Native toAngola, Namibia
Native speakers
(1,441,000 cited 1990 mm)[1]
Standard forms
Language codes
ISO 639-1kj, ng
ISO 639-2kua, ndo
ISO 639-3Variously:
kua – Kwanyama
ndo – Ndonga
kwm – Kwambi
lnb – Mbalanhu (Central Wambo)
nne – Ngandjera
R.20 (R.21–24,211–218,241–242)[2]
PeopleAawambo, Ovawambo
CountryOwambo, Ouwambo
Modern-day distribution of Oshiwambo speakers in Namibia
An Ovambo speaker, recorded in Namibia.

The Ovambo (English: /ɒˈvæmb/) language 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,[3] particularly by 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-.


Main article: Ovamboland

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.[4] 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 appear 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 kingdoms are Ndonga, Kwanyama and Kwambi

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.[5]

Ovambo tribes and dialects

There are eight dialects, including the two written standards Kwanyama and Ndonga. The Ovambo 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.[6] Thus, the Ovamba have preferred a syncretic form of Christianity and Oshiwambo culture is more dominant in the northern part of the country.

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 Otshi-ngandjera Central Ovamboland
Uu-kwaluudhi Aa-kwaluudhi Otshi-kwaluudhi Western Ovamboland
O-mbalantu Aa-mbalantu Oshi-mbalantu Western Ovamboland
Uu-kolonkadhi Aa-kolonkadhi Otshi-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:[2]

Sample text in Ovambo (Kwanyama)

Omupangi umwe okwa li a nyeka nge embo olo, ndele ta lesha oshipalanyole shalo, nokupula nge ta kondjifa ngeenge ohandi ka ninga umwe womEendombwedi daJehova ile hasho.


A nurse grabbed the book from me, looked at the cover, and demanded to know whether I was going to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


  1. ^ Kwanyama at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Ndonga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Kwambi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Mbalanhu (Central Wambo) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Ngandjera at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ "Namibia – People". New African Frontiers. Archived from the original on January 30, 2009. Retrieved May 16, 2009.
  4. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Oshiwambo (Ndonga)". Retrieved 2021-03-11 – via Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  5. ^ Saarelma-Maunumaa, Minna (2003). Edhina Ekogidho – Names as Links: The Encounter between African and European Anthroponymic Systems among the Ambo People in Namibia. Helsinki: SKS Finnish Literature Society. doi:10.21435/sflin.11. ISBN 978-951-746-529-8.
  6. ^ "What is culture of Oshiwambo? - Google Search". www.google.com. Retrieved 2023-05-18.
  7. ^ Tirronen, Toivo Emil (1986). Ndonga–English Dictionary. Oniipa, Namibia: Oshinyanyangidho shongeleki ELCIN.