Experience the people and cultures of Namibia
Namibian Cultural Background
With just 2.1 persons per square kilometre and a population of 1.8million, Namibia's different cultures span an impressively diverse population for what is a sparsely populated country. From the Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero tribes (the latter of which are admired for their colourful Victorian dress) to the Damara minorities and nomadic San Bushmen, Namibia boasts cultural and historical flavour in spades. German colonisation left its own imprint on this Southern African nation with German being a widely spoken language today and German architecture and cuisine featuring prominently. Namibia's diverse and, at times, harsh climate contributed to its colourful history with skirmishes, international and national, reflected in much of its modern history.
The People and Tribes of Namibia
The San, direct descendants of Stone Age inhabitants, have a legacy spanning many centuries across large parts of southern and eastern Africa. Rock art dating back thousands of years in some cases stand testament to the very enduring power of the San people. Not only is their presence of immense historical importance to Namibia's ancient cultural heritage, but to its present heritage, too. Namibia's Khoisan population is the largest in Africa and largely concentrated around the northern The Kalahari.
Despite being pastoralists, the Nama tribe's fascinating history by no means sees them being put out to pasture. Lauded as fearsome fighters in precolonial times, they routinely fought wars with the neighbouring Herero over fertile grazing grounds dotted across parts of central Namibia. Some of these skirmishes dragged on for a large part of the 1800s. With this feisty trait in mind, it's unsurprising that the Nama rose not once, but twice, in armed rebellion against German colonial rule. A dark stain on the country's history marks the Nama's second uprising which resulted in a mass genocide executed by German forces and a devastating loss of land for the pastoralists in the early 20th century.
The Damara and Nama people share the same language, but little else. Their origins are clouded in mystery, although some believe that the Damara are descended from south-western Africa hunter-gatherers. Nonetheless, their modern-day history has seen them not only as pastoralists but as agriculturalists and skilled copper-smiths, too. The first prime minister of Namibia and his immediate successor were both Damara.
Centuries ago, several Ovambo kingdoms spanned the floodplains north of Etosha, which is where a majority of Ovambo people still live today. The Ovambo people established a number of kingdoms on the floodplains north of Etosha where the majority still live. They form the largest ethnic group in the country and are said to have migrated from the shores of the upper Zambezi in the 13th century. The Ovambo were at the forefront of the struggle for independence from South Africa and Namibia's founding president was born and raised in an Ovambo village.
The Herero are arguably the most culturally recognisable in Namibia with its women known for their bright and colourful ankle-length dresses, high necklines, tight bodices, and long puffed sleeves. Adapted from European fashion in the Victorian period, the style of the dress is now regarded as a cultural tradition and worn with a cloth headdress, pointed on either side, meant to symbolise cattle horns. Like the Masai in East Africa, the Herero are historically nomadic herders with cattle forming an important part of their culture. The Herero also rose in rebellion against the colonialists in 1904. In modern times Herero activists like Chief Hosea Kutako (after whom the international airport in Windhoek is named) figured prominently in the quest for Namibian independence.
Visitors to Namibia are often surprised by the strong German influence. Historical architecture in Luderitz and Swakopmund is reminiscent of a German town in the 1800s while the older sections of many towns across the country feature buildings with domes, towers, turrets, oriel windows, embellished gables and ornate bay windows. In the desert and not far from Luderitz is a ghost town called Kolmanskop whose purpose was to mine diamonds after German South West Africa struck it rich in 1908. Today, the town is engulfed in dunes making for an eerie albeit fascinating day trip. Namibia's capital, Windhoek, is home to numerous German restaurants with a beer named after the town brewed in strict compliance with the Reinheitsegebot, the German Purity Law of 1516.