The History of Culture in Namibia

Origins of Namibia Culture

The culture of Namibia is very diverse and it dates back thousands of years. It starts with the migrating tribes that make up the diverse local cultures. Then leads to the German colonization and the liberation and independence of the country in 1990.

Germany Colonizes SW Africa (Namibia)

Shark Island Namibia

Herero Concentration Camp

There was a German trader named Adolf Luderitz that was very influential. In 1883, he advised Otto von Bismark, the German Chancellor to claim the area of SW Africa for Germany. This is due to his fear that the British would soon declare the area to be a British protectorate. In 1884, Bismark followed this advice and declared German South West Africa to be a colony of the German empire.

Fierce Resistance from Local Tribes

Bismark then deployed German troops to the new colony. They met fierce resistance from the local tribes such as the Herero and the Namaqua. To cope with the situation Germany sent 14,000 additional troops. The Germans now decisively crushed the tribal rebellion in the Battle of Waterberg in 1905.

Germans Eliminate Tribal Resistance In Namibia

The Germans instituted similar tactics as the US government did against American Indians. It was basically a war of attrition that resulted in the deaths of thousands of local Namibian tribal members.

The US army shot and eliminated the American Buffalo. Which was a the main food source of the American Indians. In SW Africa, the German troops restricted access to the local water supplies. In the desert the water source is obviously very important for survival. This resulted in the tragic event known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.

As a result it is estimated that between 24,000 and 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Namaqua were killed. The deaths made up approximately 50-70% of the local Herero population and about 50% of the local Namaqua population.

Herero Graveyard Photo - Swakupmund, Namibia

Photo of Herero Graveyard outside of Swakopmund, Namibia

With the defeat and pacification of the local tribes the German population surged in 1910. Many of their descendants are still in there to this day. In fact, I rented property from a German couple in Swakopmund that are the descendants of original colonists.

Christ Church Windhoek Namibia

Christ Church in Windhoek Namibia was opened in 1910. It commemorates the end of the wars between the German Colonists and the local Namibia tribes. It was dedicated as the “Church of Peace”.

The Germans Relinquish Control of Namibia

Kolmanskop Ghost Town

Colonial Ghost Town at Kolmanskop.

After WW I the Germans were forced to relinquish control of SW Africa and in 1920 it came under the administration of the British Commonwealth of South Africa.

Nonetheless, the road to independence would still be long and hard for modern day Namibia. With the help of intense international political pressure they were able to overcome prolonged resistance from the South African troops occupying SW Africa.

Finally in 1990, Namibia achieved its independence. Namibian independence day is March 21 1990. In modern times it is still possible to visit and experience the distinct cultural practices of the local tribes.

The San Bushman In Namibia

The San (also known as the Bushman) still use tools today from as far back as 44,000 BCE. A set of these very tools was discovered in South Africa at the Border Cave in KwaZulu-Natal province in 2012.

In addition, the San hunters are widely recognized as the best animals trackers in the world. The San were traditionally semi nomadic. Although they have mostly switched to a non nomadic lifestyle at the behest of the government.

It is still possible to visit the San today and witness and learn about their traditional lifestyle.

The Himba Tribe In Namibia

The Himba are probably the most photogenic of all the African tribes. The reside predominantly in Northern Namibia and the population is approximately 50,000. They are considered to be the last semi nomadic people in Namibia.

Due to extreme scarcity of water in Namibia, the Himba cover their skin with the traditional paste called otijize.  This is a mixture of butterfat and ochre. It keeps the skin clean over long periods of time and gives their skin a reddish color. The Himba believe the otijize characterizes their idea of beauty, symbolizing the earth’s rich red color and the blood of life. It really is quite visually striking and I have included pictures from my trip so you can see for yourself.

Photo of Himba woman and child - Namibia

Photo of Himba Woman with her children. She is wearing the traditional red otijize paste on her skin. – Photo Taken Near Etosha

The Herero of Namibia

Maasai Culture

East Africa Cultural Tour

The Herero are traditionally a cattle herding pastoral ethnic group that originally immigrated from East Africa. Their language is part of the Bantu language group. The Herero population in Namibia numbered about 250,000 in 2013, and there are smaller groups of Herero to be found in Botswana and also Angola.

The Namaqua of Namibia

The Nama also traditionally known as the Namaqua are also a pastoral ethnic group that populate Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Their traditional language is part of the Khoe-Kwadi language group and a lot of Nama also speak Afrikaans. Many Nama clans populate Central Namibia and also Namaqualand which today is near the border with South Africa.

The Herero and the Namaqua Rivalry

 The Herero had begun arriving in Namibia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then Nama began migrating from South Africa in the 1900s. The Nama had brought guns with them which were purchased from the white merchants in South Africa.

The Nama and the Herero originally were competitors for land in Namibia. This led to bitter warfare between the two groups. The rivalry between the two groups lasted most of the 19th century until they found a common enemy in the German Colonists.

The war with the Germans ended very badly for both the Namaqua and the Herero as I described above and today the two groups try and find cultural common ground rather than cultural differences.




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