During my stay in Namibia I have learned much about collectivism and communal livelihoods. In our readings for class we learned that collectivists do things for the greater good of all people. They are people who live their lives acting upon what is best for everyone in their main people group. Much like the way a father looks after his children by putting their needs before his own.
Many tribes in Namibia have been considered collectivists. The San and the Topnaar are two of these communal tribes. They share communal land, herds, gardens, and many other items within their respective tribes.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a Topnaar village. It was great to witness their communal way of living first-hand. In the village I visited there were several small huts with about 12 to 15 immediate and extended family members living in each hut. When one of the Topnaar men, Zebedias was asked if the 15 people gathered at his hut were all his family he hesitated, smiled, and reluctantly said no. He then further explained that they were all family to him but not all of them were related. Zebedias had a collectivist and communal way of thinking about his family and neighbors. Though not all of those people were directly related to him, he was willing to claim them as family and offer them whatever they needed that he could provide.
The San people are another example of communal livelihoods. In an informational movie called The Gods Must be Crazy I learned that the San people have such a collectivist and communal mindset that they don’t have a sense of ownership. The movie told the story of how the San people of the Kalahari Desert shared everything. They cared only for the survival and happiness of each other. It wasn’t until one of the tribe members found an empty coke bottle, which became a useful tool for them, that the San tribe experienced anything like the feelings of jealousy, want, and anger. Once the bottle was removed from their tribe, the San people were once again happy and carefree.
I have learned much about the San people of Namibia from our class readings and from various people I have met in Namibia. According to Ben, a United Nations representative to Namibia, The San people were a nomadic tribe, moving from place to place on whatever land they wanted, whenever they wanted. When the colonial era began the San were forced to live in designated areas, known as communal land, which was significantly smaller than the areas they had once roamed freely. Many tribe members still live on these lands, which are owned by the Namibian government.
Many of the indigenous people in Namibia like the San and Topnaar no longer live in the traditional communal way of their ancestors. This is partly because of discrimination, the apartheid era, and assimilation with other people groups and cultures. Examples of this are how some of the tribe members have chosen to dress in a more modern style of clothing. Some have decided to believe in Christianity as well as their tribal religions and some have decided to give up all ties to their tribes and communities.
Even though many people may not be found living in a communal way as a tribe, I think they, and all Namibians could be classified as collectivists. The Namibian people are very conscious of their resources, specifically water. Everywhere I have travelled in Namibia there have been signs or some form of communication explaining the importance of conserving water. Each Namibian I have met has been highly aware of how their use of water will effect their country. This is a very collective mindset.
I have experienced and learned a lot about communal livelihoods while in Namibia and I hope to learn more during the rest of my stay. I think many people in this world could learn a good lesson about putting others first from the collectivist tribes found in Namibia.