People & Culture
A mix of cultures
There are stark differences in wealth between Namibia’s white settlers and its indigenous peoples as a result of many years of apartheid. However, relations between the country’s different groups remain peaceful.
GamesGamesIn this video...the children of the SOS Children's Village at Windhoek demonstrate a traditional game.
The country’s largest ethnic group is the Ovambo (accounting for around half the population), with the Kavango, Herero, Damara, and Caprivian peoples all having significant populations.
Some of the country’s smaller groups of peoples – like the San (or Bushmen) in the east and the Himba in the north – still keep to their age-old nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles.
Among the San, men still hunt with bows and poison arrows, while women forage for edible plants, roots, wild fruits and berries across the Kalahari.
Himba men herd cattle and goats across the dry Kaokoveld region. In clothing and decoration, the Himba are very distinctive. They often wear animal-skins and the women adorn their hair and bodies with an ochre powder. As well as giving a striking red appearance, this helps protect the skin from the sun and insects.
With many unique and traditional groups, cultural tourism to Namibia is growing. However, this can have its dangers – see Tourism & Communications.
And a mix of languages
Fire on the mountainFire on the mountainIn this video...another traditional playground game is called 'Fire on the mountain'. Watch and see why.
English is the official national language, but few Namibians speak it as their mother-tongue. Oshivambo (the language of the Ovambo people) is the most widely-spoken local language. Others include the Kavango languages, Otjiherero (the language of the Herero), and Khoekhoe (of the Nama-Damara people).
Khoekhoe is one of the Khoisan languages in Africa. These are characterised by their clicking sounds. Spoken by around a quarter of a million Namibians, Khoekhoe is the only Khoisan language used by a large number of people.
Other click languages are spoken by much smaller groups of nomadic peoples and are therefore in danger of dying out.
Some Namibians also speak a little of either Afrikaans or German, because of the country’s historical links with Germany and South Africa – see History & Politics.
The influence of the missionaries
Lutheran missionaries came to Namibia in the 19th century from Germany (and also Finland). Some of Namibia’s peoples, such as the Ovambo tribes, held a belief in a superior being or deity. Therefore, conversion to Christianity became widespread.
The Victorian-style dress of certain women in Namibia reflects the influence of these 19th century missionaries. Herero women wear long patterned gowns with underskirts (see photo opposite). This style of dress came about because the missionaries were appalled by the semi-nakedness of the people. Now, the long skirts and headdresses have become the traditional style, though the women admit they get very hot.
While the vast majority of Namibians are Christian today, many practise elements of their traditional religions, centring round the belief in the spirits of ancestors.