The Nama people, who live mainly in southern and central Namibia, are light in complexion and short in stature, while their language has four distinctive click sounds.
Eight groups are the descendants of Khoikhoi pastoralists who migrated from northern Botswana westwards along the Orange River some 3,000 years ago. As they migrated further west, the increasingly arid environment forced them to split into two groups. One group settled south of the Orange River in what became known as Little Namaqualand, while the other group crossed the river and settled in what became known as Great Namaqualand. According to oral tradition, another group the Topnaars, migrated from the north and settled in the Walvis Bay area and the lower Kuiseb valley, while some migrated to Sesfontein.
The original migrants were later joined by five groups of Khoikhoi people who migrated from the Cape colony northwards across the Orange River in the 18th century. Collectively known as the Oorlams, these groups wandered northwards ahead of the white trekboers with whom they had contact. As a result, they spoke Dutch and as they owned horses and guns they launched raids against the other Nama groups with devastating effect.
Thousands of Nama died in battle and in concentration camps after Captain Hendrik Witbooi declared war against the German colonial government on 5 October 1904. Witbooi was killed in battle on 25 October 1905, but the Nama continued to engage the German Schutztruppe with guerrilla war until the end of 1906. After the war ended, the Nama lost most of the land they had occupied.
Nama people have a natural talent for music, poetry and prose. Numerous proverbs, riddles, tales and poems have been handed down orally from generation to generation. Praise poems range from impromptu love songs and praise of heroic figures to songs of the animals and plants in their environment. They are excellent dancers and the Nama Stap is, without doubt, one of the best-known dances in Namibia.
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 their rural environment and lifestyles. The colourful patchwork dresses worn by the women are especially typical of their traditional clothing. Kaross floor rugs and blankets made from small-stock and antelope skins are a speciality of the south. They are sold by roadside vendors at Duineveld between Rehoboth and Kalkrand.
EXPERIENCING NAMA CULTURE
Gibeon becomes a hive of activity on the weekend closest to 29 October when the Witbooi Nama commemorate the death of Captain Hendrik Witbooi who was killed in a battle against the Germans at Vaalgras on that day in 1905. The festival is also a celebration of the life of the heroic leader who resisted German occupation. During the festival his life story is related and battles and battle techniques are enacted, while traditional songs and dances are performed.
At Warmbad the death of the Bondelswarts leader Abraham Christiaan is commemorated every year in late October. He was shot and killed when he resisted arrest by a German military detachment on 25 October 1903. As he fell, Christiaan commanded the Bondelswarts to take up arms and in the ensuing shootout, the local military commander and two soldiers were shot dead.