World Cultures/Culture in Africa/Culture of Namibia

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Culture in Namibia is a blend of many different people and its culture and customs have absorbed both African and European elements and fused them into a blend of the two. The Namibian majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people, however, that cultural tradition survive most strongly. With just 2.1 persons per square kilometer and a population of 2.5 million, Namibia's different cultures span an impressively diverse population for what is a sparsely populated country.

From the Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero tribes (the latter of which are admired for their colorful Victorian dress) to the Damara minorities and nomadic San Bushmen, Namibia boasts cultural and historical flavor in spades. German colonization left its own imprint on this Southern African nation with German being a widely spoken language today and German architecture and cuisine featuring prominently. Namibia's diverse and, at times, harsh climate contributed to its colorful history with skirmishes, international and national, reflected in much of its modern history. Around 50 percent of Namibians belong to the Ovambos, most of whom live in the northern regions of the country. Although Finnish missionaries turned most of the Ovambo into practicing Christians, specifically Lutherans, many still follow traditional customs. Families still live in homesteads, groups of huts enclosed by wooden fence poles. Each hut serves a particular purpose as a bedroom, kitchen, or storage room.

The descendants of Southern African migrants also call Namibia their home. They are the Khoisan people, a mixture of the Namaqua and San cultures. The Namaqua put great importance on music, dance, and story-telling, all of which have been passed down orally from generation to generation. They are also known for their crafts such as sheepskin cloaks, clay pots, leather work, jewelry, and musical instruments, specifically reed flutes. The San, on the other hand, are the original people of Namibia. They are one of the 14 ancestral population clusters from which all modern humans are thought to have evolved. What unites the Khoisan is their language, which comprises of clicking sounds, distinct from any other African language.

Religious Culture

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Religion in Namibia is dominated by various branches of Christianity, with more than 90 % of Namibian citizens identifying themselves as Christian. According to the United States DRL, in 2007 up to 75% were Protestant, including as much as 50% Lutheran. According to the Namibia Demographic and Health Surveys (2013), the proportions are:

  1. 65.1% Protestant (43.7% Lutheran, 4.4% Seventh-day Adventist, 17.0% Anglican or other Protestant denomination);
  2. 22.8% Roman Catholic;
  3. 10.5% a non-Christian religion (primarily African traditional religions, Sunni Islam, Buddhism);
  4. 1.5% unaffiliated or irreligious.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The US government received no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice in 2007. Islam in Namibia is subscribed to by about 9,000 people,many of them Nama.[1]Namibia is home to a small Jewish community of about 100 people.[2]

Ethnic Groups

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Namibians are of diverse ethnic origins. The principal groups are the Ovambo, Kavango, Herero, Himba, Damara, mixed-race (Coloured and Rehoboth Baster), White Namibians (Afrikaner, German, Swedish, British, and Portuguese), Nama, Caprivian (Lozi), San, and Tswana. The Coloureds and Basters share similar genealogical origins and cultural attributes (such as home language) but nonetheless maintain distinctly separate communal identities, as do most white Namibians and black Namibians, respectively. By formal estimations, there are 11 ethnic groups in Namibia, although realistically each of these is actually a collection of smaller ethnic groups that share similar languages and customs.

The minority white population is primarily of South African, British, and German descent, with a few Portuguese. About 60% of the whites speak Afrikaans (a language derived from the 17th century Dutch), 32% speak German, and 7% speak English.The Ovambo make up about half of Namibia's people. The Ovambo, Kavango, and East Caprivian peoples, who occupy the relatively well-watered and wooded northern part of the country, are settled, farmers and herders. Historically, they have shown little interest in the central and southern parts of Namibia, where conditions do not suit their traditional way of life.


