People of Namibia: interesting facts

September 20, 2019

The population of Namibia, a small country compared to other African nations, is full of different cultures, ethnic groups and traditions. Find out more about the Namibian people.

Himba woman of Namibia

Namibia: land of safari and wild natural landscapes, of course. But also the human aspect deserves consideration during a journey in this state full of surprises, a combination of European influences and ancestral African culture.

First of all, Namibia is one of the least densely populated nations in the world. English is the official language even if it is spoken as a mother tongue only by a very small percentage of whites. Languages that are regionally recognized are also German, Afrikaans and Oshivambo. In the south of the country German is mainly spoken, a legacy of a long colonial past.

Does the human and cultural aspect of Namibia intrigue you? Here's what you need to know before your trip.

Himba woman of Namibia
Young Himba woman.

African ethnic groups

Almost 90% of the population is black, mostly from the Bantu group, which is in turn divided into other ethnic groups, in particular the Ovambo, which lives in northern Namibia with a matriarchal organization. Also of the Bantu group are the Herero, mostly present in the Kaokoland: during the German colonization, a bloody Herero revolt took place, remembered as the worst massacre in the history of the country.

Herero woman of Namibia
Herero woman.

Bantu are generally short with a robust build. There are also blacks from the Khoisan or Hottentot group, the San or Bushmen, hunter-gatherers who were probably the first inhabitants of Namibia, and the Nama, with their subgroup known as Topnaar. This second group has different physical characteristics: thinner body and lighter skin. The Damara, who live in the central regions, also belong to this second group

In the more isolated areas of Kaokoland, the Himba also live, dedicating to ancestral pastoralism: they live in huts of mud and dung and conduct a semi-nomadic life, moving in search of new pastures for livestock. Women leave their breasts uncovered and cover their hair with fat and ocher.

Himba woman in Namibia
A Himba woman's elaborate hairstyle.

The white minority in the cities

These are only the main African ethnic groups that inhabit Namibia, which is controlled and governed by the very small white minority, which lives in cities.

The whites are of Boer origin, Anglo-Saxon or German and in a minimal part Dutch and even Portuguese, due to the proximity to Angola, a former colony of Portugal. Obviously there are also people of mixed origin. Because of the cultural and ethnographic complexity, the names of the cities are of German, Ovambo and Afrikaans origin. Cities founded by the Germans, such as Swakopmund, Windhoek and Luderitz, still feature typically Germanic architecture and traditions similar to those of Germany.

Swakopmund street in Namibia
Typical houses of Swakopmund.

Most of the city's population is Lutheran Christian, with a small Muslim minority, while the indigenous ethnic groups maintain their religions and traditions.

Recommended for you