Forming opinions of a culture you haven’t seen is difficult, but often done. Myself and 20 fellow Texas A&M students traveled across the world to a country that is unfamiliar to us all. In just three weeks, we get to experience the variety of Namibian culture. With one-week left, I can say I have experienced the true meaning of judging a book by its cover. Namibia has proven it must be seen to comprehend.
Namibia is made up of many different cultures. There are thirteen tribes and each consists of different values and beliefs. These tribes are the Caprivans, Coloureds, Damara, Herero, Himba, Kavango, Nama, Topnaars, Owambo, Rehoboth Basters, San, Tswana, and the Whites. Some still practice their values and beliefs within the region they originated, while others travel to other regions for a number of reasons, such as a better life or seeking economic opportunities.
We visited the local market in Swakopmund. It was filled with Namibians of different cultures, each having their own section of the market. Each section had a variety of artwork that represented their culture. One woman I spoke with was part of the Owambo tribe. She was from a northern region, but came to Swakopmund for income, as did most here at this market. She asked me what I thought about Africa before arriving. Before I could answer, she said, “People say we do not have roads, water, or nice things.” I paused deep in thought at the accuracy of her statement. I told her, “Africa is a closed book many like to judge before seeing and being able to understand. Namibia is a beautiful country.” The biggest smile came across her face. She asked if I would take that back to the United States to share. Namibia relies on tourism as it progresses economically, while attempting to sustain its cultural heritage.
The Damara people introduced us to a living museum, specifically used to keep their culture alive. The museum is located about 10 km north of Twyfelfontein. At the museum, they taught us how to speak in the Damara language, along with a few other skills from their culture. We learned about their tools and weapons. We saw how they make them, using stones. The women were marked with clay on their cheeks, which is used as make up to embrace the beauty of the Damara. We witnessed how men build fires by hand. We saw how both men and women unite for their traditional song and dance.
The Damara are known for jewelry. We watched them make necklaces and bracelets representing their culture. The Damara Living Museum attempts to reconstruct and continue the cultural heritage of the Damara people.