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
100,000 (1996)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Khoekhoe (coll. Damara)
Both African Religion and Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Nama, Kwisi, Kwadi, Cimba

The Damara (Khoekhoegowab: ǂNūkhoen, literally Black people, German: Berg Damara, referring to their extended stay in hilly and mountainous sites, 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 south-western 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 33 clans:

  • Animîn: lit. Let them say/ the birds say- In the vicinity of ǃNoagutsaub, commonly known as Kaiǁkhaes (Okahandja).
  • Aoguwun: lit. Tiger eye stones/ Sheep rams- To the south of ǂGaios commonly known as ǃNaniǀaus (Sesfontein) in Gaogob (Kaokoveld). The Aoguwun are also known as the Aogūdaman.
  • Arodaman: lit. Damaras of the Sandveldt- In and around ǃHōb also known as Apabeb (Waterberg). The Arodaman later shared their land with the Herero (Kavazembi) who arrived much later.
  • Aumîn: lit. Bitter words and blessings- To the north and east of ǃHōb also known as Apabeb (Waterberg).
  • Auodaman: lit. Named after a medicinal plant endemic to the Auos Mountains- Down the Auob River around ǃAris (Steenbok).
  • Auridaman: lit. Damaras of Aurib- Aurib is an arid land to the east of Gamaǂhâb (Kamanjab). To the east of Gamaǂhâb (Kamanjab).
  • Danidaman: : lit Honey Damaras- To the east of Tsawiǀaus (Otavi). The Danidaman have intermingled with the Haiǁom and ǀNawen (Aawambo) who arrived much later.
  • Dâuredaman: lit. Damaras of the Branberg- Dâureb is Khoekhoegowab for Brandberg. In the vicinity of Dâureb (Brandberg) and are also known as the Dâunadaman.
  • Hâkodaman: lit. Damaras of the Hakos Mountains- The Khoekhoegowab name for the Hakos Mountain is Hâkos. In the Hâko Mountains between Aous and ǂGans (Gamsberg Mountains).
  • Kaikhāben: lit. Great Rivals- North of ǃAutsawises (Berseba) on both banks of the ǁAub (Fish River).
  • Tsoaxudaman: lit. Damaras of the Swakop River valley- Tsoaxaub is Khoekhoegowab for Swakop River. The Tsoaxudaman are also known as the Tsoaxaudaman.
  • ǀGainîn: lit. The tough people - Between ǁGōbamǃnâs (Bullspoort/ Nauklift) and the southern ǃNamib (Namib) sand sea. Their name is derived from their ability to survive in such an environment. ǀGainîn can also be spelled as ǀGaiǁîn.
  • ǀGaioaman: lit. Damaras that consume the wild cucumber- In the vicinity of the Parasis (Mountains). From Tsūob (Outjo) beyond of ǃHōb also known as Apabeb (Waterberg). They lived along the river ǁKūob (Omuramba Omatako).
  • ǀGowanîn: lit. Damaras of the dunes (Kalahari Desert): Inhabited the entire ǀGowas also known as ǀŪmâs (Kalahari Desert) from ǀGaoǁnāǀaus commonly known as ǀAnes (Rehoboth), ǃHoaxaǃnâs (Hoachanas) and ǀGowabes commonly known as ǂKhoandawes (Gobabis). ǀGowanîn can also be spelled as ǀGowaǁîn.
  • ǀHaiǀgâsedaman: lit. Damaras of Vaalgras- . The ǀHaiǀgâsedaman live in and around ǀHaiǀgâseb (Vaalgras), Tsēs (Tses) and ǃKhōb (Witrand- limestone terrace near Mukorob) in southern Namibia.
  • ǀHūǃgaoben: lit. Named after the Kan nie dood tree endemic to the area)- The Khoekhoegowab name for the "Kan nie dood" tree is ǀHūs. They live in and around ǀGaoǁnāǀaus commonly known as ǀAnes (Rehoboth).
  • ǀKhomanîn: lit. Damaras of the Khomas Hochland- The Khoekhoegowab name for the Khomas Hochland is ǀKhomas. To the east of the mountains of ǀGaoǁnāǀaus commonly known as ǀAnes (Rehoboth) and in and around Kaisabes commonly known as ǀAeǁgams (Windhoek). ǀKhomanîn can also be spelled as ǀKhomaǁîn, in 1854 were more than 40,000 in number.
  • ǁHoanidaman: lit. Damaras of the Hoanib River- The Khoekhoegowab name of the Hoanib River is ǁHoanib. The ǁHoanidaman live along the length of the ǁHoanib (Hoanib River) and are also known as the Hoanidaman.
