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Diverse cultures of Africa: Namibia land of the brave

by Stella Sigcau

9 March 2020

Namibia, often referred to as the land of the brave due to having fought colonization and won, is home to diverse cultural groups with distinct history and heritage. Namibia apparently comes from Nama/Damara word which means "shield and is situated in the South Western part of Southern Africa with a population of approximately 2 million people. Namibia is characterised by its beautiful oceans and desert and is also rich in cultural and natural heritage which is critical to its economy.

(Image Pixabay)

The various cultural groups or tribes migrated at various times to Namibia.

It is reported that the nomadic hunter-gatherer Bushmen or the San people were the first ones to arrive followed by Bantu people, namely, the Ovambo and the Kavango who settled in the northern region. The Namaqua (often referred to as Namas) and the Damara who are related to the San group settled in the Southern part of Namibia followed by the Herero group which is reported to have arrived in the 17th century. In the 19th century the first white people who were Afrikaans speaking are reported to have arrived and were called Oorlams as well as missionaries and traders. The Oorlams, it is said, came with guns and fought the Damaras, Namaqua and Herero people in the South and settled in what is today called Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Last to settle before Namibia was colonised were apparently the Baster people who, it is said, were descendants of European men and African women.

Namibia was eventually colonised by the Germans and was named Sud West Africa. However the harbour Walvis Bay was annexed to British South Africa. The German regime, history tells, was very brutal towards the indigenous people, introducing harsh laws, dispossessing their lands and enforced racial segregation. The Herero and Nama resisted leading to a rebellion and would become the victims of the genocidal wars from 1904 to 1907. Three-quarters of the Herero population and nearly one-half the Namas, are reported to have been killed by the German military. Some of the Herero activists include Chief Hosea Kutako whom the Namibian airport is named after.

The Germans were eventually driven out by the South Africans after the Second World War and the territory became officially under South African rule after having been administered as a League of Nations mandate territory. As in South Africa, apartheid was introduced in Namibia. This was met by fierce resistance leading to the formation of liberation movements which sought to end white rule in Namibia, the biggest being South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) which also garnered support from the international community. According to one source, the common experience of oppression under colonialism led to shared nationalist sentiment, first expressed in the 1940s during a letter-writing campaign by traditional leaders to the United Nations protesting South African rule. International pressure and the United Nations resolution 435 which laid out a decolonization program for the country led to South Africa finally surrendering and ceded Namibia to Namibians.

Namibia was finally free and on 21 March 1990, Sam Nujoma the leader of Swapo was sworn in as the first president of a free Namibia. Independent and free Namibia embraced its diversity allowing the citizens freedom to express their cultures as well as celebrating this diversity through various heritage events and festivals.

Ovambos who form the majority in the North continue to practice traditional customs regardless of the religious influence. They apparently migrated from upper Zambezi in the 13th century and established Kingdoms in the Etosha area. They form the largest ethnic group in Namibia. Even though they still practice their customs, the European influence is very visible amongst the Herero who are a majority in the South, through for example the dress of the women.

The Namaqua put great importance on music, dance and story-telling which have been passed down orally from generation to generation. The San are known for their rock art. It is important to note that the language of the Namaqua, Damara and San is similar and comprises of the clicks.

The Himba still maintain a very traditional lifestyle and are found in the Kaokoland. The Himba people are known for wearing loin cloth and goat skinned short skirts with their bodies covered with ochre and the women are known for their intricate hairstyles and traditional jewellery. Smallest of the population is the Tswana group.

German influence like historical architecture is evident in places like Luderitz and Swakopmund and German and South African style restaurants are found in Windhoek. German and Afrikaans as well as English are widely spoken.

Namibia is a land with rich, diverse and colourful culture and heritage and prides itself in unity and celebration of that diversity. It is land that has come a long way having dealt with two colonial regimes; fought, overcame and earned its freedom through the sacrifices of many brave men and women, many of who lost their lives in the process. As stated in its National anthem Namibia, land of the brave, “Freedom's fight we have won, Glory to their bravery, Whose blood waters our freedom, We give our love and loyalty, Together in unity”.




February/March 2020
















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