Ovambo language

The Ovambo (English: /ɒˈvæmboʊ/) language, Oshiwambo, is a dialect cluster spoken by the Ovambo people in southern Angola and northern Namibia, of which the written standards are Kwanyama and Ndonga.

The native name for the language is Oshiwambo (also written "Oshivambo"), which is also used specifically for the Kwanyama and Ndonga dialects. It is the largest spoken local language in Namibia,[4] particularly the Ovambo people.

The language is closely related to that of the Herero and Himba, the Herero language (Otjiherero). An obvious sign of proximity is the prefix used for language and dialect names, Proto-Bantu *ki- (class 7, as in the name of the Swahili language, Kiswahili), which in Herero has evolved to Otji- and in Ovambo further to Oshi-.

Native toAngola, Namibia
Native speakers
1,441,000 (2014)[1]
Standard forms
Language codes
ISO 639-1kj, ng
ISO 639-2kua, ndo
ISO 639-3Variously:
kua – Kwanyama
ndo – Ndonga
kwm – Kwambi
lnb – Mbalanhu
nne – Ngandjera
R.20 (R.21–24,211–218,241–242)[3]
PeopleAawambo, Ovawambo
CountryOwambo, Ouwambo
Distribution of Oshiwambo in Namibia
Modern-day distribution of Oshiwambo speakers in Namibia


After Namibia's independence in 1990, the area previously known as Ovamboland was divided into the Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto Regions. The population, estimated at between 700,000 and 750,000, fluctuates remarkably. This is because of the indiscriminate border drawn up by the Portuguese and German Empires during colonial rule, which cut through the Oukwanyama tribal area, placing some in Angola and others in Namibia. This results in regular cross-border movement.

There are approximately one million Oshiwambo speakers in Namibia and Angola.[5] Though it is mainly spoken in the northern regions of Namibia, it is widely spoken across the rest of the country by populations of migrant workers from Ovamboland. These workers comprise a large part of the population in many towns, particularly in the south, where there are jobs in the mining industry. For example, in Lüderitz, an 18-hour drive from Ovamboland, at least 50% of the population speaks Oshiwambo.


The names Ambo and Ovambo appears to have originally been exonyms. Despite extensive speculation, their origin remains unknown.

The country was called Ovamboland and Amboland by the German colonial authorities. In English, Ovamboland predominates, though Ambo country is sometimes used, and in English publications from Namibia, Owamboland, Wamboland, and Owambo are seen. The endemic forms are Owambo (Ndonga) and Ouwambo (Kwanyama).

The people are generally called the Ovambo or Ambo in English. The endemic forms are Aawambo (Ndonga) and Ovawambo (Kwanyama); the singular in both cases is Omuwambo. The language is generally called Ovambo, Ambo, or Oshiwambo in English; the endonym in both standards is Oshiwambo.[6]

Ovambo tribes and dialects

There are eight dialects, including the two written standards Kwanyama and Ndonga.

The following table contains the names, areas, dialect names and the locations of the Ovambo tribes according to T. E. Tirronen's Ndonga-English Dictionary. The table also contains information concerning which noun class of Proto-Bantu the words belong to.[7]

Area Tribe Dialect Location
Classes 9 (*ny > on-), 11 (uu-/ou-) Class 2 (*wa-, a-) Class 7 (*ki > oshi-)
Ondonga Aa-ndonga Ndonga dialect Southern Ovamboland
Uu-kwambi Aa-kwambi Kwambi dialect Central Ovamboland
O-ngandjera Aa-ngandjera Oshi-ngandjera Central Ovamboland
Uu-kwaluudhi Aa-kwaluudhi Oshi-kwaluudhi Western Ovamboland
O-mbalanhu Aa-mbalanhu Oshi-mbalanhu Western Ovamboland
Uu-kolonkadhi Aa-kolonkadhi Oshi-kolonkadhi Western Ovamboland
Oukwanyama Ova-kwanyama Kwanyama dialect Northern and Eastern Ovamboland, Angola
Eunda Unda Oshi-unda northwest, Epalela vicinity

