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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 European had known about Namibia 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, attracted by its huge sardine shoals, promptly annexed Walvis Bay.

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 per cent of the Herero population. The genocide was interrupted by the outbreak of World War 1 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 1950s, despite pressure from the UN, South Africa tightened its grip on Namibia leading to uprisings among the black population, as well as some whites, 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.

Did you know?

• Tourism accounts directly or indirectly for nearly 20 per cent of all jobs in Namibia.

• After Mongolia, Namibia has the second lowest population density of any country.

• Although the Namibian music industry is largely undeveloped, local folk music is popular as are Western music styles.

Namibia Culture

Religion in Namibia

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.

Social Conventions in Namibia

Thanks to the high number of religious believers, Namibians are on the whole a conservative people. As a result, homosexuality isn’t really understood and is barely tolerated, while modest clothes, although not expected, are appreciated. Generally though, Namibians are friendly, entertaining people who will deal with you politely and expect the same in return.

Western customs are generally accepted as the norm, so usual courtesies should be shown when meeting new people or visiting someone’s home. In rural areas, visitors should follow the advice of a local guide when it comes to indigenous etiquette. Giving a proper greeting is particularly important and those who are standoffish or blunt are regarded as extremely rude. Many can be fairly blunt themselves, particularly among straight-talking Afrikaaners.

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.