I journeyed to the United States for the first time as part of a delegation of 14 Namibians hosted by Austin Lehman Adventures with stops at the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming; Monterey, California; and Washington, D.C., to work in the US headquarters office of WWF.
I have loved every minute of being in America, but there are some things I miss about Namibia. I’m certain they are things that you, as a tourist visiting my country, would love.
The feeling that everyone is family in Namibia. When you live in country of only 2 million people, you get know your neighbors. In my culture, neighbors are known to be a backbone, the first people you call to celebrate a birthday, or to grieve with. Your neighbor’s friends and family members automatically became part of your life.
The circle of family starts with neighbors and thereafter grows into a bond that is unbreakable. I personally believe this one of the reason why Namibians are friendly and helpful at all times. From childhood they learn to open up to strangers.
The wide open space. One of the things I really appreciate about Namibia is the wide open space. You can drive for hours without seeing people or any buildings! Every time I have a chance to drive out of the city – such as to the Nye Nye Conservancy in the north, where I work frequently – it’s a blessing.
From the moment I leave the capital of Windhoek, I start seeing the changes in landscape immediately. Short-grass plains turn into shrubs, which evolve into trees the more northerly we go. I see wide expanses of land, I can spy the top of mountains, I can peer into the sky as far as it will go. And when it gets dark, I could stare into the night sky for hours watching the stars.
The ease of shopping in Windhoek. America is known for its amazing shopping malls – which are large and can feel overwhelming. I prefer the personalized simplicity of buying items in Windhoek’s shopping areas. The stores aren’t too crowded, you have a good number of choices, and it’s at a relaxed pace.
The “kapana.” After a morning of shopping at Wheaton Mall in suburban Maryland, my friend Oscar and I went to eat lunch at a food court. As we entered, we were greeted by waiters carrying trays with samples of different types of foods – spicy Thai meats, sweet and sour Chinese chicken, little wedges of pizza.
That immediately reminded me of Namibia’s Single Quarters, which is an open-air market in the Katatura township in Windhoek. The market is famous for its kapana. Locally known as “outete,” this dish consists of flame-grilled beef or lamp chopped into medium-sized chunks. It’s served with a spicy sauce of onions and tomatoes. To help you make up your mind which vendor sells the best kapana, you can stop and try different samples. The cooks invite you to their stands to try a taste.
And the best part of kapana? This meal is not restricted to any specific time of day. You can eat it anytime! Most people will have it for breakfast after a night of heavy partying. It’s believed that the chili that accompanies the dish can help you beat a hangover!
The well-protected wildlife conservancies. When I spent time in the Western United States, I met members of the Crow Nation from a reservation in rural Montana. These wonderful Native American people told us about their connection with Mother Nature and how that has been passed along from generation to generation – how their rivers and mountains and grassy plains all bear names with cultural significant to the Crow Nation.
It surprised me to find people in America who were connected to their land the way we are in Namibia. The way the Native people spoke about their land reminded me of Namibia conservancies program, in which we work to protect wildlife and wild spaces (which then has the added benefit of attracting tourists and boosting our local economies). Helping the people who run conservancies is my job with WWF-Namibia, and it’s an honor to be a part of a great program that fights poverty and conserves our natural resources.
I miss the wonderful people who work hard to support our conservancies and the heartfelt locals who live in the conservancies. I saw the same spirit in the faces of the Crow Nation people that I met that I see in my Namibian brothers back home.
Martha Mulokoshi is a World Wildlife Fund project officer based in Windhoek, Namibia. Her role is to support tourism business development and bolster communal conservancies in establishing viable joint ventures with private partners. She also supports business enterprise efforts of a nonprofit organization that aims to socially and economically empower the San people in the rural Nyae Nyae Conservancy in northeast Namibia (the first conservancy in the country).
Namibians love music: it's an integral part of traditional culture and one of the lasting impressions of the country for travelers long after they leave.
It's no surprise that music of a more contemporary variety has a strong foothold here.
While jazz isn't new to the Namibian music scene, Windhoek will host its first ever jazz festival on Friday, November 3, at the city's Hage Geingob Stadium. The line up features some of Namibia's best and brightest contemporary musicians and a host of international stars, including:
Shishani Vranckx, Dinise, Chillin in the Park, The Pulpit Band, Lize Ehlers, Adora, the Major 7's and the Ugly Creatures.
