The Living Museum of Damara, where a fascinating lost culture of Namibia can be viewed

Stephen Nartey February 02, 2023
Damara people/Photo credit: Conservation Tourism in Namibia

The Damara tribesmen before the 1870s were predominantly living in the Central part of Namibia. Communal clashes and invasions by Nama and Herero however forced many of them to migrate from their traditional home.

The woes and customs took a further hit with the arrival of the Europeans. In an attempt to colonize Namibia, the Europeans fought everything in which the indigenous people found strength. The Damara people are originally nomads, hunter-gatherers and farmers. A minority of them specialize in mining and metal works.

The Damara and the “bushmen” of Namibia are the oldest tribes in the country. The customs of the Damara people are a fusion of hunter-gathering lifestyles and pastoralism. But for the weak social structures, their culture would have stood against the assault on them by the Europeans.

It is against this backdrop the Damara project was instituted to reconstruct the cultural identity of the people. The Living Museum of the Damara which is a few miles away from Twyfelfontein is the first of its kind in the world. Tourists and visitors are treated to the lost customs and traditions of the people at the Living Museum.

The Living Museum is an ingenious way of preserving traditional culture to help communities combat poverty and build a network where people exchange their culture. It has become a revenue stream for the Damara people as they make money from tourists who visit to experience the culture firsthand.

The Damara are believed to have links with the Bantu people and speak the Khoisan language. They were the first to have journeyed from the north to Namibia, according to the Living Culture Foundation Namibia.

The Damara tribe forms 8.5 percent of the Namibia population. They are indigenously known as Daman or Damaqua. The majority of them reside in the northwest regions of Namibia. Aside from their ancestral linkage with the Bantu people, the Damara tribe has no cultural exchange with any tribe in any part of Africa. They are a distinct group of people.

Some historians believe that the Damara people are an offshoot of southwestern African hunter-gatherers. Though the Damara culture risks extinction, those tribes that have survived can be divided into various clans. Each Damara tribe has its own chief but everyone is ruled by one monarch.

Some natives of Damara continue to live in their ancestral homes and maintain their traditional life of herding cattle and sheep farming. The Damara women are responsible for running the home and taking care of the children while the men hunt and tend to the livestock.

The only challenge facing them has to do with a 1970 relocation by the South African government which placed them in Damaraland where the soil did not support good harvest, with the area experiencing poor rainfall patterns.

They have since been hit by rural-urban migration compelling many of the men to work in the cities. It is only one-quarter that still live in Damaraland.

A local government unit was created to play oversight responsibility in Damaraland in the 1980s. However, like many traditional powerhouses in South West Africa, Damaraland was stripped of its authority in 1989 ahead of the transition to independence.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 2, 2023


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