Namibia is incredibly culturally diverse, with 11 different ethnic groups from the San people, one of the worlds oldest cultural groups to the Himba people, to the Nama people in Southern Namibia and the Owambo people in Northern Namibia to name a few. Cultural interactions are a major draw for many visitors to Namibia, and whilst some of our cultural groups are more intriguing to our visitors they all have their own distinct traditions, language and customs that are worth taking the time to get to know.
The North Western region of Namibia, also known as Kaokoland, is home to the nomadic groups of proud Himba people who still choose to live a nomadic and traditional lifestyle. The Himba are semi-nomadic pastoralists characterized by their proud yet friendly bearing. The Himba are easily identified by their very unique appearance, and are one of the most sought after tribes for cultural interactions because of their resistance to modernization.
The San, also known as the Bushman people are hunters and gathers that have the most intricate understanding of living off the land. This knowledge has that has been passed on from generation to generation for the last 20,000 years and this couldn’t be more evident than the incredible collection of rock art, both paintings and etchings scattered across Namibia. These days, the San people are found scattered through the Kalahari Desert in both Namibia and Botswana, and continue to try and survive in the modern world whilst trying to retain their traditions and culture.
The Owambo people are Namibia’s dominant cultural group, coming from Owamboland in the north of Namibia on the border with Angola. This region is littered with traditional villages and the whilst many young Owambo people thrive in modern day Namibia, they still retain their cultural identity and traditions and return to ‘the north’ often to partake in traditional events like planting, harvesting, weddings and funeral. The Owambo people are known for their unique traditional foods, particularly mopane worms and Owambo spinach so make sure you make time to give them a taste if you get the opportunity.
The Herero people are easily identified in their traditional dress with the women wearing bright heavily layered dresses inspired by missionaries from the early 1900’s with a headdress inspired buy their most prized possession, their cattle. Mostly found scattered through central Namibia, the Herero people are pastoralist and like the Himba, their wealth is measured in cattle.
The Nama people of southern Namibia are of Khoi Khoi descent and share many similarities with the San people, their lighter complexions and their linguistic roots, speaking with clicks that quickly stirs interest for foreign tourists. Similar to the Herero women, then Nama women radiate in their brightly coloured traditional dresses.
The Damara people, similar in language to the Nama, come traditional from Damaraland in the north west, in communal lands that are famed for their free roaming wildlife. The Damara people share a language with the Nama, although their traditional lands a fairly separate it’s not really known how this came about. These days, more than 75% of the Damara population have moved into urban areas to seek education and employment.
The Kavango people of Namibia are closely related to the Owambos. Their traditional lands are around the Rundu area, where they make a living from a mix of cattle farming, fishing as well as wood carving. Much of the wooden souvenirs found in Namibia come from this region of Namibia.
The Baster people of Rehoboth identify as a unique tribe, and are proud of their interesting cultural heritage. A mix of Nama and German heritage, this tribe started with many babies being born to Namibian women and German soldiers. As these relationships weren’t something the Germans were openly proud of at the time, the children were born out of wedlock and hence the name stuck. After 100 years of settlement in Rehoboth, the Baster people are proud Afrikaans speaking Namibians who still call the Rehoboth area home.
Originating in the Cape Province of South Africa, Namibia’s Coloured community shares many similarities in terms of appearance and language, both speaking Afrikaans, with the Rehoboth Basters. They are a people of mixed race, who struggled to find their place during the apartheid era as they weren’t included by either the black community, or the white Afrikaans community. These days, they reside mostly in the big cities of Namibia with no real traditional homeland.
The Caprivians, like the Kavangos, are considered to be river people, residing in the far north east of the country, in the now named Zambezi region. Their main source of income comes from both cattle farming and fishing. Making up the smallest cultural group is the relatively small community of white Namibians, comprising of a mix of Afrikaans, German and English speaking Namibians. Mostly found in major cities such as Windhoek and Swakopmund and running a large majority of private companies in central Namibia.