Namibian culture includes many traditions, ways of life, art, and more. To talk about all of them in detail would take a few books at best, and I can’t hope to cover all of that information here. However, I want to give you a taste for some of the interesting facts about the people of the beautiful nation of Namibia. They are organized alphabetically below, and cover only some of the larger groups. I tried to vary the kinds of information, and provide further resources for you to learn more.
(1) Unlike many groups in Namibia, the Damara did not traditionally have a chiefdom, but rather chose wise people for consultations in decision-making processes.
(2) Traditionally, the Damara people bury their dead far from their villages, because spirits are thought to have the power to take a loved (or hated) person with them into the next world if they can find their way back to the village.
(3) The traditional Damara religion believes that the next life is similar to this, but with more success in hunting and gathering.
You can learn more from the Damara Living Museum tourism project by the Damara people.
(1) The Herero can trace their roots back to Angola in semi-recent history. It is believed that severe drought forced their ancestors to move into Namibia.
(2) The Herero people are well known for the Victorian style dresses that the women wear, along with their characteristic headdress. Although this style comes from German missionaries in the 19th Century, it is now a unique part of Herero tradition.
(3) Christianity is common among the Herero people, and they developed their own Christian church in 1955.
You can learn more about Herero dress on this article accompanying a photographic installation.
(1) The Herero and Himba people were once one group, and they only split shortly after their ancestors entered Namibia. The Himba have maintained more of their shared, traditional belief systems.
(2) The Himba people are well known among Namibian cultures for their unique dress. They wear ochre colored butter that people use to stain and protect their skin. Hair styles and jewelry have particular meanings.
(3) Ritual fires are traditional to both the Herero and Himba, and most Himba villages still maintain them. Ritual fires have complex meanings, but are a connection to the spirit world and must be carefully maintained.
You can support and learn more about the Himba people from the Otjikandero Village.
(1) The Kavango people have five different and distinct tribes that are believed to have moved onto the land they live on currently between 1750 and 1800.
(2) Matrilineal descent is used among these tribes, and people of the same generation often refer to eachother and brothers and sisters.
(3) Subsistence farming is a common way of life among the Kavango people, and it is traditional to only grow enough food for a year. Trust is held in Nyambi (the creator) to provide for the people year to year.
The Kavango people run a cultural center called the Mbunza Living Museum.
(1) The Nama are the descendants of Herero prisoners of war that developed their own language and culture.
(2) Traditionally, the women of the Nama people had power among the people, and the household was considered to be owned by them. In that way, they developed a partnership with their husbands.
(3) Like many people that were introduced to Christianity, the Nama people practiced a mix of traditional religion and Christianity.
You can learn more about the Nama cultural group, Suide Maak Vrede.
(1) There are eight different Owambo tribes and each has its own dialect.
(2) Traditionally the Owambo traced their families through their mothers. More recently, this has slowly changed, with more assets being passed from a father to his children.
(3) The traditional religion of the Owambo people has a supreme god called Kalunga, although this entity is not actively involved in people’s lives. Ancestral spirits are believed to play a great role in the world of the living, however.
You can learn more about Owamboland!
(1) The San are the first people of southern Africa, and the lands encompassed by Namibia. They are also most likely the longest continuous line of humans on the planet, and their ancestors appear to have given rise to the rest of the humans on the planet.
(2) The San people have maintained a hunter gatherer lifestyle for thousands and thousands of years.
(3) Although they were the first to live in this part of Africa, the San have been discriminated against by other African groups and Europeans that migrated into their traditional lands.
If you’d like support the San people, check out Naankuse.