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During the apartheid regime in Namibia, the three languages of English, German, and Afrikaans were designated as the official languages of Namibia. However, after Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, the new government of the country allowed only the English language as the official language and mentioned the same in the constitution of the country. The language is now used in the government administration of the country and is the medium of instruction in schools and universities. However, the schools of Namibia are facing a shortage of teachers proficient in the English language, and a report reveals that 98% of the country’s teachers lack sufficient training in the language.

The most widely spoken languages used in households are Oshiwambo dialects, by 49% of the population, Khoekhoegowab by 11%, Afrikaans by 10%, RuKwangali by 9%, and Otjiherero by 9%[3]. Other native languages include the Bantu languages Setswana, Gciriku, Fwe, Kuhane, Mbukushu, Yeyi; and the Khoisan Naro, ǃXóõ, Kung-Ekoka, ǂKxʼauǁʼein and Kxoe. English, the official language, is spoken by 3% of people as their native language. Portuguese was spoken by 4–5% of the total population, i.e. 100,000 people, made up mostly of the Angolan community in 2014. The number of Angolans in Namibia declined from 2014 to 2015. The economic crisis in the neighboring country affected the numbers. Among the white population, 60% speak Afrikaans, 32% German, 7% English, and 1% Portuguese.


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Greetings are especially important to Namibians. Namibians tend to be indirect communicators. Conversations almost always begin with a hello and how are you doing. It is generally considered impolite to just rush into trying to obtain the specific information you need. Extended greetings and handshakes are very important in most Namibian cultures. When food and drink are offered, it is polite to accept. There is a general emphasis on emotional restraint in public, and public displays of affection between spouses or lovers are frowned upon, especially in rural areas.

Along with a curtsy, another traditional show of respect is for the greeter to shake with his or her right hand while at the same time touching their right elbow with their left hand. The curtsy and the elbow touch performed together are very common in the northern regions, especially the rural areas. It is considered common courtesy to greet people in. It is considered disrespectful to not greet people. When entering a room for a meeting, you should greet everyone with a handshake if possible, before sitting down. When asking someone in a public establishment for help (i.e. directions, prices, etc.), always greet first and ask how they are before proceeding to business. Often after shaking someone’s hand, Namibians will continue to hold on to each other’s hand while conversing, especially if the two people are friends with one another.

When shaking someone's hand especially when its an elder, males are required to nod their heads while females are required to bend their knees a little bit as a form of respect.

Family Structures and Marriages

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In Namibian, Most households are not nuclear families but contain otherkin as well. The head of the household manages domestic finances, makes important decisions, and organizes productive activities. Parents receive substantial help with child-rearing from other family members. It is not unusual for children to live with other relatives if the parents have work obligations, the child needs to be closer to school, or a relative needs a child's help. Most boys and girls attend primary school, although sometimes they stay at home to help with the livestock or crops.

Corporate kin groups are formed by ties traced through women (matrilineal), men (patrilineal), or both (bilateral), depending on ethnicity. These kin groups provide a support network for their members and control joint property, especially livestock; in the past, they also played significant roles in political and religious affairs. There has been a general shift from matrilineal to patrilineal. For example, wives and children in matrilineal communities can now assert rights to the property of deceased husbands and fathers, which has been traditionally inherited by the man's matrilineal relatives (his siblings and sisters' children).

In a Namibian culture, the wealth of a family is measured by how much cattle it has, and families live a semi-nomadic life, following grazing and water sources for their livestock. In the rural communal areas, men and boys generally care for livestock, build and maintain homesteads, plow fields, and contribute some agricultural labor, while women and girls do most of the agricultural labor, food preparation, childcare, and household work.


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Weddings are extremely important social events in Namibia, bringing family and friends together to sing, dance, and feast. Most weddings combine old and new elements. Many Owambo couples, for example, say their vows in a church ceremony accompanied by identically-dressed bridesmaids and groomsmen, then exit to a crowd of guests shouting praises, dancing, and waving horsetail whisks.