Maho (2009) lists the following as distinct languages in the Ovambo cluster:[3]

  • Kwanyama
    • Kafima
    • Evale
    • Mbandja
    • Mbalanhu
    • Ndongwena
    • Kwankwa
    • Dombondola
    • Esinga
  • Ndonga
  • Kwambi
  • Ngandjera
  • Kwaluudhi
    • Kolonkadhi-Eunda


  1. ^ Kwanyama at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Ndonga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kwambi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Mbalanhu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Ngandjera at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ndonga (R.20)". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ "New African Frontiers". Archived from the original on January 30, 2009. Retrieved May 16, 2009.
  5. ^ "United Nations Information Centre". Archived from the original on 6 November 2017. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  6. ^ Minna Saarelma-Maunumaa, 2003, Edhina Ekogidho—Names as Links: The Encounter between African and European Anthroponymic Systems among the Ambo People in Namibia. Helsinki.[1]
  7. ^ Toivo Emil Tirronen: Ndonga-English Dictionary. Oshinyanyangidho shongeleki ELCIN. Oniipa, 1986.

External links

Bible translations into the languages of Africa

The Bible, or portions of it, have been translated into over 1,000 languages of Africa. Many of these are indexed by the Forum of Bible Agencies, Find.Bible site and available online in text and audio form, as print on demand versions, or through churches and book sellers. This effort continues. Not all are (yet) listed below.

Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo

Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo (born June 4, 1974 in Enkono, Ondonga) is the reigning chief of Ondonga kingdom, a sub-tribe of Owambo people since 2019 in Namibia. Nangolo is the nephew of late King Immanuel Kauluma Elifas who reigned from 1975 - 2019. The Ondonga tribal area is situated around Namutoni on the eastern edge of Etosha pan in northern Namibia.. On 14 April, he was appointed the king of the Aandonga. His uncle Konisa Kalenga was also being crowned as king the same day. The succession dispute ended with Shuumbwa being recognised by Government in June 2019.

Immanuel Kauluma Elifas

Omukwaniilwa Immanuel Kauluma Elifas (born.c. 1 January 1934 Epale – 26 March 2019 Onandjokwe) was a chief of the Ondonga, a sub-tribe of Owambo people since 28 August 1975, in Namibia having succeeded his brother the late Chief Fillemon Elifas Shuumbwa who was gunned down the same year at Onamagongwa. The Ondonga tribal area is situated around Namutoni on the eastern edge of Etosha pan in northern Namibia. Kauluma was also the Chairperson of the Council of Traditional Leaders for many years. He was succeeded as King by the designate Omukwaniilwa of Ondonga, his great-grandson Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo.

KUA (disambiguation)

KUA or Kua may refer to:

Keeping Up Appearances, British sitcom written by Roy Clarke

Kimball Union Academy, boarding school in the U.S. state of New Hampshire

Kissimmee Utility Authority, electrical utility in Osceola County, Florida, U.S.

Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport, airport near the city of Kuantan in Pahang, Malaysia

Kwambi dialect

Kwambi or Otshikwambi is a dialect of the Ovambo language spoken by the Kwambi tribe in Northern Namibia. Unlike Ndonga and Kwanyama it does not have a standardized written form in schools but is used and written in the Roman Catholic Church in Namibia. It shares more features with Ndonga than with Kwanyama.

Kwanyama dialect

Kwanyama or Oshikwanyama is a national language of Angola and Namibia. It is a standardized dialect of the Ovambo language, and is mutually intelligible with Oshindonga, the other Ovambo dialect with a standard written form.

The entire Christian Bible has been translated into Kwanyama and was first published in 1974 under the name Ombibeli by the South African Bible Society.

