Despite its low population density Namibia has a large and diverse cultural spectrum. An array of traditional African groups blends with German and South African influences in a country still in search of its identity. With few urban centres much of the cultural activity is concentrated in the capital of Windhoek. Namibia’s largest city offers many museums, colonial architecture, theatres, restaurant and craft markets. Away from the capital you will find unique cultural groups, who often run living museums, ancient rock art and skilled craftsmen in the Caprivi and Kavango Regions. A diversity of traditional arts and crafts is found throughout the country, while Windhoek certainly offers the largest culinary variety.
In Namibia one of the planet’s oldest cultural groups has practised their modest and perfectly adapted lifestyle though the ages. The San hunter-gatherers are the first cultural group to have inhabited Namibia. Rock paintings and engravings are the living testament of a culture that reaches back some 28 000 years. San rock art can be seen mountains and hills throughout the country but is most prominent in Twyfelfontein and Brandberg. To witness the San’s tradition and detailed knowledge of the natural environment visit the Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi San at Grashoek and the Living Hunter’s Museum near Tsumke.
The Owambo are one of Namibia’s largest cultural groups and inhabit the land north of Etosha. Visitors can learn about the traditional culture of the Owambo at the Uukwaluudhi Traditional Homestead at Tsandi in the Omusati Region. Trained local guides take visitors through one of the few remaining kingdom, which is occupied by the King of the Tsandi area.
One of the most recognizable cultural groups are the Himba of the Kunene Region. These tall and graceful people cover their skin with a mixture of ochre and fat, which gives it a distinctive red colour. Elaborate hairstyles and iron and shell jewellery complete the intriguing appearance of the Himba. In the Kunene Region many Himba tribes still live largely untouched by the Western World.
Namibia is home to many more cultural groups such as the Herero women with their unique headdress, the anthropological mystery of the Damara and the Caprivians and Kavango who inhabit the wet northeast of Namibia.
Museums in Namibia
Namibia’s culture and history has been manifested in museums all over the country. The National Museum of Namibia displays more than two million artefacts in the Alte Fest Museum and the Owela Museum in Windhoek. Visit both museums to learn about the area’s natural history and the tumultuous past of Namibia. The Independence Memorial Museum is a new addition to Windhoek’s museum landscape and is hosted in possibly the most prominent building in the country. Windhoek’s specialty museums include the TransNamib Railway Museum and the Geological Survey Museum, which displays a selection of fossils and meteorites in geological context.
Namibia’s museums are scattered over a vast area. Make sure to check which museums are in the area you are visiting:
- Tsumeb Museum: Large displays and artefacts from the areas copper mining history. Also hosts a collection of World War I artefacts from the Otjikoto Lake.
- Okakarara Community, Cultural and Tourism Centre (OCCTC): Close to the Waterberg Plateau this museum informs about the Ovaherero community and their war against German colonial forces.
- Grootfontein Museum: Private museum introducing domestic life, wagon construction, mining and minerals and traditional crafts of the area.
- Sangwali Museum: The small museum in Katima Mulilo tells the story of early missionaries in the area and the pre-colonial Kololo invasion.
- Sambyu Museum: East of Rundu this is an art and craft facility displaying early stone tools and craftsmanship from the Kavango Region and Southern Angola.
- Namutoni Museum: Situated in Etosha National Park this museum explains the interesting history of Fort Namutoni.
- Swakopmund Museum: Situated in the Old Customs House this museum gives you a the full history of the area including the natural history of the Namib Desert, the mining industry and the development of the town.
- Walvis Bay Museum: A history of the development of Walvis Bay and the surrounding marine and desert areas.
- Lüderitz Museum: A private museum that offers displays on the expeditions of Dias, diamond mining and the interesting history of Lüderitz.
- Kolmanskop Ghost Town: The deserted diamond mining town is now an open air museum with unique photographic opportunities.
- Sperrgebiet Museum: Situated in Oranjemund this privately owned museum exhibits minerals and fossils as well as artefacts from the diamond mining area and the Sperrgebiet ghost towns.
- Gobabis Museum: This little museum offers a variety of colonial household items and farming implements.
- Rehoboth Museum: This unique museum is dedicated to the history of the Rehoboth Basters.
- Helmeringhausen Museum: Visit this open-air museum to see farm implements, machinery, wagons and karakul farming.
- Duwisib Castle: A castle house built by Baron von Wolf on the borders of the Namib Desert featuring antique furniture, firearms and artworks from the 18th and 19th century.
- Schmelenhaus Museum: In Bethanie onne of the oldest mission houses in Namibia focusses on natural history and the history of Rhenish missionaries.
- Keetmanshoop Museum: Situated in a restored Rhenish Mission Church this museum displays the history of Keetmanshoop and the culture of the Nama people.