Have a closer look at that N$50 bank note as you hand it over to pay for your meals, curios or accommodation in Namibia. The face which appears on several Namibian bank notes is that of Hendrik Witbooi, much admired leader of the Nama people during the first liberation struggle.
Today, there are 13 tribes of about 60 000 Nama people spread throughout Namibia. Thought to be the only true descendants of the Khoikhoi, their language shares the same roots. Like the San, they are light skinned, slightly built people.
The Nama originally hail from the area around the Orange River in Southern Namibia but were steadily driven northward by European farmers. In the mid-nineteenth century their leader, Jan Jonker Afrikaner led them to greener pastures in the area of Windhoek.
Here they came into conflict with the Herero people and German colonists and were eventually resettled them in reserves set aside specifically for them.
Originally nomadic cattle herders, this resettlement put paid to the Nama’s wandering ways, but some aspects of their culture do remain. Most of the Nama still subscribe to communal land ownership and their rich tradition of poetry, music and dance continues.
Many wonderful proverbs, riddles and poems have been passed on from generation to generation. Their tales and songs celebrate heroic figures, animals and plants and form a vital part of their society. The great majority of them practice Christianity and few are Muslims, having been converted from their original ethnic religion by missionaries.
The Nama people are highly skilled artisans, so their handiwork is highly prized. They produce embroidery, applique work, leather work, karosses, mats, jewellery, flutes, clay pots and tortoiseshell items of outstanding quality and beauty.
Traditionally, the Nama women dress in long formal attire of the Victorian era, which has become an integral part of their cultural identity.
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