The Nama – Denizens of the south

The Damara – An enigmatic race
March 14, 2017
Facts on the environment in Namibia #3
March 16, 2017
The Damara – An enigmatic race
March 14, 2017
Facts on the environment in Namibia #3
March 16, 2017

The only true descendants of the Khoekhoe in Namibia are the Nama, whose ancestors originally lived north and south of the Orange River. Eight Nama tribes were already living north of the river when Jager (father of Jan Jonker) and Jonker Afrikaner crossed it with the Afrikaner tribe. The Afrikaners and four other tribes represent the so-called Oorlam group, which entered the country during the nineteenth century. Pushed continuously northwards by a rapidly advancing white farming community, the Nama, led by the famous Jan Jonker Afrikaner, settled further north in the southern and central parts of the country.

Another important Nama chief was the nephew of Jonker Afrikaner, Hendrik Witbooi, who was an early resistance leader against European colonisation. His face is portrayed on the Namibian dollar note, and a statue, erected in his honour in the Parliament Gardens in Windhoek, stands among other statues of historical figures.

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 the =|Aonin or Topnaars, whose !nara fields are the property of individual lineages. 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. The Khoekhoegowab Dictionary with an English–Khoekhoegowab Index, compiled by Professor Wilfrid Haacke and Eliphas Eiseb, was published in 2004.

Social structure and lifestyle

Traditionally the Nama are cattle farmers. Their socioeconomic unit is the patrilineal family group, which functions within the wider Nama group. The individual groups originally functioned separately under chiefs and councillors who sometimes united against a common enemy such as the Herero but often clashed with one another. With the entry of the Herero and their intrusion into the pasturelands of the Nama, a fierce and prolonged conflict arose between these two groups. The struggle was brought to an end by German colonial forces in the late 1800s, and home areas such as Berseba, Bondels, Gibeon (Krantzplatz), Sesfontein, Soromas and Warmbad were placed at the Namas’ disposal.

Numbering approximately 117 000, the Nama consist of thirteen tribes or groups. These are the !Kharkoen (Simon Kooper), |Hôa-|aran (also referred to as //Aixa-//ais meaning Angry Nation), =|Aonin (Topnaar), Kai//Khaun, Khauben (Rooi Nasie), |Hai-|Khauan (Berseba tribe), Oorlams (Vaalgras), //Haboben (Velskoendraers), Kharo-!oan (Keetmanshopers), //Khau/-gôan (Swartbooi), !Gami-=|n˜un (Bondelswarts), |Khobesen (Witbooi), //Okain (Groot Doders) and Kai|khauan or Gaikhauan (Lamberts).

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 content of the work is often expressive and humorous. The traditional patchwork dresses that the Nama women wear are especially typical. Two projects in the south which co-ordinate these talents and market the products are anin, situated on a farm between Uhlenhorst and Hoachanas, and Gibeon Folk Art in the village of Gibeon.

Kaross floor rugs or blankets made with skins of domestic animals or antelope are a speciality of the area. They are produced by Namas as well as Basters, and are sold by vendors along the main tarred road leading south.

Dancing, sewing and embroidery

In the Naukluft environs an insight can be gained into the lifestyle of the Nama people by visiting the small community at Nabasib, halfway between Mariental and Maltahöhe. To help alleviate poverty, the guest farms and the community have formed the Naukluft Foundation.

The Foundation supports the Nabasib School Choir and dance group by providing material for the Nabasib women to make the waistcoats and traditional dresses they wear when they perform. The Nabasib kindergarten, pre-primary and school is also supported by the Foundation.

To preserve the art and tradition of sewing and embroidery in the south, local entrepreneurs have initiated several projects, including Gibeon Folk Art. A craft typical of southern Namibia is the kaross, a rug or blanket made from skins sewn together, formerly worn by Khoesan people, and nowadays used as bed coverings or on the floor. These typically-Namibian leather blankets can be bought when driving in the southern region along the B1, often draped over fences, especially in the vicinity of Duineveld. While springbok pelts are the most popular, goat, sheep, jackal, seal, kudu, blesbok and gemsbok hides are also used. In addition to karosses, carpets, cushion covers, waistcoats, jackets, traditional dresses, handbags and place mats are also manufactured. One of the techniques applied is patchwork, at which the people of the south excel. In Keetmanshoop, the Empowering People in Need group is a non-profit organisation that employs traditional Nama skills of sewing and embroidery. The Wake Centre, where these crafts are produced and can be purchased, is situated in the Tseiblaagte Township. These crafts can also be bought at the Namibia Craft Centre in Windhoek and at Klein-Aus and Amber Moon in Swakopmund.

The Maiteko Cultural Group in the Hardap Region started off by performing Setswana cultural dances and songs for entertainment in the local community. It was founded to develop a culture of unity amongst the youth and to make the Aranos youngsters aware of their cultural background and roots.
Another cultural group is Ama Buruxa, established in 2001 at the Daweb Junior Secondary School in Maltahöhe. The Ama Buruxa song-and-dance group consists of Nama children aged between 12 and 18 years. Their repertoire is aimed at strengthening and keeping Nama traditions alive and has led to the establishment of a regional cultural festival, which resulted in the production of a CD.

Community-based tourism

Stopovers en route to the main tourist attractions in the south provide an opportunity to meet the interesting people of the south. Ten kilometres from Berseba is Bruckaros Campsite in beautiful mountain surroundings. With minimum facilities, and no running water, the attraction here is the scenic landscape.

In Keetmanshoop, Adonai Tours offers an introduction to Nama culture and an opportunity to experience some of the highlights of the south. The tours visit the Keetmanshoop township, Tseiblaagte, to view Nama singing and dancing, taste typical local food, learn about traditional dress and participate in a Nama wedding.

In the very south is Warmbad Hotsprings Lodge, an interesting historical and cultural stop if you’ve already visited the Fish River Canyon and are exploring other areas of Namibia. The attractive reception area in the renovated officers’ barracks consists of a restaurant that serves light meals, and a conference room. Further down the road are the newly built accommodation facilities comprising three family bungalows, each with two bedrooms and an en-suite bathroom, two bungalows with five separate rooms, each containing a bedroom and en-suite bathroom, four small slate and thatch beehive rondawels (circular thatched rooms) and a small camp ground. A short distance away is the hot spring after which Warmbad was named.

The Warmbad area is inhabited by the Bondelswarts or !Gami-nun, one of the 13 Nama groups living in Namibia. The small museum in Warmbad, housed in the renovated German jail, displays information on the guerrilla wars fought between the Bondelswarts and the Germans based there in the early 1900s.
A number of new community campsites and information centres have been built over the past three years. The following campsites have basic facilities: Snyfontein Camp with eight sites overlooking an appealing section of the Fish River; ≠Nudi Campsite with seven sites amongst quiver trees and dolerite rocks; Ganigobes Campsite, situated north-east of Tses; Goamus Campsite, situated in the striking mountain landscape of Gibeon; //Hai-Sores Campsite, with six sites and several demonstration Nama huts; and Hoachanas Campsite, 53 km from Kalkrand on the C21. The Asab Tourist Centre, positioned on the side of the B1 road in Asab, 36 km south of Gibeon, provides more information.

Photo ©Xenia Ivanoff-Erb

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