Namibians are a heterogeneous society of many cultures. The oldest inhabitants, the San, are great storytellers and love music, mimicry and dance. The Nama of the south also have a great oral tradition of poetry and prose and a natural talent for music. Eight Owambo sub-tribes live in Namibia, the largest being the Kwanyama. The most striking feature of the traditional Owambo social system is that of matrilineal descent. The Herero are a pastoral cattle-breeding people, whose women wear Victorian-style dresses adapted from the wives of Rhenish missionaries. The Himba women (of Herero descent) rub their bodies with a mixture of red ochre and fat, wear traditional body ornaments and garments, and have hairstyles that correspond to their age, sex and social status.
LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN NAMIBIA
English is the official language, but Namibia's relatively small population is extraordinarily diverse in language and culture. More than 11 languages are indigenous to Namibia but with its cosmopolitan society, languages from around the world are spoken in Namibia. People commonly speak two or three languages and more than 50% of the population speak Oshiwambo. Due to the country's colonial history Afrikaans, the language of the previous South African occupiers is still widely spoken and functions as the lingua franca in Namibia. Namibia has a small number of Khoisan speaking people, known as the Bushmen or San.
Indigenous languages are included in the school syllabus at primary level. From secondary level English is the medium of instruction. Among European languages spoken in Namibia are German, Portuguese, Spanish and French. According to the 2001 census figures the main indigenous languages are:
- Oshiwambo spoken by 48% of households
- Nama/Damara spoken by 11% of households
- Afrikaans spoken by 11 % of households
- RuKwangali spoken by 10% of households; and
- Otjiherero spoken by 8% of households.
PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA
The Bushmen (San) There are approximately 35 000 Bushmen in Namibia. Also referred to as the San, these hunter-gatherers are the earliest known inhabitants of Namibia. The Bushmen occupy only remote areas in eastern Namibia and the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. The wealth of Bushmen rock paintings and engravings found in mountains and hills throughout Namibia are proof of their former habitation of many parts of the country. The oldest of these date back 28 000 years. Examples are the famous White Lady painting of the Brandberg and the rich treasure house of rock engravings at Twyfelfontein.
(Visit the San People on our gallery)
Approximately 86 000 people live in the Caprivi (known as Caprivian's), on the north-eastern extension of Namibia which borders on Angola, Zambia and Botswana. Most Caprivian's are subsistence farmers who make their living on the banks of the Zambezi, Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe rivers. In addition to fishing and hunting, they keep cattle and cultivate the land. When the Zambezi and Chobe rivers come down in flood, more than half of Eastern Caprivi may be under water. During this period the Caprivian's use their mokoro (dugout canoes) to traverse the routes normally utilised by trucks and pedestrians.
Like the Basters, Namibia's Coloured community has its origins in the Cape Province of South Africa, although a large percentage is descendants from local intermixing. The Coloureds are genetically very similar to the Basters and they also speak Afrikaans as a home language. While a small group of Coloureds practise stock farming in the south of the country, most of them live in towns such as Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Lüderitz, Kalkveld and Karasburg. A fairly large community lives in Walvis Bay, where they are fishermen. The Coloureds are relatively well educated and are found in a wide range of professions such as the civil service, education and the building trade.
While there are only about 117 000 Damara in Namibia, they belong to one of the oldest cultural groups in the country. Today many Damara work on farms, in mines and in urban centres as teachers, clerics and officials. Some of Namibia's most eloquent politicians are Damara. In 1973 an area of approximately 4.7 million hectares was proclaimed as Damaraland, with Khorixas as the administrative capital. Today only a quarter of the total Damara population lives within the boundaries of this region, which became part of the Erongo Region after independence.
The Herero are a pastoral cattle-breeding people who migrated to Namibia several centuries ago.
According to oral tradition, they moved southwards from the great lakes of East Africa, crossed into present day Zambia and southern Angola, and arrived at the Kunene River in about 1550. After inhabiting Kaokoland for some 200 years, a large splinter group migrated further south. During the 19th century they moved eastwards, eventually establishing themselves in the northern-central areas of the country.
The colonial wars and Herero-German War of 1904-1907 resulted in a drastic decrease of the Herero population. Left without land and cattle, the survivors practically disintegrated as a group.
Despite the suppression of their traditional culture, confiscation of tribal lands and the restrictions of labour laws, the remaining Herero managed to keep their bonds of family life, tribal solidarity and national consciousness alive.
In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the wives of the missionaries, Herero women developed the voluminous Victorian-style dresses that the more traditional of them wear to this day. The distinctive headdress with its two points symbolizes cattle horns.
