Nama people

Nama (in older sources also called Namaqua) are an African ethnic group of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. They traditionally speak the Nama language of the Khoe-Kwadi (Central Khoisan) language family, although many Nama now speak Afrikaans. The Nama are the largest group of the Khoikhoi people, most of whom have largely disappeared as a group, except for the Namas. Many of the Nama clans live in Central Namibia and the other smaller groups lives Namaqualand, which today straddles the Namibian border with South Africa.



Nama group in front of a hut.

For thousands of years, the Khoisan peoples of South Africa and southern Namibia maintained a nomadic way of life.

From 1904 to 1907, the Germans, who had colonised present-day Namibia waged war against the Nama and the Herero, leading to the Herero and Namaqua Genocide in which 50–70% of the total Nama and Herero populations perished.[citation needed] This was motivated by the German desire to establish a prosperous colony and this entailed the displacement of the indigenous people from their agricultural land. Large herds of cattle were confiscated and Nama and Herero people were driven into the desert and in some cases interred in concentration camps on the coast, for example at Shark Island. Additionally, the Nama and Herero people were forced into slave labour to build railway lines and to hunt for diamonds during the diamond rush.

Following the discovery of diamonds at the mouth of the Orange River in the 1920s, however, prospectors began moving into the region, establishing towns at Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth, a process that accelerated the appropriation of traditional lands that had begun early in the colonial period. Under apartheid, remaining pastoralists were encouraged to abandon their traditional lifestyle in favour of village life.

The Nama people originally lived around the Orange River in southern Namibia and northern South Africa. The early colonialists referred to them as Hottentots. Their alternative historical name, "Namaqua", simply stems from the addition of the Khoekhoe language suffix "-qua/khwa", meaning "people" (found in the names of other Southern African nations like the Griqua)

In 1991, a portion of Namaqualand (home of the Nama and one of the last true wilderness areas of South Africa) became the Richtersveld National Park. In December 2002, ancestral lands, including the park, were returned to community ownership and the governments of South Africa and Namibia embarked on the development of a transfrontier park from the west coast of southern Africa to the desert interior, absorbing the Richtersveld National Park. Today, the Richtersveld National Park is one of the few places where the original Nama traditions survive. Here, the Nama still move with the seasons and speak their language. The traditional Nama dwelling – the |haru oms, or portable rush-mat covered domed hut – is a reflection of a nomadic way of life, offering a cool haven against the blistering heat of the sun, yet easy to pack and move if grazing lands become scarce.

At the dawn of the 19th century, Oorlam people encroached Namaqualand and Damaraland. They likewise descended from indigenous Khoikhoi but are a group who mixed with slaves from Madagascar, India, and Indonesia.[1] After two centuries of assimilation into the Nama culture, many Oorlams today regard Khoikhoigowab (Damara/Nama) as their mother tongue. The distinction between Namas and Oorlams has gradually disappeared over time to an extent where they are today regarded as one ethnic group, despite their different backgrounds.[2]

Nama clans

Apart from Oorlam clans there are nine known sub-tribes, or clans, of Nama. Their names and tribal centres are:[2]

  • Khaiǁkhaun (Red Nation) at Hoachanas, the main group and the oldest Nama clan in Namibia[3]
  • ǃGamiǂnun (Bondelswarts) at Warmbad
  • ǂAonin (Southern Topnaars) at Roobiank
  • ǃGomen (Northern Topnaars) at Sesfontein
  • ǃKharakhoin (Fransman Nama) at Gochas
  • ǁHawoben (Veldschoendragers) at Koës
  • ǁOgain (Groot Doden) at Schlip
  • ǁKhauǀgoan (Swartbooi Nama) at Rehoboth, later at Salem, Ameib, and Franzfontein
  • The Kharoǃoan (Keetmanshoop Nama) split from the Red Nation in February 1850 and settled at Keetmanshoop.[3]


Nama huts.

In general the Nama practice a policy of communal land ownership. Music, poetry and story telling are very important in Nama culture and many stories have been passed down orally through the generations.

The Nama have a culture that is rich in the musical and literary abilities of its people. Traditional music, folk tales, proverbs, and praise poetry have been handed down for generations and form the base for much of their culture. They are known for crafts which include leatherwork, skin karosses and mats, musical instruments (such as reed flutes), jewellery, clay pots, and tortoiseshell powder containers.

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.

They have largely abandoned their traditional religion through the sustained efforts of Christian (and now Muslim) proselytizers. The majority of the Nama people in Namibia today are therefore Christian with a small Muslim minority. [4]

Wedding ritual

Namas have a complicated wedding ritual. First the man has to discuss his intentions with his family. If they agree they will advise him of the customs to ask the bride's family and then accompany him to the place she lives. The yard at the bride's living place is prepared prior to the future husband's family's arrival, animal hides are laid out in the corners for the different groups to sit down and discuss.[5]

The groom's family ask for the gate to be opened. If this is granted, the groom is interrogated about details of the bride, including the circumstances of their first meeting and how to identify her body marks to make sure both know each other well. If the bride is pregnant or already has children from her future husband or someone else, the bride is subjected to the "door cleansing" ceremony (slaughtering and consuming a snow-white goat). After several days the wedding ritual continues in reverse; the bride's family visits the clan of the groom. If all is to the satisfaction of the two clans, an engagement day is announced.[5]

At the engagement, the groom's family brings live animals to the woman's family home. The animals are slaughtered, hung on three sticks, and each part is offered to the bride's family. Other items like bags of sugar or flour are only offered in quantities of two or four to indicate that there will always be abundance of food. This process is also celebrated in reverse at the man's family home. White flags are mounted on both family's houses which may not be taken off but wither or are blown off by the wind one day.[5]

The wedding preparations can take up to one year. The family of the groom makes a gift to the bride's mother, traditionally a cow and a calf, for she has raised the bride at her breast. A bargaining process accompanies the gift that can take weeks in itself. On wedding day, both families provide animals and other food and bring it to the bride's home. The wedding itself takes place in a church. Festivities afterward go on for several days. The first night after the wedding the couple spends separately. On the next morning, they set off for their own home.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "Slavery in the Cape". Institute for the Study of Slavery and its Legacy – South Africa. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Malan, Johan S (1998) (in German). Die Völker Namibias [The Tribes of Namibia]. Windhoek, Göttingen: Klaus Hess. pp. 120–125. 
  3. ^ a b Dierks, Klaus (3 December 2004). "The historical role of the Nama nation". Die Republikein. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d Sasman, Catherine (3 December 2010). "Love, traditionally – a ǀHaiǀKhaua wedding". New Era. 


  • Hoernl‚, A. W. 1925. The Social Organization of the Nama Hottentots. American Anthropologist, n.s., 27: 1–24. JSTOR
  • Hoernl‚, A. W. 1918. Certain Rites of Transition and the Conception of !Nau among the Hottentots. Harvard African Studies 2:65–82. JSTOR
  • Schultze, L. 1907. Aus Namaland und Kalahari. Jena.

External links

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