According to the Marriage Act 25 of 1961 (SA), Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, color, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, creed, or social or economic status shall have the right to marry and to found a family. They shall be entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.[3]


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Namibian literature before independence was really more an extension of the South African or German literary scene. After independence, at least initially, there was a movement to publish “Namibian” books and create a true “Namibian literature”. That impetus has since eased off a bit. And Most literature in the indigenous languages consists of traditional tales, short stories, and novels written for schoolchildren. Published fiction, poetry, and autobiographical writings appear in both the English and Afrikaans languages.

The National Theatre of Namibia serves as a venue for both Namibian and foreign musicians and stage actors, in addition to assisting community-based drama groups. School and church groups create and stage less formal productions. Traditional dance troupes representing the various ethnic groups of Namibia perform at local and national festivals and holiday celebrations and also participate in competitions. Many craftspeople produce objects for local use and the tourist trade; wood carvings (containers, furniture, animals) from the Kavango and basketry from Owambo are the best-known examples. Some craftspeople have formed organizations to assist each other with production and marketing.

Namibia has large numbers of rock art sites scattered across the country, especially rock engraving sites. The best-known rock art areas are the Brandberg Massif in Damaraland (2697m – mainly painting sites), and Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage rock art site, also in Damaraland. Both of these sites are in the Erongo region in northwestern Namibia. Another important painting area is the Erongo Mountains southeast of the Brandberg.

One of the richest rock painting areas/sites in the subcontinent, the Brandberg has large numbers of sites scattered across its 750 sq km which are mostly the work of ancestral Bushman/San hunter-gatherers and may be up to 2,000 years old or more in some cases. Meanwhile, Twyfelfontein is one of the most important rock engraving sites in southern Africa.The most celebrated rock painting is The White Lady rock painting, located on a panel, also depicting other artwork, on a small rock overhang, deep within Brandberg Mountain. The giant granite monolith located in Damaraland and called 'The Brandberg' is Namibia's highest mountain. The painting's German name is Weiße Dame


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In the precolonial period, indigenous cuisine was characterized by the use of a very wide range of fruits, nuts, bulbs, leaves, and other products gathered from wild plants and by the hunting of wild game. The domestication of cattle in the region about two thousand years ago by Khoisan groups enabled the use of milk products and the availability of meat. However, during the colonial period, the seizure of communal land in Namibia helped to discourage traditional agriculture and reduced the extent of land available to indigenous people.

For agriculturalists, the staple foods are millet and sorghum; for pastoralists, dairy products. Beans and greens are eaten with millet in the north, but otherwise few vegetables are grown or consumed. Hunting and gathering, more important in the past, still provides a dietary supplement for some. Meat is highly desired and eaten. Important occasions are marked by the slaughter of cattle or goats, and the consumption of meat, home-brewed beer, purchased beverages, and other foods. In some cultures, leftover meat is sent home with the guests.

Food in Namibian Cultures:

  • oshifima ( Mahangu porridge )
  • Omutete ( traditional spinach)
  • Ombidi ( traditional spinach)
  • Oshikundu ( traditional drink )
  • Omalodu ( traditional breweries that are mostly made for Occasions or Celebrating. )
  • Tripe (Afval)-This is a type of edible offal from the stomachs of ruminants (e.g. oxen, sheep, goats). This dish is usually prepared as a curry.


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Culture can also be seen in the clothing that they wear. Women in different areas of Namibia do dress differently from each other. Some women wear traditional clothing while others wear Victorian-styled clothing because of the influence of the missionaries in the area. Herero women wear traditional style clothing and dress with traditional jewelry. You can also tell that one woman is different in rank by just observing their hairstyles. A certain hairstyle can tell you the age and social status of the woman in society. What makes the Himba people unique and immediately recognizable is their appearance and especially the result of a paste that women rub on their bodies and make them look like terracotta statues.

Further reading

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  1. "Islam in Namibia, making an impact". Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  2. "Namibia: Virtual Jewish History Tour". Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  3. Marriage Act, 1961 | Namibia Legal Information Institute