Damara people

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This article is about the Damara people. For other uses, see Damara (disambiguation).
Damara People Namibia.jpg
Damara people in Damaraland, Namibia
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Khoekhoe (coll. Damara)
Both African Religion and Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Nama, Kwisi, Kwadi, Cimba

The Damara (Khoekhoegowab: ǂNū-khoë, literally Black people, German: Berg Damara, referring to their extended stay in the hills of Khomas Highland, also called at various times the Daman or the Damaqua) are an ethnic group who make up 8.5% of Namibia's population. They speak the Khoekhoe language (like the Nama people) and the majority live in the northwestern regions of Namibia, however they are also found widely across the rest of the country. They have no known cultural relationship with any of the other tribes anywhere else in Africa,[2] and very little is known of their origin. It has been proposed that the Damara are a remnant population of southwestern Africa hunter-gatherers, otherwise only represented by the Cimba, Kwisi, and Kwadi, who adopted the Khoekhoe language of the immigrant Nama people.[3]

Their name in their own language is the "Daman" (where the "-n" is just the Khoekhoe plural ending). The name "Damaqua" stems from the addition of the Khoekhoe suffix "-qua/khwa" meaning "people" (found in the names of other Southern African peoples like the Namaqua and the Griqua).

Prior to 1870 the Damara occupied most of central Namibia, but large numbers were displaced when the Namaqua and Herero began to occupy this area in search of better grazing. Thereafter the Damara were dominated by the Namaqua and the Herero, most living as servants in their households.[2]

In 1960, the South African government forced the Damara into the bantustan of Damaraland, an area of poor soil and irregular rainfall. About half of their numbers still occupy Damaraland.[citation needed]


The Damara consist of 30 clans:[4]

A separate group was created in the 1970s when Damara people living at Riemvasmaak in South Africa were expelled to Khorixas in the Damara bantustan in order to make space for a military installation. This group became known as the Riemvasmakers. They were given land by Damara Chief Justus ǁGaroëb to settle on. When in 1994 with the independence of South Africa a process of land restitution allowed the return of families and communities, some of the Riemvasmakers returned but a residual group founded their own traditional authority. They are seeking recognition from the Namibian government to be recognised as a separate Damara clan.[8][9]


The Damara are divided into clans, each headed by a chief, with a King, Justus ǁGaroëb, over the whole Damara people. Prince ǀHai-hab, Chief Xamseb, and ǁGuruseb were among the richest and most powerful chiefs.

Damara males were not circumcised. However, groups of boys were initiated into manhood through an elaborate hunting ritual. This ritual is repeated twice, for teenagers and grown men, after which the initiates are considered tribal elders.[10]

Their traditional clothing colors are green, white, and blue. Green and blue identify the different sub-groups. Some women may wear white and blue or white and green, the white representing peace and unity among all Damara-speaking people.

Some Damara women share a similar style of traditional dress to the OvaHerero, with the long, flowing dresses that look almost Victorian in style. However, the traditional hats that the Herero wear have longer 'horns' to resemble cattle.

The women do household chores like cooking, cleaning, and gardening. Their primary duty is milking the cows in the morning and nurturing the young. Men traditionally hunt and herd the cattle, leaving the village as early as the sunrise, patrolling their area to protect their cattle and grazing ground as tradition dictates. Men can be very aggressive towards intruders if not notified of any other male presence in a grazing area.

Though many Damara people own and live on rural farms, the majority live in the small towns scattered across the Erongo region or in Namibia's capital city of Windhoek. Those that still live on farms tend to live in extended family groups of as many as one hundred, creating small villages of family members.

The Damara are rich in cattle and sheep. Some chiefs possess up to 8,000 head of horned cattle.


  1. ^ James Stuart Olson, « Damara » in The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996, p. 137
  2. ^ a b "Damara Culture | Namibia Africa | Traditions, Heritage, Society & People". Namibiatourism.com.na. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  3. ^ Blench, Roger. 1999. "Are the African Pygmies an Ethnographic Fiction?" Pp 41–60 in Biesbrouck, Elders, & Rossel (eds.) Challenging Elusiveness: Central African Hunter-Gatherers in a Multidisciplinary Perspective. Leiden.
  4. ^ Miyanicwe, Clemans (6 January 2015). "Damaras to meet at Khorixas". The Namibian. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Malan, Johan S (1998). Die Völker Namibias [The Tribes of Namibia] (in German). Windhoek, Göttingen: Klaus Hess. pp. 134–135. 
  6. ^ Smit, Nico (7 October 2011). "Evicted ǀKhomanin vow to fight for ancestral land". The Namibian. 
  7. ^ Menges, Werner (7 October 2011). "Interdict issued to stop Okombahe ceremony". The Namibian. 
  8. ^ "Jo Ractliffe. The Borderlands". www.stevenson.info. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  9. ^ Miyanicwe, Clemans (22 October 2014). "Riemvasmakers seek recognition". The Namibian. 
  10. ^ Barnard, Alan (1992) Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa: A Comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan Peoples Cambridge University Press pp 210-211