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12.13: Namibia

  • Page ID
    72290
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    Learning Objective

    • Describe the tribal makeup of Namibia

    Key Points

    • Not much is known about pre-colonial Namibia, but evidence suggests that a number of diverse peoples settled there as a result of ancient, medieval, and modern migrations.
    • The San (also called Bushmen) are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region comprising today’s Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. Until about 2,000 years ago, they were the only inhabitants in Namibia, but around that time the Nama (also known as Namaqua), the Khoikhoi, and the Hottentots settled around the Orange River in the south, on the border between Namibia and South Africa, where they kept herds of sheep and goats.
    • In the 9th century, the Damara entered Namibia. The Damara do not relate to the other Khoisan peoples, although they share a similar language. It is believed that they separated themselves early on from their Bantu brothers of Southern and Central Africa and moved to Southwest Africa.
    • The Ovambo, and the smaller and closely related group Kavango, lived in northern Namibia and southern Angola. The Kavango also lived in western Zambia. They migrated south from the upper regions of Zambezi around the 14th century. Their economy was based on farming, cattle, and fishing, but they also produced metal goods.
    • During the 17th century, the Herero, a pastoral, nomadic people keeping cattle, moved into Namibia. They came from the east African lakes and entered Namibia from the northwest.
    • In the 19th century white farmers, mostly Boers, moved farther north, pushing the indigenous Khoisan peoples, who put up a fierce resistance, across the Orange River. Known as Oorlams, these Khoisan adopted Boer customs and spoke a language similar to Afrikaans.
    • Europeans first arrived in Namibia in the 15th century, and the territory became one of the first European (German) colonies on the continent.

    Terms

    the Herero and Namaqua genocide

    A campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment that the German Empire undertook in German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia) against the Herero and Nama people. It is considered one of the first genocides of the 20th century. It took place between 1904 and 1907 during the Herero Wars.

    Herero Wars

    A series of colonial wars between the German Empire and the Herero people of German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia, c. 1903–1908).

    Khoisan peoples

    A unifying name for two groups of peoples of Southern Africa who share physical and putative linguistic characteristics distinct from the Bantu majority of the region. Culturally, they are divided into the foraging San, or Bushmen, and the pastoral Khoi, or more specifically Khoikhoi, previously known as Hottentots.

    Zambezi

    The fourth-longest river in Africa, the longest east flowing river in Africa, and the largest river flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. The 2,574-kilometer-long river (1,599 miles) rises in Zambia and flows through eastern Angola, along the eastern border of Namibia and the northern border of Botswana, then along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique, where it crosses the country to empty into the Indian Ocean.

    The Peoples Of Pre-Colonial Namibia

    Unlike in other territories in Africa, no powerful ancient or medieval kingdoms and empires served as predecessors of the Namibian state today. Not much is known about pre-colonial Namibia, but evidence suggests that a number of diverse peoples settled there as a result of ancient, medieval, and modern migrations. The San (also called Bushmen) are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region comprising today’s Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. The San were hunters and gatherers with a nomadic lifestyle. The most important part of their diet consisted of fruits, nuts, and roots, but they also hunted different kinds of antelopes.
    Until about 2,000 years ago, the original hunters and gatherers of the San people were the only inhabitants in Namibia, but around that time, the Nama (also known as Namaqua), the Khoikhoi, and the Hottentots settled around the Orange River in the south, on the border between Namibia and South Africa, where they kept herds of sheep and goats. Both the San and the Nama were Khoisan peoples, and spoke languages from the Khoisan language group.

    In the 9th century, the Damara entered Namibia. The Damara do not relate to the other Khoisan peoples, although they share a similar language. It is believed that they separated themselves early on from their Bantu brothers of Southern and Central Africa and moved to Southwest Africa. It is unclear where they came from, but they settled in the grasslands in central Namibia, known as Damaraland.

    The Ovambo, and the smaller and closely related group Kavango, lived in northern Namibia and southern Angola. The Kavango also lived in western Zambia. They migrated south from the upper regions of Zambezi around the 14th century. Their economy was based on farming, cattle, and fishing, but they also produced metal goods. Both groups belonged to the Bantu nation. They rarely ventured south to the central parts of the country, where the conditions did not suit their farming way of life. However, they extensively traded their knives and agricultural implements. The Ovambo constitute the largest ethnic group and a majority of the population in today’s Namibia.

    During the 17th century, the Herero, a pastoral, nomadic people keeping cattle, moved into Namibia. They came from the east African lakes and entered Namibia from the northwest. First they resided in Kaokoland, but in the middle of the 19th century some tribes moved farther south and into Damaraland. A number of tribes remained in Kaokoland. During German occupation of this region, about one third of the population was wiped out in a genocide that continues to provoke historical and political debates. Known as the Herero and Namaqua genocide, it was a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment. It is considered one of the first genocides of the 20th century, taking place between 1904 and 1907 during the Herero Wars.

    image
    Herero, c. 1910. During the 17th century the Herero, a pastoral, nomadic people keeping cattle, moved into Namibia. They came from the east African lakes and entered Namibia from the northwest.

    In the 19th century white farmers, mostly Boers, moved farther north, pushing the indigenous Khoisan peoples, who put up a fierce resistance, across the Orange River. Known as Oorlams, these Khoisans adopted Boer customs and spoke a language similar to Afrikaans. Armed with guns, the Oorlams caused instability as more and more came to settle in Namaqualand, and eventually conflict arose between them and the Nama. Under the leadership of Jonker Afrikaner, the Oorlams used their superior weapons to take control of the best grazing land. In the 1830s, Jonker Afrikaner concluded an agreement with the Nama chief Oaseb whereby the Oorlams would protect the central grasslands of Namibia from the Herero who were then pushing south. Eventually, warfare over land control between the Herero and the Oorlams, as well as between the two of them and the Damara, who were the original inhabitants of the area, broke out. The Damara were displaced by the fighting and many were killed.

    Europeans in Namibia

    The first European to set foot on Namibian soil was the Portuguese Diogo Cão, in 1485 during an exploratory mission along the west coast of Africa. The next European to visit Namibia was also a Portuguese, Bartholomeu Dias, who stopped there on his way to round the Cape of Good Hope. However, as the inhospitable Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier, neither of the Portuguese explorers went far inland.

    In 1793, the Dutch authority in the Cape decided to take control of Walvis Bay, since it was the only good deep-water harbor along the Skeleton Coast. When the United Kingdom took control of the Cape Colony in 1797, they also took over Walvis Bay. But white settlement in the area was limited, and neither the Dutch nor the British penetrated far into the country. One of the first European groups to show interest in Namibia were the missionaries. In 1805 the London Missionary Society began working in Namibia, moving north from the Cape Colony. In 1811 they founded the town Bethanie in southern Namibia, where they built a church, which today is Namibia’s oldest building.

    In the 1840s the German Rhenish Mission Society started working in Namibia and cooperating with the London Missionary Society. It was not until the 19th century, when European powers sought to carve up the African continent between them in the so-called Scramble for Africa, that Europeans—predominately Germany and Great Britain— became interested in Namibia. The first territorial claim on a part of Namibia came when Britain occupied Walvis Bay, confirming the settlement of 1797, and permitted the Cape Colony to annex it in 1878. The annexation was an attempt to forestall German ambitions in the area, and it also guaranteed control of the good deep water harbor on the way to the Cape Colony and other British colonies on Africa’s east coast. Believing that Britain was soon about to declare the whole area a protectorate, the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck claimed it in 1884, thereby establishing German South-West Africa as a colony.

     

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