Headlining the event will be South Africa's Lira and Salaelo Selota, both who bring a distinctly African vibe to the genre.
Tickets to the Windhoek Jazz Festival are available online or at local Checkers grocery stores in Windhoek.
Watch a video of one of Salaelo Selota's 2002 "Ma Modiegi" below.
The home of the Owambo people, once known as Ovamboland, is today divided into the Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto regions. These regions are now often referred to as the four 'O' regions and offer visitors a chance to experience daily life in Namibia.
The dead silence of the desert, the myriad of stars at night and the emptiness that stretches to the horizon in Namibia provide an awe-inspiring antidote to the stress of life back home. With a population density of only 2.5 people per square kilometer, it is possible to drive for hours across the vast landscapes without encountering another soul. However, this is not the case when traveling through the world of the Owambo, where the life explodes just along the edge of the road.
Ron Swilling, a local writer and photographer, recently set out to explore this stirring region and had this to say, “Just when I thought I was getting to know the intriguing country of Namibia, I paid visit to the north and discovered a part of the country that was utterly unlike the rest. My days in the north unfolded in a wave of new sensations, tastes and information as I became immersed in the Oshiwambo culture and way of life.”
Things to do in Owambo
Stroll Through an African Palace
The Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead in Tsandi is the former home of King Tatekulu Josia Shikongo Taapopi, the twelfth king of the Uukwaluudhi. It is a typical (but much larger) Owambo homestead surrounded by a mopane-pole palisade with various huts inside. The royal residence provides a unique cultural experience and insight into understanding the customs and beliefs of the Oshiwambo speaking people.
Sit in the Center of a Baobab
It is a holy experience to sit in the center of the king of trees, all the more knowing that it has a long legacy of varied functions. The Ombalantu baobab tree was once a refuge for the Ombalantu people, who are said to have made a hole in its trunk and climbed down into its hollow depths during tribal wars. It was subsequently used as a post office before being converted into a chapel. Now a heritage site, the historic baobab still holds this spiritual presence, providing a place to rest on the journey and sit in the silence of the king of trees.
Sample Shebeen Life
A colorful array of shebeens, also known as cuca shops, are scattered along the roadside of Owambo, their quirky names adding humor and character to the Namibian landscape. The shebeens of Southern African townships began as small households transformed into places where people could stop for a drink, hear the latest news and listen to music. Over the years, as shebeens have become an important part of Southern African culture, as centers for discussion, dance and entertainment. These hubs of culture add to the character and charm of Namibia.
Visit the "Share My Owambo" page to receive more information about Owambo through the eyes of a local Namibian.
There is an old African proverb which states: "If an old man dies in Africa, a whole library burns to the ground”. This proverb refers to the oral nature of the cultures on the African continent. The ancient traditional knowledge has not been written down in books, but is passed on orally from one generation to the next. His knowledge is saved in the cultural memory of the people. Without a circulation within the respective language group, this knowledge is forgotten and might be lost forever. Namibia's Living Culture Museums strive to capture and preserve this knowledge for future generations.
Five museums, described below, are currently located throughout the country and tell the amazing story of some of Namibia's most iconic cultural groups.Museums featuring the Ovahimba and Khwe are currently in the works. These museums are instrumental in passing down traditional skills and values, as the children of the groups are actively involved in the activities of the museum. !Gamace N!aici from the Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/‘Hoansi points out, "When the visitors come to see our culture, they learn but our kids learn as well. That is very important for our culture."
The museums, funded and developed by the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia, not only preserve the different cultures but also give the groups an opportunity to earn an income and benefit from tourism. Travelers can visit a Living Museum and thus actively contribute to the preservation of traditional culture in Namibia. The local population is responsible for the development of the museums content and manage the operations. Proceeds from the museums benefit the local community.
The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi was inaugurated in 2004 and has developed into a cultural highlight of Namibia. The main focus lies with getting to know the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kalahari San. On the same level guest have the opportunity to learn how the Ju/‘Hoansi-San traditionally light fire, make tools and weapons, and much, much more.
