Nama celebrate culture, identity

Preserving customs, medicine highlighted

03 June 2019 | Cultural

JEMIMA BEUKES



Hundreds of first nation descendants from across the region descended on the second annual Nama Festival that took place in Keetmanshoop this past weekend.

At least 2 000 people attended the festival, which took place at the Keetmanshoop Stadium, where several cultural villages were erected.

The local festival was birthed from the annual Nama Festival that takes place in Botswana every year.

There were food stalls, handmade products, arts and crafts stalls, as well as a cultural village hosted by local medicine man, Christian Uth.

Uth is also a local shoemaker and tanner who makes veldskoene using mainly sheep and goat leather.

“It is important that we preserve our cultural customs and medicine, otherwise we will find ourselves in a situation where Americans or European come and take it and sell it to us; then we have nothing to make a living out of,” Uth cautioned.

Speaker after speaker emphasised the need for the Nama people to embrace their culture, identity and most importantly their language, Khoekhoegowab.

Culture minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa said she fears that the Nama do not respect and preserve their mother tongue as they should.

She emphasised that a person’s culture is very important and urged the Nama to embrace theirs fully

“We face the danger of cultural extinction if we do not take seriously the need to preserve our culture. Our culture is important for the future of our children, and to our nation, because culture ensures a history - a past, present and certainly a future,” Hanse-Himarwa said.

“One of the most important cultural aspects is our language. I fear that our language does not receive the attention it deserves from ourselves. We don’t encourage our children and grandchildren to speak, read and write the language. We don’t encourage them to learn the language in schools by choosing it as a subject or as a medium of instruction.”

The minister also encouraged the Nama to disregard those who say their culture is backward and outdated, and that it holds back people and should be forgotten.

“I do not agree with those sentiments and reject them with the contempt they deserve, as I believe that many of us are living examples of what our cultures and traditions did for us when we were young. Our cultures helped us to develop and mould our attitudes and characters to be productive, useful, purposeful and progressive citizens. It is thus imperative that our children are taught the importance of upholding cultural norms and values,” she said.

Hanse-Himarwa added that while the Nama embrace their indigenous cultural identity they must remember that it is equally important that they engage in cross-cultural activities with other cultural groups within Namibia.

“I am saying this because we are first Namibians before we are Nama, Damara, Ovaherero, etc. Being Namibian should therefore be our common denominator. I encourage you to learn from other cultural groups, and they from you, in our quest to practice unity in diversity. Unity in isolation and unity only amongst ourselves will not serve any purpose, as we are living in societies, locally as well as internationally, hence the term used in contemporary language is ‘global village’,” she said.

Chief Petrus Kooper of the Nama Traditional Leader’s Association said their language is an integral part of their culture and without it the Nama cannot have dignified lives.

He added that the University of Cape Town’s recent announcement that the Nama language will be offered from this month is great news for the Nama people.

Kooper also said land ownership is important for the Nama’s existence.

“In essence the ownership of land in a group and its community, also known as the collective property of land, was their very existence and all Nama had the right to live freely within Namaqualand. Our ancestors enjoyed collective rights over Namaqualand, both great and small, which they connected with physically, emotionally, economically, culturally, socially and spiritually.”

The chief further cautioned the Nama to guard against misleading and politicised concepts regarding land.

“We are obviously fully aware that our land rights are not static, but changed over time, as our culture and use of land changed,” he said.

Ancestral land commissioner JP van der Westhuizen said there is a need for the Nama to liberate their minds from the apartheid regime and to move beyond what they identify themselves as.