Tribes of Angola, a trip to the south of the country

One of the main reasons why travelling to Angola is so attractive is to visit some of the tribes that inhabit the south of the country and see how, in this globalised world, they preserve their customs, their way of dressing and their ancestral way of life. Today we talk to you about the tribes of Angola.

Reasons to travel to Angola

Angola could even be compared to Ethiopia ethnically, because of the number and diversity of tribes living on its borders, but it is different because Ethiopia has been a tourist destination for many years.

Angola, on the other hand, is still in the early stages of opening up to the world after decades of conflict. In just a few years, however, the whole atmosphere is changing rapidly.

tribes of angola
Mucubal Elder in the vicinity of Virey – Tribes of Angola

In Kumakonda we have opposite feelings when visiting the tribes of Angola, although we are aware of our own contradictions, we do not hide it.

On the one hand, as lovers of Africa, we are passionate about finding villages and tribes that preserve their traditional way of life and we love to show this to our passengers.

At the same time, we also see how a certain kind of disrespectful tourism (perhaps we are also part of it) lands in Angola more concerned with getting the perfect photo and using the local populations as mere objects.

The obsession we have with taking photos and the opportunity to take economic advantage of this need, sometimes with disproportionate demands, on the part of some of these communities (totally licit), sometimes generates uncomfortable situations, endless negotiations, misunderstandings (even among themselves) and some embarrassing scenes (lack of empathy).

This region is certainly worth a visit, but we think that maybe you should forget the cameras for a few days and dedicate yourself to getting to know and learning. It can be very worthwhile.

Flying to lubando to meet the tribes of Angola

From Luanda we fly south to the city of Lubango, capital of the Huila province. This is where most of Angola’s tribes are concentrated.

The beautiful city, with its modern standard of living, gives little reason to suspect that just a few hours’ drive away we will find a world of tribes living in ancestral ways.

Oncocua Avenue, on the way to southern Angola

Meeting the Muila, southern Angola

Near Lubango are the Muila, a people of herdsmen and farmers, who are particularly known for their large coloured necklaces, beads and the ointment that the women put on their hair, made from crushed stone, which gives them a very original appearance.

The Muila still practise their animist religion, which revolves around the worship of the sacred bull.

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Muila Women – Tribes of Angola
Muila Angola
Characteristic hairstyles of the Muila – Tribes of Angola
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Small mountain people – Tribes of Angola
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Traditional Muila Doll – Tribes of Angola

The children and women of the village, who were there at the time, looked on in amazement as we pitched the tents. The shape of a tent is not really that different from the houses they have… Theirs is made of adobe, logs and straw. Ours is made of plastic or cloth, but in shape and dimensions, sometimes it doesn’t differ that much.

Most of the time, when we arrived in a village, we were greeted by women and children, as well as by the man representing the authority.

Viajar a Angola
Cooking in a tribal village in Angola

Muila women usually farm the fields around the villages. They grow cassava, maize, watermelon and pumpkin.

Children accompany them because in these remote villages they do not usually go to school. In the case of girls, they learn their “trade”, i.e. farming. In the case of boys, they learn how to herd, because when they are older they will go with their parents.

The herding activity takes place close to the village in the rainy season, but when the dry season arrives, their work becomes harder. Sometimes they have to go far away in search of wetter areas or larger rivers, and can be away from the village for almost three months.

The division of labour between men and women is clearly defined. In fact, they hardly see each other all day, except to sleep, although this is quite common in rural Africa.

This is why when we visit the tribal villages of Angola we do not usually meet the men until nightfall. At most, there is the oldest man in the village, who is the chief or “mayor” and therefore grants permission to visit the village or to stay overnight.

Muila Angola
Muila Women – Tribes of Angola

Visiting the Mugambue people

After visiting the Muila, we headed towards the region where the Mugambue people live. As you can see in the photos, they wear different attire, do not put the ointment in their hair and decorate their heads with other ornaments.

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Mugambue Girl – Tribes of Angola

It is amusing to see how the new generations mix European-influenced products with traditional arrangements and integrate them seamlessly, like these young women with bras.

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Mugambue women – Tribes of Angola
Gambue Angola
Mugambue girls in Western bras – Tribes of Angola

The Mugambue are very sociable and fun-loving, and in fact they threw us a welcome party in the evening to the rhythm of improvised drumming with the typical yellow drums that are widespread throughout Africa.

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Dancing with the Mugambue – Tribes of Angola

From this area, southeast of Lubango, we set off for the village of Oncocua, which is located in an even more isolated area.

Oncocua, Angola’s tribal south

To get to Oncocua we had to go through a forest track that looked like a sea of mud (we travelled in February, which is still the rainy season).

Everyone advised us not to go in our 4×4 but to take a military truck that passed through two days a week and supplied the village of Oncocua.

But we tried, and … we made it! In the summer months it is an easy one day trip from Lubango to Oncocua.

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Mud track leading to Oncocua – Tribes of Angola

Oncocua is a rare sight. Being a village of considerable size (about 2000 inhabitants) in the middle of nowhere, it is impressive to see how people from different tribes of Angola stroll around peacefully. It is a paradise of tribes! It looks like something out of a movie!

The Muhimba (the same tribe as the Himba of Namibia), the Mutua (similar to the Himba in dress and customs), and the Muhacaona mingle here.

In this remote place there is a guesthouse, that of Mrs. Maria, but given the simplicity of the room (four walls and the floor), without a bed or any other furniture, we decided to pitch our tent outside.

Himba or Muhimba tribe

The next day we went to visit the Muhimba. As I mentioned earlier, this is the same tribe as the Himba of Namibia beyond the Cunene River.

The Himba are a semi-nomadic people who are at the top of the social pyramid because of the large number of cattle they own. Today, like other ethnic groups in the region, they are forced to move away from their usual grazing grounds due to prolonged drought in the region.

Muhimba one of the tribes of angola
Muhimba women dancing – Tribes of Angola

Estética de los Himba

The women look like something out of a galactic fairy tale. It is hard to believe that with so few resources they are so elegant.

They told us that they shower three times a year, but they smear their bodies with ochre rock powder mixed with animal fat, which smells wonderful. The skin is shiny and perfect, and apart from aesthetics, it is used to protect the skin from the sun and mosquitoes.

Himba Angola
Himba women near Iona National Park – Tribes of Angola
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Muhimba women with their bodies and hair covered in ochre – Tribes of Angola
Viajes a Angola

We also met a young man whose hairstyle caught our attention. It is the hairstyle of unmarried Muhimba men who are of marriageable age and consists of a large braid in the shape of a crest, sometimes covered with a piece of cloth.

He let himself be photographed proudly.

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Combing a Muhimba boy – Tribes of Angola

The women’s hair is also impressive, covered with the same substance that they spread on their skin, and artificial hair extensions at the end of the “dreadlocks”. These extensions are bought in the slightly larger villages.

The next day we went to see the Hakaona, who are an ethnic group with darker skin and hair than the other tribes in Angola.

During the days in this area we took advantage of the nights to visit the “joint” where they party and we had the opportunity to dance to modern African music (kuduro and afrohouse in Angola) in the middle of Hakaona, Muhimbas and Mutuas tribes. Pure surrealism. The Muhimba women, barefoot in the discotheque, danced even with the child on their backs – nothing could stop their desire to dance!

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