In 2008 the Living Museum of the Mafwe opened in the Caprivi Strip. The Mafwe concentrate mainly on fishing and agricultural activities but also present traditional dancing ceremonies in their museum situated under huge Baobab trees.
Together with the Bushmen the Damara belong to the oldest nations in Namibia. Their original culture was a mixture of an archaic hunter-gatherer culture and herders of cattle, goats and sheep. Here the visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture as well as to a regular income for the Damara community that built the museum.
In 2010 the The Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi opened in the Tsumkwe region, where the San are still allowed to hunt. Here the traditional bow hunt with poisoned arrows, the digging out of spring hares and porcupines, the snare catching of guinea fowls, khoraans and other birds for the daily hunt for food has never been terminated. Visitors have the unique experience of learning the art of reading tracks and participating in a hunt.
After three years of initial building-up work the newest edition to the Living Museums finally opened at the end of October 2011: Mbunza Living Museum. An essential part of the interactive program of the Living Museum is the demonstration (and preservation) of the fishing and land cultivating culture of the Mbunza. The traditional presentation covers everything from everyday life (traditional cuisine, fire making, basket and mat weaving, etc.) to bushwalks and fishing and finally to highly specialised techniques like blacksmithing, pottery and the making of drums.
Namibia’s capital is Windhoek: a small, yet bustling city with a population of 300,000, known as the ‘city of many faces’. Here you will see people of all colors and cultures, each possessing a wonderful sense of pride, hope and ambition. It's not only the perfect place to start and finish your holiday, but well worth a visit in its own right.
Top 3 things to do in Windhoek
1. The Namibia Craft Centre
Situated in Windhoek's historic Old Breweries building, the Namibia Crafts Centre is the buzzing market and design hub for contemporary crafts in Namibia. The Centre has been a great launching pad for contemporary craft ideas, like the Pambili Association’s karakul wool and organza scarves and vibrant textile ranges incorporating contemporary San (Bushmen) artwork. Traditional crafts available at the centre range from Owambo drinking vessels to Himba milk baskets, from Herero walking sticks to ceremonial San ‘love bows’ and perfume pouches. The Craft Centre creates opportunities for artists, low-income craftsmen and communities to build profitable businesses, by offering market linkages to local and new markets. It is a must stop for grabbing souvenirs as you will be sure to find the right gift here – for yourself or friends and family back home.
Several operators give visitors the opportunity to learn about the history, development and people of Katutura. The suburb on Windhoek’s northern outskirts was established in the 1950s; today, Katutura is a diverse, lively and historical place to visit. Most tours stops at places of interest such as the Old Cemetery, Augustineum School, the Single Quarters where contract workers used to live, the open markets, shebeens and cuca shops.
Wanderzone Tours offers half- and full-day tours to Windhoek and Katutura, looking into the nature and background of the people who comprise this melting pot of cultures (contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org). Hello Namibia Safaris, Red Earth Sunny Tours & Transfers and Orupuka Transfers and Tours also offer excursions through Windhoek and Katutura. A relatively new initiative is Katu-Tours, which takes guests through the township on bicycles. Tours depart at 8:00, take 3.5 hours to complete and cover a distance of about 7 km at a relaxed pace.
3. Joe's Beer House
Joe’s Beerhouse has reached legendary status in Namibia and throughout Africa. With its rustic décor, open-air, kraal-style rondavel-and-thatch seating and live music at night, Joe's is well patronised by visitors and locals alike. The restaurant is filled with relics of old and collections of new, each artifact with its very own story. Joe's is the perfect place to stop in upon your arrival and get your first sense of something truly Namibian. It doesn't take long for visitors to get lost in their surroundings as they dine on delectable Zebra steak, alligator skewer, tasty Bushman Sosatie (Kebab), or any number of world-famous plates. After your meal, pull up to the bar for an ice-cold Windhoek Lager and wait the local Namibians to brag to you about our amazing beer and equally amazing country.
“The Etosha Pan has been called many things: the Great White Place, the Big Emptiness... but the Hai||om call it the Lake of a Mother’s Tears. A mother who has lost a child will feel such grief that she will cry enough tears to fill the pan,” a park ranger tells me. “This isn’t just part of our history; it is part of our souls.”
