The southern Namibian Nama tribe

The southern Namibian Nama tribe and their culture

Lauded as fearsome fighters in precolonial times, they routinely fought wars with the neighbouring Herero over fertile grazing grounds dotted across parts of central Namibia. Some of these skirmishes dragged on for a large part of the 1800s. With this feisty trait in mind, it’s unsurprising that the Nama rose not once, but twice, in armed rebellion against German colonial rule.

 From 1904 to 1907, the Germans, who had colonised present-day Namibia, waged war against the Nama and the Herero (a group of Bantu pastoralists), leading to the Herero and Namaqua genocide in which they killed at least 80% of the Nama and Herero populations. The Nama are the only true descendants of the Khoekhoe left in Namibia. As pastoral nomads, the Nama traditionally had little need to build permanent structures. Their beehive-shaped rush-mat houses were ideally suited to their lifestyle. The concept of communal land ownership still prevails with all tribes, except for in just two tribes.

 Today most Nama live in permanent settlements. They have adopted western lifestyles and the Christian religion, and work within the formal economy. The Nama have much in common with the San. They are comparatively light in colour and generally short in stature, with certain distinctive characteristics, such as the women’s small and slender hands and feet. They also share their linguistic roots with the San, speaking with distinctive clicks. Aside these, the culture of the Nama people are quite distinct.

Nama people have a natural talent for music, poetry and prose. An example of a traditional dance is the well-known Nama stap. Numerous proverbs, riddles, tales and poems have been handed down orally from generation to generation. Nama praise poems range from impromptu love songs and formalised praise of heroic figures, to songs of the animals and plants in their environment. Nama women are highly skilled in needlework. Their embroidery and appliqué work, regarded as a traditional art form, consists of brightly coloured motifs inspired by the rural environment and lifestyles of the Nama people. The traditional patchwork dresses that the Nama women wear are especially typical.

The traditional dress of Nama women consists of long, formal dresses that resemble Victorian traditional fashion. The long, flowing dresses were developed from the style of the missionaries in the 1800s, and this traditional clothing is today an integral part of the Nama nation’s culture. This influence on the dressing is due to the fact that most of the indigenous people have largely abandoned their traditional religion through the sustained efforts of Christian (and now Muslim) proselytisers. The majority of the Nama people in Namibia today are therefore Christian while Nama Muslims make up a large percentage of the Namibia’s Muslims.

The white flag indicates marriage arrangements are in place. Namas have a complicated wedding ritual and this is one of the cultures of the people that have remained sustained. The Nama people have remained an integral part of Namibia, an interesting set of people who you should get to see. 

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