Photo Courtesy of Ongula Lodge)
**For those of you who can’t get enough of the great outdoors, a camping site is currently under construction at the lodge. If you wish to camp on-site then simply contact the staff at the lodge and enquire as to availability and pricing.**
How to get there
Getting to the Ongula homestead is not a simple matter of driving on a national road and attention has to be paid to which route you will need to take. On the lodge’s website you can find detailed directions explaining how you can get to the lodge from Windhoek, Etosha National Park and Ruacana Falls.
If you have any questions about how to get there or which route is best for you do not hesitate to call the friendly staff at the lodge.
Getting to the lodge is not difficult, it just requires planning.
Voluntourism around Ondangwa
The north of Namibia is beautiful and rugged, but it is also quite underdeveloped. As a result there are many community based projects you can get involved with. From schools to shelters for at risk children and adults there are numerous causes that can benefit from your time.
A good way to get involved in some community-based projects in this region is to work through the Ongula Village Homestead Lodge. Check out some of the projects they directly run, and if none of those take your fancy you can always ask them about other outreach projects that are being run in the region.
More on this topic
Despite being the most densely populated part of Namibia, the central northern region doesn’t often feature in tourist itineraries. Geographically and historically isolated from the rest of the country by the huge Etosha National Park, it is often forgotten. But overgrown with beautiful makalani palms, marula and mopane trees and the odd baobab make this landscape picturesque. It is also home to the Owambo people, who represent almost half of Namibia’s total population.
About Owambo people
In around 1550, the people referred to collectively as the Aawambo moved southwards from the Great Lakes in East Africa and settled between the Kunene and Okavango rivers.
In the pre-colonial structure of Owambo society there was a king and his headmen in each of the seven Owambo groups, and the king always had the last say! Today only three of the Owambo clans – the Ndonga, Ngandjera and Kwaluudhi – still recognise their kings and are ruled by chiefs-in-council.
Learning to speak Kwanyama
Good morning: Wa lele po?
Good afternoon: Wa uhlala po?
Good evening: Wa tokelwa po?
Thank you: Tangi
Where is the toilet: Okandjuwo oke li peni?
The Kwanyama constitute the largest of the eight Owambo tribes. The others are the Ndonga, Kwambi, Ngandyela, Kwaluudhi and Mbalanhu, and the smaller Nkolonkadhi and Unda.
The Owambo languages are Bantu in origin, closely related to one another and commonly understood by Oshiwambo speakers. The Kwenyama and Ndonga languages have been developed into written languages.
- A traditional Owambo homestead
Many traditional villages still exist and demonstrate the orderliness of their social structure. Their villages are hidden behind wooden fences. At the entrance visitors are welcomed before being allowed to enter the village. Inside, each area is separated with wooden poles and is dedicated to a particular group of people.
Owambo houses are traditionally of the rondavel type, mostly surrounded by palisades and often connected by passages.
Cattle kraals usually form part of the complex. The Nguni cattle are contained within walls of dried thorn bush, and often used to help carry water and supplies to and from the villages.
- Keeping the cattle at bay with a makeshift fence
The villages are surrounded by cultivated lands. The Owambo practise a mixed economy of agriculture, mainly mahangu (pearl millet), sorghum and beans, and animal husbandry (cattle) supplemented by fishing in shallow pools and watercourses called oshanas.
- An Owambo woman prepares Mahangu
About a quarter of the Owambo region has been claimed by individual landowners, each occupying farms of several thousand hectares. Grazing and farming are communal but subject to the laws of the people.
Traditional land is used according to traditional right of occupation, which they get by paying cattle to the ‘owner’ of the ward (omkunda).
One of the best-known ornamental artefacts developed by the Owambo people is the ekipa, a button shaped like a beehive made from ivory or bone, which was traditionally worn by women on leather belts down their backs. According to experts, when an Owambo king hunted an elephant at the opening of a hunting season, the royal family had the right to the ivory. A woman wore the ekipa as a sign of esteem and royalty. The number of ekipas displayed conveyed her status in the community and gave an indication of the wealth of her family. The artefacts were worn on special occasions such as fertility feasts, weddings and funerals. There is also evidence the ekipa was used as money.
- Small bream are a tasty source of protein for the locals
Trading is strongly encouraged in the Owambo community, as is evidenced by the more than 10 000 stalls, cuca shops and numerous locally owned shopping complexes in the region. Large numbers of Oshiwambo people now work in other parts of the country and today’s workforces in the mining and fishing industries consist primarily of Owambo people.
- Local bars (shebeens) line the main road and are a popular party spot for the locals
The Owambo people have always played an active role in politics. Namibia’s ruling party, SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation), started as a non-violent pressure group referred to as the Owambo People’s Organisation. It was led by Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo and Samuel Shafiishuna Nujoma, the man destined to become the first president of an independent Namibia.
Home industries such as dressmaking, wood carving, pottery and basketry provide an income for many Owambo women, who traditionally cultivated the land and raised the children. Today Owambo women are increasingly entering the labour market as nurses, clerks, shop assistants and teachers.