Lahja Lehtonen

Lahja Anna-Maija Lehtonen (3 August 1927 Helsinki, Finland – 19 August 2016 Helsinki, Finland) was a Finnish missionary who worked for a long time in Ovamboland, Namibia. She held a master’s degree in the English language from the University of Helsinki, and she was known as the long time English teacher of the Oshigambo High School, which she co-founded together with Toivo Tirronen in 1960.Lehtonen was born on 3 August 1927, in Helsinki, to Reverend Mauri Lehtonen and his wife Margit Lehtonen. The family moved quite often, and Lahja Lehtonen went to primary school in Jämsänkoski. Later the family settled in the Messukylä parish in Tampere. Lehtonen studied languages at Helsinki University, following in the footsteps of her mother.Lehtonen’s first term as a missionary in Ovamboland took place in 1954–58, and right from the start she worked at Oshigambo, teaching in the girls’ school. After the Oshigambo High School had been founded, she taught there, and when Tirronen left for Finland in the mid-1970s, she took on the responsibilities of the principal. In 1977, her former student Timoteus Ndakunda became her vice principal. In 1980, they switched roles, and thereafter Lehtonen worked as the vice principal. In addition to working as a teacher, Lehtonen also wrote, together with Kirsti Ihamäki, a history book for Standard Three.When the South African Defence Forces established a base only one-half kilometre (0.31 mi) from the school, Lehtonen protested strongly, and the base was moved to a new location two kilometres (1.2 mi) from the school. When Namibia gained its independence, Lehtonen was eligible to vote, and she was given the honour of casting the first vote at the Oshigambo polling station.Lehtonen returned to Finland in 1991. In total, she worked in Ovamboland for more than 35 years.Lehtonen wrote the histories of the school system in Ovamboland and of the Oshigambo High School, and she translated the biography of Martti Rautanen that had been written by Matti Peltola in 1994. The translation appeared in 2002. In 1996, she published an English-Ndonga Dictionary, which she prepared in collaboration with Eljas Suikkanen, basing the work on the Ndonga-English Dictionary of Toivo Tirronen. Lehtonen also wrote a history of Oshigambo, 1650 to 1950, in Oshindonga. After her retirement, Lehtonen became concerned about the fate of the Ovambo language, which was losing ground to the English language, and she strongly advocated the use of Oshiwambo.

The Ovambos gave Lehtonen the nickname Kanyeku. One explanation has it that it refers to a bird, but according to another explanation it comes from the verb nyekula "to turn suddenly, swing around, fling one’s head or arm, whisk its tail", because when she started walking, she would always fling her head and arm simultaneously, but only once. This nickname has been inherited by all her namesakes, who are likewise called Kanyeku.In an obituary published in Namibia, she was likened to a baobab tree that had now fallen.

Namibian Sun

The Namibian Sun is a daily tabloid newspaper in Namibia. It was launched on 20 September 2007 as a weekly tabloid newspaper published on Thursdays. It had an initial print run of 36,000. The paper publishes mostly in English with some pages in Oshiwambo and targets a readership aged between 18 and 40. It has been published daily since 2010.The Namibian Sun is published by Namibia Media Holdings (formerly Democratic Media Holdings) which also publishes Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Republikein. While AZ has a German-speaking readership, and Republikein targets Afrikaans speakers, the Namibian Sun focuses on an English-speaking audience. It is similar to the South African Daily Sun in layout and features.The editor-in-chief is Festus Nakatana. The previous editor was Toivo Ndjebela.

Ndonga (disambiguation)

Ndonga may refer to:

Ndonga dialect, a standardized dialect of the Ovambo language spoken in Namibia and parts of Angola

Ndonga Linena Constituency, an electoral constituency in the Kavango East Region of Namibia

Hervé Ndonga (born 1992), a footballer from DR Congo

ZANU - Ndonga, a Zimbabwe political party formed along with ZANU-PF when ZANU split

Ndonga dialect

Ndonga, also called Oshindonga, is a Bantu language spoken in Namibia and parts of Angola. It is a standardized dialect of the Ovambo language, and is mutually intelligible with Kwanyama, the other Ovambo dialect with a standard written form. With 810,000 speakers, the language has the largest number of speakers in Namibia.

