A simple insight on the ethnic people in Namibia

Namibia was originally inhabited by nomadic hunters, gatherers, and pastoralists (livestock herders), the ancestors of today’s Bushman and Khoi-speaking people. Agriculturalists and pastoralists speaking Bantu languages, such as the Owambo and Herero, arrived in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries and settled throughout northern and central Namibia. This beautiful African country of Namibia was founded in 1990 after it won independence from the Apartheid War hosted by South Africa. Namibia’s population density is considered to be the second lowest in regards to the population worldwide, leading to the statistics of having significant land surface area per person – per hectare. Tribes and cultures have inhabited the area since ancient times and Bantu- speaking tribes began arriving in the 14th century AD. Following where the German colonizers who began developing agriculture and infrastructure in the region during the 1800’s until the first World War conflict in 1915 when South Africa took over its administration. The current population of Namibia is estimated at around 2.4 million, and this is made up of several different tribes, ethnic groups and the new influx of Asians/Chinese. The general ethnicity is relevant in Namibian politics although it is – as everywhere globally – a complicated and unstable issue with constant regroupings and changing tribal and cultural identities. The indigenous people living Namibia is estimated make-up about 11% of the total population and reside in various regions throughout the country, including the Kalahari Desert, the entire stretch of the Kunene region and a great part of the southern part of Namibia. (First Image above showing three Herero Ladies with traditional Dress – photo by the Telegraph)

     + Selected Namibian Tribes and Ethnicities

Herero Group

Image above shows the traditional dress code for Herero Ladies – photo by I Dream Africa

One of the biggest groups with an estimate of Namibia’s population counting for 8% of the total population is made up of the Herero group. Records show that this ethnic group has historically inhabited the central part of the country for its vast pastureland. This geographic separation meant that the Herero did not have much interaction with the mentioned Ovambo and Kavango people which are being listed below. This group is originally from the eastern part of the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were later followed by the Nama Tribe, which make up approx. 5 to 6% of the population.

Kavango People

Image above of a Kavango gathering – photo by Roman Catholic Missionary Museum

The Kavango people of Namibia make up an estimate of 9 to 10% of the total Namibian population. This ethnic group is also a Bantu group, and they live along the northeastern region of Namibia. They practice fishing, livestock raising, and agricultural harvesting for subsistence. Namibian law protects their right to practice their traditional government which divides the group into five kingdoms each ruled by a separate king. Their customs place a lot of respect towards elders.

Damara People

Image above of a Damara male gathering – photo by Wikipedia

Another ethnic group are the Damara people which comprise about 6 to 7% of the population and live in the northwestern part of Namibia. Their native language is registered as “Khoekhoe”. Very little else is known about the Damara ethnic group. Their behaviour traits show that this group generally has no relationship with other tribes and are believed to have descended from a tribe of hunter-gatherers (San). They once practised ancient methods of coppersmithing, herding, and agricultural in the central part of Namibia.

Ovambo People

Image above showing Ovambo Ladies with beautiful traditional garments – photo by Alkebulan Movement

About half of the Namibian population is made up of the Ovambo people (also referred to as Ambo) who mainly inhabit the northern part of the country. The Ovambo group consists of approximately 12 smaller tribes and is part of the larger Bantu people. Traditionally, the Ovambo people have lived under the guidance of a tribal chief who assigned selected pieces of land to each family. When the tenant died, the chief assigned the land to a new tribe member. Up to this day, the Ovambos generally live by harvesting millet (a type of grain) and raising livestock (cattle, goats etc.). The most common religion is the Lutheran faith although it is mixed with traditional beliefs in good and bad spirits. Nature religion practices still have a strong following in many Ovambo groups.

White Namibian

Image above showing white farmer having a discussion – photo by the Economist

In general, white Namibians are people of European birth or descent living in Namibia. The majority of white Namibians are Afrikaners (locally born or of South-African descent), with a large minority being Namibian Germans (descended from Germans who colonised Namibia in the late 19th century). Many are also Portuguese or English immigrants. The Portuguese minority has established in Namibia because of the bordering country of Angola. Current estimates of the white Namibian population run between 74,000 and 102,000. This discrepancy in data is because the Namibian government (SWAPO) no longer collects data based on race.

Minority Groups

Image above showing a gathering of San/Bushmen – photo by Afrizim

Other tribes and ethnicities live in Namibia though they make up a small percentage of the population. These include the: Busmen/San (2 to 3%), Tswana (1%), Caprivian (4 to 5%) and other groups that make up less than 1% each.

     + For a deeper insight have a look at the two linked .pdf documents below:

• Minorities in Independent Namibia By James Suzman (40 pages)

• Draft white paper on the rights of indigenous peoples in Namibia (54 pages)

     + The .pdf Documents includes diverse outlines like:

• Historical context

• Constitutional and legal rights of minorities in independent Namibia

• Government and governance

• Minority rights issues

• Discrimination

• International Treaties and Laws

• Diverse Objectives

• Map layouts

• Labour Rights and Livelihood Options

…just to name a few…

     + Great outside links for even more Information:

• A full outline about Namibia provided by the “Countries and Culture online Platform”

• A first-hand account blog post from the authors of “Full Suitcase” visiting Indigenous Tribes in Namibia ( excellent read )

• A social, business and political analysis regarding white Namibians with a listing of selected individuals – by WikiWand

• Excellent outline of the indigenous people of Namibia – provided by IWIGIA

Image above shows a simple displacement of Namibian Groups/Tribes – image by Peace Corps

Please Note that this Blog Post is just a quick insight from some ethnic Groups currently living in Namibia. Some Groups which are not explained here are the Rehoboth Basters or the Tswana’s. But we will touch base on these individual Groups in a future Blog post. But please have a look at the mentioned links and .pdf Documents for a more thorough understanding of the diversity regarding the study, culture, lifestyle and tradition of each mentioned and non-mentioned culture residing within Namibia.

     + Some other past Blog Post with similar field of interest:

• Everything about Namibia’s Caprivi Strip

• Typical Farm life in Namibia

• The Bushmen (San People)

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