Today Herero speakers number of 130 000 with their language belonging to the Bantu group of languages.
The annual Herero Festival demonstrates this on Maharero Day on the 24th of August when various units of paramilitary organisations parade before their leaders in full dress through the streets of Okahandja.
Forming the border between Namibia and Angola for more than 400 km is the Okavango River, lifeline of the Kavango people. An estimated 183 000 Kavango's make a living from fishing, tending their cattle and cultivating sorghum, millet and maize. Closely related to the Owambo, the Kavango also originate from the large lakes of East Africa. The traditional economy in Kavango is based on a combination of horticulture and animal husbandry. Today thousands of young Kavango's work as migratory labourers on farms, in mines and in urban centres.
The only true descendants of the Khoikhoi in Namibia are the Nama, whose ancestors originally lived north and south of the Orange River. The Nama have much in common with the Bushmen, sharing their linguistic roots and to some extent their features. Numbering approximately 117 000, the Nama consist of thirteen Nama tribes or groups. Nama have a natural talent for music, poetry and prose. Nama women are highly skilled in sewing. Kaross floor rugs or blankets of sewn skins of domestic animals or antelopes are a speciality.
Owambo is a collective name for a number of tribes living in central northern Namibia and southern Angola. The people referred to collectively as the Aawambo live in central northern Namibia and southern Angola. In about 1550 migrations of these people, who have a common origin and culture, moved southwards from the Great Lakes in East Africa and settled between the Kunene and Okavango Rivers. Today four of the groups live in the Kunene Province in southern Angola and eight in northern Namibia, the latter representing just over half of Namibia's population.
The Owambo languages are Bantu in origin closely related to one another and commonly understood by Oshiwambo speakers.
While the majority of Namibia's Owambo live in the four so-called O regions, many have migrated southwards to other parts of the country.
Since 1870 Christianity has played a major role in the lives of the Owambo people.
Owambo houses are traditionally of the rondavels type, mostly surrounded by palisades and often connected by passages. The Owambo practice a mixed economy of agriculture and animal husbandry supplemented by fishing in shallow pools and watercourses called oshonas.
Traditional land is utilized according to traditional right of occupation usually acquired by payment of cattle to the 'owner' of the ward. Grazing and utilization of veld and bush products are communal but subject to the laws of the people.
Trading runs in the Owambo's blood, as is borne out by the more than 10 000 stalls, cuca shops and numerous locally owned shopping complexes in the region.
Large numbers of Oshiwambo people now work in other parts of the country and today's work forces in the mining industry consist primarily of Owambo people. Most senior civil servants and political leaders are Oshiwambo speakers.
The Owambo have always played an active role in politics, Namibia's ruling party SWAPO (South West African People's Organisation) started as a non-violet pressure group referred to as the Owambo People's Organisation. It was led by Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo and Samuel Shafiishuna Nujoma, the man destined to become the first president of an independent Namibia.
The Rehoboth Baster's
The Rehoboth Baster's originate from the first European settlers to the Cape, who came into contact with the indigenous Khoisan people and bore children with mixed blood origins called "coloureds" or "bastards". In 1868 a group of some 90 Baster families moved to Namibia from the Cape, eventually settling at the hot-water springs called Rehoboth. Today the Baster community consists of approximately 72 000 people. Their home language is Afrikaans and at their own request they are registered as Rehoboth Baster's. While they are traditionally stock and crop farmers, today many of them are involved in other sectors of the community, especially the building trade.
Described by anthropologists as the modern descendants of the oldest population group in Namibia, the Topnaar's are a hardy group of Nama people who have lived on the banks of the Kuiseb River for many years. Belonging to the Khoikhoi people, they speak the Nama language with its guttural clicks and high musical pitch.
Numbering approximately 7 800, the Tswana are the smallest cultural group in Namibia. They are related to the Tswana of Botswana and the Northern Cape Province. Namibia's Tswana live in a triangle, with a line between Epukiro and Aminuis in the east as its base and extending to Walvis Bay, its vertex, in the west. Most Tswana, however, live in the Gobabis district, where they are involved in farming, many of them having bought farms north and south of the town.
About 98 000 Namibians of European descent currently live in Namibia, of whom approximately two-thirds speak Afrikaans, one quarter German and the rest mostly English and, to a lesser extent, Portuguese. The majority of Whites live in the urban, central and southern parts of the country. English was selected as Namibia's official language and Afrikaans, the common vernacular language, was retired to a secondary position after serving with German as one of three official languages for some 60 years. Most of Namibia's Whites are involved in commerce, manufacturing, farming, and professional services and, to a diminishing extent, the civil service.