A MELTING POT OF CULTURE
Celebrate Namibia series
“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”
– Mahatma Gandhi.
There is a philosophical concept pioneered in our neighbouring country South Africa, but celebrated across the African continent, known as ubuntu. The meaning of the term, derived from various Nguni Bantu groups that make up many of the cultures in southern Africa, roughly translates into humanity. The phrase also represents the quintessential African belief system of “I am because we are”, or the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.
Although we do not have a unique word for it in Namibia, it is a concept and philosophy very much ingrained in the fibre of our own cultural make-ups. The lack of a central word is perhaps due to the fact that Namibia is home to 13 different ethnic cultures and over 16 different languages and dialects. We are a small nation, with only approximately 2.5 million inhabitants dispersed across our vast 824,268 km2 of land, but we are incredibly diverse. Namibia is a melting pot of cultures.
Each culture has its own interesting elements, traditions, fashions and nuances, though perhaps the Ovahimba and the San people are most noted by international audiences.
The Ovahimba are thought to be the world’s last true nomads. Living in Namibia’s remote north-western Kunene Region, formerly known as Kaokoland, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists who migrate with their cattle in search of grazing and water. Despite the modern influences they have been exposed to in the past few decades, they have largely retained their traditional way of life. The Ovahimba live in semi-
permanent settlements throughout the Kunene Region. Tall, slender and statuesque, they are characterised especially by their proud and friendly bearing. The women are known for their sculptural beauty, enhanced by intricate hairstyles, beautiful skin and traditional adornments.
Considered to be the only truly indigenous people of southern Africa, the San were dubbed the Bushmen by early European visitors and settlers. They are the earliest known inhabitants of Namibia and belong to the Khoesan people. Generally short in stature, they have light yellowish-brown skins, while their language, which differs among the various groups, is characterised by numerous click sounds.
The San in Namibia are divided into five main groups, each group with its own history, customs and language. The area which is most frequently associated with the San people was formerly known as Bushmanland. The Ju/’hoansi of eastern Bushmanland have retained some of their ancient land and to some extent still pursue their original way of life by gathering veld food and hunting with traditional weapons.
Though modernity finds its way into all walks of life, those ancient and truly unique cultures and lifestyles survive despite all odds. In Namibia, the intricacies and the historical value of cultural tradition and traditional knowledge are revered and celebrated. We are a diverse population, yet we celebrate these differences and emphasise the importance of preserving them. I am because we are. We are Namibian.