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A kaleidoscope of people and cultures

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VIEWS

Namibia is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries. Just over 2.3 million people live in a country more than twice the size of Germany. The first signs of man in Namibia can be traced back to the Stone Age. The visitor experiences a kaleidoscope of 13 ethnicities, 29 languages, various cultures and ways of life.

The diversity of ethnic origins is fascinating to any visitor, varying from hunter-gatherers, herders and farmers to an urban population of semi- to highly-skilled inhabitants including traders, industrialists and other professionals. Herero, Nama, Damara, Ovambo, Kalahari San, Afrikaners, Basters, Kavango people, Caprivians and Namibians of European origin live peacefully side by side.

In 2007, Twyfelfontein was declared Namibia’s first UNESCO world heritage site. Rock engravings and paintings are silent evidence of the early hunter who inhabited this area, among them the San and the Damara. Today their ancient engravings and paintings, telling stories of bygone eras, can be viewed at Twyfelfontein and other sites.

Due to its perennial rivers and fertile grounds, the far north is home to most of Namibia’s population, and this region’s inhabitants are mainly Ovambo. The Ovambo people have historically lived in northern Namibia, and are part of the Bantu group. They constitute over half of Namibia’s population, and the main tribes are the Kwanyama (which means “eaters of meat”), Ndonga, Kwambi, Ngandjera, Kwaluudhi, Mbalantu and Nkolonkadhi. Each tribe has its own dialect but there are only two written languages: OshiNdonga and OshiKwanyama.

The Damaras originated from central Africa, moving southwards to settle in Namibia, where they encountered the Namas, also part of the Khoisan people who came from the South, as did the Basters and Afrikaners at different stages. The Hereros and Himbas are related and migrated from the Great Lakes region of Africa. These are just some of the diverse groups co-habiting in Namibia.

The Coloureds and Basters are people of mixed descent. The Basters identify themselves with the small town of Rehoboth, whereas the Coloureds have never inhabited a specific part of the country. The largest group of European descent are the Afrikaners who have moved to Namibia from South Africa, predominantly after World War 1. Another group Namibians of European descent, are German-speaking, who’s forefathers started settling in Namibia in the 1800’s.

The Kavango people make a living from fishing, cattle-farming and horticulture on wide fertile plains on both sides of the Kavango River. Five individual tribes of the Kavango stared settling on the Okavango River between 1750 and 1800. Most Caprivians live in Eastern Zambezi Region (formerly known as Caprivi) on the banks of the Zambezi, Kwanto, Linyanti and Chobe rivers. Land is cultivated, cattle are kept and fishing and hunting are further activities ensuring the livelihood of the Caprivians.

Herero women display their colourful Victorian dresses, Himbas keep to their traditional nomadic way of life in north-western Namibia and Nama and Damara people speak with distinctive clicks. The traditional food of Namibia usually includes thick porridge (“pap”). The German influence has spawned varieties of breads, meats, cakes and pastries. “Biltong” is also very popular, and is dried beef or game meat with creative seasoning.

It’s easy to start a conversation with a Namibian. The people are open to encounters with visitors from abroad. Whether you are in town or in rural areas, Namibians are easily approachable. A must for visitors wanting to experience the people of Namibia is a visit to a Namibian township or market. It is suggested, that you join a guided tour through one of the townships. This way interesting facts about Namibian history can be absorbed, colourful markets can be visited and local dishes can be tasted.

For further information regarding Namibia, contact the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) on (021) 422 3298.

Namibia Tourism Board