Ovimbundu Social Structure
Before the twentieth century, neither matrilineage nor
patrilineage dominated Ovimbundu society. Economic
matters, such as
property rights, seem to have been linked to the
while political authority was passed through the
lineage system declined in the twentieth century, as more
Europeans settled on the highly arable plateau. The
land shortage and commercialization that loosened the
either lineage system might have over what had become the
resource in the Ovimbundu economy. By the mid-1950s, terms
used for the patrilineal and matrilineal descent groups
heard, but they no longer referred to a cohesive group.
applied instead to individual patrilineal and matrilineal
relatives. Significantly, the Portuguese term
also come into use by this time.
The development of cash-crop agriculture and changes in
tenure, in combination with inadequate soils and Ovimbundu
agricultural techniques, led to soil depletion and the
nuclear families for increasingly extensive holdings.
villages, consequently, became less and less feasible.
Increasingly, particularly in the coffee-growing area,
homestead was no longer part of the nucleated village,
dispersed homesteads in a given area were defined as
a village. The degree of dispersal varied, but the
family, detached from the traditional community, tended to
the crucial unit. Where either Protestants or Roman
sufficiently numerous, the church and school rather than
descent group became the focus of social and sometimes of
life. In at least one study of a section of the Ovimbundu,
found that each entity defined as a village consisted
exclusively of either Protestants or Roman Catholics
, this ch.).
But given the problems of soil depletion and, in some
land shortage, not all Ovimbundu could succeed as
farmers. A substantial number of them thus found it
necessary to go
to other regions (and even other countries) as wage
Consequently, some households came to consist of women and
for long periods.
In 1967 the colonial authorities, concerned by the
situation east of the Ovimbundu and fearing the spread of
to the plateau regions, gathered the people into large
control them better and, in theory at least, to provide
social and economic services
(see Angolan Insurgency
Ovimbundu, accustomed to dispersed settlement, strongly
the practice. Among other things, they feared that the
were forced to abandon would be taken over by Europeans
some cases did happen).
By 1970 compulsory resettlement had been abolished in
Ovimbundu territory and reduced elsewhere. Then the
instituted a rural advisory service and encouraged the
what they called agricultural clubs. The old term for
descent group was sometimes applied to these
were intended to manage credits for Ovimbundu peasants.
units, however, were based on common interest, although
kin connections sometimes affected their operation, as did
relations between ordinary Ovimbundu and local rulers.
conflict within the group often took the form of
sorcery. The effects on these units of independence, the
away of the advisory service, and the early years of the
insurgency were unknown. It is unlikely, however, that the
Ovimbundu took to enforced cooperation or collectivization
The effects of the UNITA insurgency on Ovimbundu life
extensive and frequently devastating. Much of the fighting
government troops and UNITA forces, especially in the
place on Ovimbundu-occupied territory. Largely dependent
agriculture, Ovimbundu village life was seriously
large numbers of Ovimbundu were forced to flee, abandoning
traditions along with their homes.
As UNITA gained control over a growing area in
Angola, however, the organization tried to preserve the
of Ovimbundu life-style and customs
fig. 16). UNITA
established a series of military bases throughout the
that served as administrative centers for the surrounding
Under Ovimbundu leadership, the bases provided
economic, and health services to the population, operating
like the village system on the central plateau. To what
system preserved at least some aspects of Ovimbundu
life in the late 1980s was unknown.
Data as of February 1989