Namibia History, Language and Culture

History of Namibia

Namibia’s prehistory dates back more than 750,000 years, when the first settlers moved in to brave the hostile Namib and Kalahari heat. Although the earliest people were basic hunter-gatherers, the Boskop – ancestors of the San people – had developed a structured society more than 20,000 years before the birth of Christ, making it one of the world’s oldest civilisations.

Sadly for the Boskop and the San who followed, their period of dominance was not to last with Bantu and Khoikhoi agriculturalists moving in and displacing them. Later, during the 16th century, the Herero people arrived from the Zambezi Valley, followed in the 19th century by a new Bantu group, the Owambo, who settled along the Kunene and Okavango rivers.

Although Namibia had been known to Europeans since 1486, when Portuguese Captain Diago Cão sailed along the coast as far as Cape Cross, it wasn’t until the 17th century when Dutch settlers from Cape Colony (now South Africa) began to take an interest. In 1844, the first German settlers appeared, followed by the British who promptly annexed Walvis Bay, thanks to its huge sardine shoals.

German colonisation proper began with Lüderitz and quickly extended outwards and upwards to include the whole of Namibia, barring Walvis Bay which remained in British hands. Settlement began as the Nama-Herero wars raged, giving the Germans the opportunity to sweep in and take over. Then followed one of the darkest periods in Namibia’s history: the German extermination of nearly 80% of the Herero population. Happily for the Herero, WW1 intervened and from 1918 onwards, Namibia became a British protectorate overseen by the South Africa.

Although South Africa became fully independent in 1967, Namibia did not and as a result, the full force of apartheid was visited on the country. Throughout the 50s, despite pressure from the UN, South Africa tightened its grip on Namibia leading to uprisings among the black (and some white) population and the eventual formation of SWAPO (South West African Peoples Organisation). SWAPO spent the next 30 years battling to rid Namibia of the South African occupiers, at one point asking for help from Cuba. In 1988, a ceasefire was negotiated between SWAPO, Cuba and South Africa and independence followed two years later.

Namibia Culture

Religion

Christians make up 80-90% of the Namibian population, of which 50% are Lutheran. Other denominations include Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Dutch Reformed and Mormon. Between 10 and 20% hold indigenous beliefs. The Muslim and Jewish populations are tiny with the two religions making up less than 3% of Namibian believers.

Language in Namibia

English is Namibia’s official language but is the mother tongue of just 7% of the population. Until 1990, Afrikaans and German were also official languages but have since been demoted to two of the country’s many ‘recognised’ languages. Others include Rukwangali, Silozi, Setswana, Damara/Nama, Herero and Oshiwambo.

Edited by Jane Duru
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