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History of Namibia
 
 
 

Pre-colonial History

There is a high density of pre-modern peoples in Namibia. The most famous, Bushmen (also called San) are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region comprising today's Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The bushmen 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. Over time, many different ethnic groups of immigrants settled in Namibia.

The Ovambo and Kavango

The Ovambo, and the smaller and closely related group Kavango, lived in northern Namibia, southern Angola and, in the case of the Kavango, western Zambia. Being settled people they had an economy 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, since the conditions there did not suit their farming way of life, but traded extensively their knives and agricultural implements.

Khoisan Immigration

Until about 2,000 years ago the original hunters and gatherers of the San people were the only inhabitants in Namibia. At this time the Nama (also known as Namaqua, Khoikhoi or 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 Damara (also known as Bergdama or Berg Damara), another Khoisan group, entered Namibia. It is unclear where they came from, but they settled in the grasslands in central Namibia, known as Damaraland.

Bantu Immigration

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: these were the Himba people, who are still there today. The Herero were said to have enslaved certain groups and displaced others such as the Bushmen to marginal areas unsuitable for their way of life.

The Oorlams

In the 19th century white farmers, mostly Boers moved farther northwards 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. 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 southwards. In return Jonker Afrikaner was recognised as overlord, received tribute from the Nama and settled at what today is Windhoek, on the borders of Herero territory. The Afrikaners soon came in conflict with the Herero who entered Damaraland from the south at about the same time as the Afrikaner started to expand farther north from Namaqualand. Both the Herero and the Afrikaner wanted to use the grasslands of Damaraland for their herds. This resulted in warfare 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. The Damara were displaced by the fighting and many were killed.

With their horses and guns, the Afrikaners proved to be militarily superior and forced the Herero to give them cattle as tribute.

Baster Immigration

The last group to arrive in Namibia before the Europeans were the Basters – descendants of Boer men and African women (mostly Nama). Being Calvinist and Afrikaans-speaking, they considered themselves to be culturally more "white" than "black". As with the Oorlams, they were forced northwards by the expansion of white settlers when, in 1868, a group of about 90 families crossed the Orange River into Namibia. The Basters settled in central Namibia, where they founded the city Rehoboth. In 1872 they founded the "Free Republic of Rehoboth" and adopted a constitution stating that the nation should be led by a "Kaptein" directly elected by the people, and that there should be a small parliament, or Volkraad, consisting of three directly-elected citizens.


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