2) Communities and Identity

There are many different communities living in Namibia. Owambo, Kavango, Damara, Nama, Caprivi, San, Baster and Tswana all live in this country. Over time mixed relationships developed which gave birth to a new minority. Six percent of the population is white.

San Hunters Tracking Wildebeest on Nyae Nyae Pan
San Hunters Tracking Wildebeest on Nyae Nyae Pan

The San are the oldest people living here. They are also called Bushmen. Their love for music and dance is characteristic for them. The word ‘San’ means ‘outsider’. The name was given to them by their rivals, the Khoikhoi. This is why the San prefer to be called Bushmen.

The Nama
The Nama

The Nama live in the south. During the nineteenth century they arrived in Namibia. In the past they were also referred to as Hottentots. They used to live close to the River Orange, but the arrival of the diamond mines made them migrate to the north. They have a long tradition of oral poetry and storytelling. For these people too music forms an important part of their identity.

Two Owambo Ladies
Two Owambo Ladies

The most numerous of all are the Owambo. Almost half of the Namibian population belongs to this group. There are eight subtribes in Namibia. They all have their own kings and languages. Because the languages resemble one another, they are all classified as belonging to the Oshiwambo language family.

A Herero
A Herero

Despite the genocide of 1904 there still is a small group of Herero living in Namibia. These people are closely related to the Himba who also live in the country. Of old, the people of both groups are shepherds. Their languages, the Otjiherero and Zemba, are very similar. Originally, the Herero as well as the Himba wore few clothes. Nowadays the Himba women still wear a kind of small skirt. Herero women on the other hand, came to wear a Victorian-like dress because of their frequent contact with Europeans.

A Damara male
A Damara male

The Damara probably inhabited the area before the Nama and Herero arrived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Originally this group came from Zambia or Zimbabwe. Nowadays, more than one hundred thousand Damara live in Namibia.

The Caprivi people
The Caprivi people

The Baster live in Rehoboth, some ninety kilometres south of Windhoek. They derive from the European colonists, primarily the Dutch, and local African Khoisan communities. These communities actually consist of Khoikhoi and San. There are approximately 35 thousand Baster who live in an area of 14 thousand square kilometres. In the Caprivi region live the Caprivi communities. This is a generic term used for all the different tribes living here and may differ substantially among each other.

Namibia is the world’s most sparsely populated country, despite the large number of different tribes. Less than two million people inhabit Namibia. Most Namibians live in the rural areas.
There are as many languages in Namibia as there are different tribes. The official language is English. However, less than one percent of the population can speak English. The different groups use the African to communicate with each other. A considerable group speaks Nama and Damara, Herero and Kavango languages.

Christian Church in Lüderitz
Christian Church in Lüderitz

Apart from the traditional African religions, Christianity is widely spread in Namibia. Eighty to ninety percent of the population is adherent to this religion. Many Nama have converted to Islam. They are now the largest group of Muslims in Namibia.

Primitive, Native, Indigenous or Community Loss of Identification?

external links:

Ethnicity & Tribes vs. Nation Building

Journal of Southern African Studies

Tribe: Moving from Stereotypes to Analysis

War and identity in Angola (document)

The reinvention of primitve society: transformations of a myth

The ethics of tourism development

Me, White Man. You …

New Humanist: Return of the native

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