Accepted paper:

Ovimbundu ethnic and regional identity and association in post-war Angola


Vasco Martins (University of Coimbra)

Paper short abstract:

Ethnic association in Angola maintains networks of migration and interaction which the Ovimbundu use for social advancement, but also to escape state exclusion at the local level. Tribalism and regionalism, although dormant, are still common concepts to popular perception of other groups in Angola.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims to bring back to the academic foreground issues relating to post-war ethnicity in Angola. Contrary to the belief that Angola does not exhibit signs of ethnic discomfort, as an integral part of a PhD investigation, the paper brings to light issues commonly referred to as "tribalism" and "regionalism", in an attempt to decode the ethnic relations between the Ovimbundu, the various groups and the state. Focusing on the Ovimbundu, the largest ethnic group in the country, the article puts forward the idea that non-Ovimbundu people tend to associate this group with a very specific region, the centre, and with a political party, UNITA, which often leads to political and economic exclusion for those who speak Umbundu, especially when relating to the state on the local level. This presumption seems to be foreign to Ovimbundu thought and behaviour, as the group's cultural borders appear to be extremely porous and inclusive of other ethnic groups, a fact verifiable by the commonality of marital exogamy and constant migration and integration. To be sure, there exists no ethnic Ovimbundu party in Angola today. Scattered across many political realms, the Ovimbundu in general, not their elites, appear to attempt to survive in a sea of economic and social chaos, obliging them to search for social advancement within their own ethnic networks, especially in terms of job migration. The paper will be based upon field research conducted in Angola between January and April 2013, in the provinces of Huambo, BiƩ and Luanda.

panel P035
Angola in the aftermath of civil war: overcoming the impacts of protracted violence