Since 1870, following the advent of the Finnish Mission in Owambo, and subsequently the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, Christianity has played a major role in the lives of the Owambo people. Today more than half of the population has some link with these denominations. The Finnish Mission Church developed into an independent Owambo/Kavango Church, which also has adherents among the Kavango people of the north-east.
The Owambo regions of Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto were referred to in former years as Owamboland – 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. While the majority of Namibia’s Owambo live in these O regions, many have migrated southwards to other parts of the country.
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.
- Plains flood and lillies flower
Life on the vast plains depends on the seasonal efundja, the floods that feed the rivers and oshanas, 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. It provides drinking water to humans and animals, protein in the form of fish and a habitat for large numbers of aquatic birds.
- Makalani palms close to a traditional village
The makalani palms (Hyphaene petersiana) tower over the landscape. Sap is tapped from the growing tip of the stems of these palms and left to ferment into a potent drink called Ombike (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.
- Cattle help with the daily chores
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.
From Olukonda, the nearby attractions include the Ombuga Grasslands & Lake Oponono (1-2 hours drive away, accompanied by a local guide), the markets at Ondangwa and Oshakati (15–45 minutes) and the Etosha National Park (2-3 hours).
Farther north west, the Tsandi Royal Homestead is home to the king of one of the seven tribes in Owambo. Since time immemorial it has been the centre for traditional values, customs and cultural practices to be passed down from generation to generation. Visitors will find themselves enchanted by the Uukwaluudhi tribe. Here they can take a step closer and meet the people of Owambo, gain insight into the local culture and way of life, learn more about the traditions of the Uukwaluudhi Kingdom and have the opportunity to meet the King in person. Craft outlets with traditional artifacts on display provide the opportunity to buy local handmade crafts including woven baskets, wooden cups and clay pots. A guided tour to the monument at Ongulumbashe (a historical place where the beginning of the liberation struggle in 1966 is commemorated) can be organised on request. The Tsandi Royal Homestead is located in Tsandi, the main town of Uukwaluudhi in the Omusati region, approximately 100 km from Oshakati.
To gain a real insight into the north-central region, visitors are advised to drive right up to the north-western corner where they 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.
Some useful information and links
This text has been adapted from Namibia Holiday & Travel – for more great information, download it from the appstore
The home of the Owambo people, once known as Ovamboland, is today divided into the Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto regions. These regions are now often referred to as the four 'O' regions and offer visitors a chance to experience daily life in Namibia.
The dead silence of the desert, the myriad of stars at night and the emptiness that stretches to the horizon in Namibia provide an awe-inspiring antidote to the stress of life back home. With a population density of only 2.5 people per square kilometer, it is possible to drive for hours across the vast landscapes without encountering another soul. However, this is not the case when traveling through the world of the Owambo, where the life explodes just along the edge of the road.
Ron Swilling, a local writer and photographer, recently set out to explore this stirring region and had this to say, “Just when I thought I was getting to know the intriguing country of Namibia, I paid visit to the north and discovered a part of the country that was utterly unlike the rest. My days in the north unfolded in a wave of new sensations, tastes and information as I became immersed in the Oshiwambo culture and way of life.”
Things to do in Owambo
Stroll Through an African Palace
The Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead in Tsandi is the former home of King Tatekulu Josia Shikongo Taapopi, the twelfth king of the Uukwaluudhi. It is a typical (but much larger) Owambo homestead surrounded by a mopane-pole palisade with various huts inside. The royal residence provides a unique cultural experience and insight into understanding the customs and beliefs of the Oshiwambo speaking people.
Sit in the Center of a Baobab
It is a holy experience to sit in the center of the king of trees, all the more knowing that it has a long legacy of varied functions. The Ombalantu baobab tree was once a refuge for the Ombalantu people, who are said to have made a hole in its trunk and climbed down into its hollow depths during tribal wars. It was subsequently used as a post office before being converted into a chapel. Now a heritage site, the historic baobab still holds this spiritual presence, providing a place to rest on the journey and sit in the silence of the king of trees.
Sample Shebeen Life
A colorful array of shebeens, also known as cuca shops, are scattered along the roadside of Owambo, their quirky names adding humor and character to the Namibian landscape. The shebeens of Southern African townships began as small households transformed into places where people could stop for a drink, hear the latest news and listen to music. Over the years, as shebeens have become an important part of Southern African culture, as centers for discussion, dance and entertainment. These hubs of culture add to the character and charm of Namibia.
Visit the "Share My Owambo" page to receive more information about Owambo through the eyes of a local Namibian.
There is an old African proverb which states: "If an old man dies in Africa, a whole library burns to the ground”. This proverb refers to the oral nature of the cultures on the African continent. The ancient traditional knowledge has not been written down in books, but is passed on orally from one generation to the next. His knowledge is saved in the cultural memory of the people. Without a circulation within the respective language group, this knowledge is forgotten and might be lost forever. Namibia's Living Culture Museums strive to capture and preserve this knowledge for future generations.