Moments like these, when personal stories of the people who once lived in Etosha come alive, are scarce and far in the past. Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most remarkable game reserves, offering visitors the chance to view herds of game against the dazzling backdrop of a vast, shallow pan of silvery sand. The area south of the Great White Place, where tourist routes and lodges are situated, was once the homeland of the Hai||om, an indigenous San or Bushmen community recently recognized as the oldest humans on Earth.
For the Hai||om, the past is disappearing at a frantic pace. Days when the elders would to sit around the fire and tell stories are quickly disappearing. However, there is reason for hope on the horizon. Worried that their cultural history may die with them, the elders of the Hai||om community partnered with international researchers to establish the Xoms |Omis Project (Etosha Heritage Project). The aim of the project is to capture and document the Hai||om cultural heritage and deliver a unique body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge.
The Hai||om have acquired an incredible knowledge about biodiversity; the use of various plants as food and medicine; and the behavior of game in the region. Much of this knowledge has been documented through the Xoms |Omis project and is now passed on to the younger generations through workshops and joint activities.
Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om is the first publication to pay homage to the forgotten cultural history of the National Park. Designed to accompany the reader on a journey through Etosha, the book reincorporates the culture and history of the natural landscape. The history of selected waterholes and other culturally relevant locations accessible to visitors on the main tourist routes serve to portray the life of the Hai||om who once lived there and to highlight the history of the park. “This publication ensures that people will know our story and helps to protect our history and culture,” says Kadisen ||Khumub, the co-chair of the Xoms |Omis Project.
A series of products based on Hai||om heritage and knowledge have also been developed, such as postcards and ‘Born in Etosha’ t-shirts, allowing visitors a chance to take part in the remarkable project.
For more information about the Xoms |Omis Project, or order your copy of Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om here.
Namibia is a fascinating cultural melting-pot, combining early African populations with a wide array of western explorers.
Since gaining independence in 1990, Namibians have worked on mending Apartheid-era wounds, and today they are celebrating their rich heritage.
Namibia's colourful African vigour infuses old Europe into a distinctive Namibian spirit, creating unique architecture, food, customs and art. What has emerged is a true sense of unity in diversity – the coming together of 13 ethnic groups, each celebrating their past while working together toward the future. There is a powerful bond uniting rural and urban, farmers and professionals. While each of these groups has its own rich cultural heritage, they all share one thing in common…they are Namibian and proud of it.
This harmony exists through a shared history, expressed through a common sense of hospitality. The open, welcoming people of Namibia provide guests to the country with the opportunity to experience these customs and traditions first-hand, and visitors to Namibia are likely to experience an authentic way of life. Local tour operators have taken care to develop itineraries which includes visits to communities in rural areas where villagers eagerly share their everyday lives, from the Herero women who wear distinctive Victorian-style dresses and horn shaped hats, to the semi-nomadic Himba whose women wear intricate hairstyles and ornamental jewellery artfully crafted from shells and metals. Listen to the Nama or the Damara whose complex languages feature intriguing clicking sounds. Visit the San people who are among the last hunter gatherer communities on Earth and have been able to preserve much of their ancient culture.
Community based tourism options are a large part of what makes a visit to Namibia so distinctive, providing an enriching and engaging opportunity for both the traveller and the local communities to get to discover each other. At the same time, such activities generate real social and economic benefits to the empowered communities, and ultimately provide a more authentic Namibian experience to the visitors. Community campsites provide a base from which to enjoy and explore the highlights of the country and magnificent scenery, while offering opportunities to truly delve into what makes Namibia so unique, its people, its local feasts and customs, and, perhaps make a few new friends.
Come discover what makes us so proud to be Namibian – and allow us to share our Namibia with you!
The people of Namibia invite you to share our country and explore the rugged, natural, soulful, liberating place we call home.
A visit to Namibia is the experience of a lifetime. With the tallest sand dunes, one of the deepest canyons, and the friendliest faces in the world - Namibia is a place that will always stay with you.
But don't take any one person's word for it... take everyone's word for it.
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