Martti Rautanen translated the Bible into the Ndonga standard.

New Era (Namibia)

The New Era is a daily national newspaper owned by the government of Namibia. The newspaper is one of four daily national newspapers in the country, the others being The Namibian (English and indigenous languages), Die Republikein (Afrikaans) and Allgemeine Zeitung (German).New Era was created by the New Era Publications Corporation Act of 1992. According to Ullamaija Kivikuru, it copied the format of The Namibian in order to establish credibility. The two newspapers still resemble each other in having long stories spread over several pages.New Era has a usual circulation of 9,000, going up to 11,000 on Fridays. It was established as a weekly newspaper and was later published only bi-weekly. It has appeared daily since 2004. New Era is published in English and five indigenous languages: Otjiherero, Oshiwambo, Damara/Nama, Silozi, and Khwedam.New Era is published by the New Era Publication Corporation, which is owned by the Government of Namibia. The Minister of Information and Communication Technology has the ability to appoint and discharge members of the board of directors. According to Andreas Rothe, some government minister have acted as direct owners of the newspaper, telephoning the editorial department about articles that have criticised them. Because of this, the newspaper is perceived to be SWAPO-friendly, and is "often reproached for being biased in favour of the government." However, a 2006 study by Swedish researchers found New Era to be "more critical and fierce" than The Namibian.The editor of New Era is Chrispin Inambao.


Omutumwa (Oshiwambo: "messenger") is a bi-weekly Ovambo-language newspaper based in Windhoek, Namibia. The paper ran its first edition on 29 September 2010 and has a print run of 5,000. The newspaper is published by Victor Angula Franciscus, who formerly worked at Katutura Community Radio.

Onayena Constituency

Onayena Constituency is an electoral constituency in the Oshikoto Region of Namibia. It has 15,684 inhabitants; its district capital is the settlement of Onayena. Currently the Councillor of Onayena is Natangwe Indongo, a former school teacher at Nehale Senior Secondary School. The Constituency's population has grown significantly over recent years, dominated by the Ovambo language speaking people and a small group of San people.


Ovambo may refer to:

Ovambo language

Ovambo people


Ovambo sparrowhawk (Accipiter ovampensis), an African bird of prey

Ovambo people

The Aawambo people (pronounced [ovambo] (listen)), also called Aawambo, Ambo, Aawambo (Ndonga, Nghandjera, Kwambi, Mbalantu) or Ovawambo (Kwanyama), are a Southern African tribal ethnic group. They are the largest ethnic group of Namibia, found in its northern regions and more often called Ovambo. They are also found in southern Angolan province of Cunene where the name Ambo is more common. The Ovambo consist of a number of kindred Bantu ethnic tribes who inhabit what was formerly called Owamboland. Accounting for about fifty percent of the Namibian population, the Ovambo are its largest ethnic group. In Angola, they are a minority, accounting for about two percent of the total Angolan population.The Ambo people migrated south from the upper regions of Zambezi in the period around the 14th century. The contemporary total Ambo population is about 1.6 million, and they are predominantly Christians (97%).The Ambo are an ethnolinguist group and speak Ovambo language, also called Oshiwambo, Ambo, Kwanyama, or Oshiwambo, a language that belongs to the southern branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages.

The Namibian

The Namibian is the largest daily newspaper in Namibia. It is published in English and a section in Oshiwambo on Fridays.

Ulla Nenonen

Ulla Pirkko Nenonen (31 October 1933, Loviisa, Finland – 9 March 2018, Tampere, Finland)

was a Finnish theologian, missionary with the Finnish Missionary Society and Bible translator, who served in missionary work in Namibia during a 54-year span. Of Finnish missionaries, only Martti Rautanen and his wife Frieda and daughter Johanna have served longer in the mission field.Nenonen spent most of her childhood in Kuusankoski, but she graduated from high school in Imatra in 1954. She obtained a degree in theology from the University of Helsinki in 1960. Soon after this she departed for Ovamboland.

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