Five museums, described below, are currently located throughout the country and tell the amazing story of some of Namibia's most iconic cultural groups.Museums featuring the Ovahimba and Khwe are currently in the works. These museums are instrumental in passing down traditional skills and values, as the children of the groups are actively involved in the activities of the museum. !Gamace N!aici from the Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/‘Hoansi points out, "When the visitors come to see our culture, they learn but our kids learn as well. That is very important for our culture."
The museums, funded and developed by the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia, not only preserve the different cultures but also give the groups an opportunity to earn an income and benefit from tourism. Travelers can visit a Living Museum and thus actively contribute to the preservation of traditional culture in Namibia. The local population is responsible for the development of the museums content and manage the operations. Proceeds from the museums benefit the local community.
The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi was inaugurated in 2004 and has developed into a cultural highlight of Namibia. The main focus lies with getting to know the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kalahari San. On the same level guest have the opportunity to learn how the Ju/‘Hoansi-San traditionally light fire, make tools and weapons, and much, much more.
In 2008 the Living Museum of the Mafwe opened in the Caprivi Strip. The Mafwe concentrate mainly on fishing and agricultural activities but also present traditional dancing ceremonies in their museum situated under huge Baobab trees.
Together with the Bushmen the Damara belong to the oldest nations in Namibia. Their original culture was a mixture of an archaic hunter-gatherer culture and herders of cattle, goats and sheep. Here the visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture as well as to a regular income for the Damara community that built the museum.
In 2010 the The Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi opened in the Tsumkwe region, where the San are still allowed to hunt. Here the traditional bow hunt with poisoned arrows, the digging out of spring hares and porcupines, the snare catching of guinea fowls, khoraans and other birds for the daily hunt for food has never been terminated. Visitors have the unique experience of learning the art of reading tracks and participating in a hunt.
After three years of initial building-up work the newest edition to the Living Museums finally opened at the end of October 2011: Mbunza Living Museum. An essential part of the interactive program of the Living Museum is the demonstration (and preservation) of the fishing and land cultivating culture of the Mbunza. The traditional presentation covers everything from everyday life (traditional cuisine, fire making, basket and mat weaving, etc.) to bushwalks and fishing and finally to highly specialised techniques like blacksmithing, pottery and the making of drums.
Namibia’s capital is Windhoek: a small, yet bustling city with a population of 300,000, known as the ‘city of many faces’. Here you will see people of all colors and cultures, each possessing a wonderful sense of pride, hope and ambition. It's not only the perfect place to start and finish your holiday, but well worth a visit in its own right.
Top 3 things to do in Windhoek
1. The Namibia Craft Centre
Situated in Windhoek's historic Old Breweries building, the Namibia Crafts Centre is the buzzing market and design hub for contemporary crafts in Namibia. The Centre has been a great launching pad for contemporary craft ideas, like the Pambili Association’s karakul wool and organza scarves and vibrant textile ranges incorporating contemporary San (Bushmen) artwork. Traditional crafts available at the centre range from Owambo drinking vessels to Himba milk baskets, from Herero walking sticks to ceremonial San ‘love bows’ and perfume pouches. The Craft Centre creates opportunities for artists, low-income craftsmen and communities to build profitable businesses, by offering market linkages to local and new markets. It is a must stop for grabbing souvenirs as you will be sure to find the right gift here – for yourself or friends and family back home.
Several operators give visitors the opportunity to learn about the history, development and people of Katutura. The suburb on Windhoek’s northern outskirts was established in the 1950s; today, Katutura is a diverse, lively and historical place to visit. Most tours stops at places of interest such as the Old Cemetery, Augustineum School, the Single Quarters where contract workers used to live, the open markets, shebeens and cuca shops.
Wanderzone Tours offers half- and full-day tours to Windhoek and Katutura, looking into the nature and background of the people who comprise this melting pot of cultures (contact them at email@example.com). Hello Namibia Safaris, Red Earth Sunny Tours & Transfers and Orupuka Transfers and Tours also offer excursions through Windhoek and Katutura. A relatively new initiative is Katu-Tours, which takes guests through the township on bicycles. Tours depart at 8:00, take 3.5 hours to complete and cover a distance of about 7 km at a relaxed pace.
3. Joe's Beer House
Joe’s Beerhouse has reached legendary status in Namibia and throughout Africa. With its rustic décor, open-air, kraal-style rondavel-and-thatch seating and live music at night, Joe's is well patronised by visitors and locals alike. The restaurant is filled with relics of old and collections of new, each artifact with its very own story. Joe's is the perfect place to stop in upon your arrival and get your first sense of something truly Namibian. It doesn't take long for visitors to get lost in their surroundings as they dine on delectable Zebra steak, alligator skewer, tasty Bushman Sosatie (Kebab), or any number of world-famous plates. After your meal, pull up to the bar for an ice-cold Windhoek Lager and wait the local Namibians to brag to you about our amazing beer and equally amazing country.