  • ǁHuruben: lit. The people that grumble/mumble- Live in and around ǀUiǁaes (Twyfelfontein), between ǁHûab (Huab River) and ǃŪǂgâb (Ugab River). They are called ǁHuruben because they speakn a distinct dialect of Khoekhoegowab that sounds more like "grumbling/mumbling."
  • ǁHûadaman: lit. Damaras of the Huab River- The Khoekhoegowab name of the Huab River is ǁHûab. The ǁHûadaman live along the length of the ǁHûab (Huab River).
  • ǃAinîn: lit. Damaras of the planes- ǃAib in Khoekhoegowab means open fields or planes and the ǃAinîn were named after those environs. They live in the open fields to the south of ǀGaoǁnāǀaus commonly known as ǀAnes (Rehoboth). ǃAinîn can also be spelled as ǀAiǁîn.
  • ǃAobeǁaen: lit. Feared nation/ People living on the periphery- They are found in and around ǃGuidiǁgams (Omaruru). This clan originally lived in the Khomas Hochland and were moved to ǃGuidiǁgams (Omaruru) thus were called ǃAobeǁaen (People living on the periphery i.e. people that are excluded) as they were moved without their consent.
  • ǃGarinîn: lit. Damaras of the Orange River- The Khoekhoegowab name of the Orange River is ǃGarib. The ǃGarinîn are the southernmost Damara clan and live along the ǃGarib (Orange River). ǃGarinîn can also be spelled as ǃGariǁîn.
  • ǃHâuǁnain: lit. Riem belt: Around the Orange and Molopo Rivers, South - Eastern Namibian Border. The ǃHâuǁnain lived in South Africa and were deported to Khōrixas (Khorixas). The ǃHâuǁnain are also known as ǃHâuǃgaen (Riemvasmakers).
  • ǃKhuisedaman: lit. Damaras of the Kuiseb River- The Khoekhoegowab name for the Kuiseb River is ǃKhuiseb. The ǃKhuisedaman live along the length of the ǃKhuiseb (Kuiseb River), they are also founded at the mouth of this river that later developed into a settelemt ǃGommenǁgams (Walvis Bay).
  • ǃNamidaman: lit. Damaras of the Namib Desert- The Khoekhoegowab name for the Namib Desert is ǃNamib. The ǃNamidaman lived primarily between ǃŪxab (Ugab River) and Huriǂnaub (Kunene River), they are also called Namidaman.
  • ǃNaranîn: lit. ǃNara plant Damaras- It may be that the ǃNaranîn people mostly consumed the ǃNara plant or that the plants grew abundantly in their land. TheǃNaranîn live to the south-west of ǂGaios commonly known as ǃNaniǀaus (Sesfontein) in Gaogob (Kaokoveld). ǃNaranîn can also be spelled as ǃNaraǁîn.
  • ǃNarenîn: lit. Freezing Damaras- Between ǃHanās (Kalkrand) and ǂNūǂgoaes (Keetmanshoop). The ǃNarenîn are named as such as a result of the cold temperatures experienced over this areas during the winter months. They have over the years intermingled with the Nama and are regarded as Namdaman. ǃNarenîn can also be spelled as ǃNareǁîn.
  • ǃOeǂgân: lit. People who take shelter with sunset/ Mountain with curved slopes- In and around ǃOeǂgâb (Erongo Mountains), ǃŪsaǃkhōs (Usakos) and ǃAmaib (Ameib).
  • ǃOmmen: lit. Muscular people- At ǃHōb also known as Apabeb (Waterberg), along ǂĒseb (Omaruru River) and between ǀÂǂgommes (Okombahe) and ǃOmmenǃgaus (Wilhelmstahl). The ǃOmmen were previously ǀGowanîn and were the original inhabitants of ǀÂǂgommes (Okombahe).
  • ǂAodaman: lit. Damara living on the fringes- Between Gamaǂhâb (Kamanjab), Tsūob (Outjo) and Tsawiǀaus (Otavi). Primarily at Khōrixas (Khorixas) and to the east of ǂGaios commonly known as ǃNaniǀaus (Sesfontein) in Gaogob (Kaokoveld).
  • ǂGaodaman: lit. Damaras of the ǂGaob River- In and around the ǂGaob River, which runs parallel with the ǃKhuiseb (Khuseb River) to the left and branch out into the ǃKhuiseb (Kuiseb River).
  • ǂGawan: Insolent or audacious people: Between ǂĀǂams (Stampriet) and ǃGoregura-ābes commonly known as Khāxatsūs (Gibeon). This people have over the years intermingled with the local ǀKhowese (Witbooi) and surrounding Nama clans.

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 King 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.[4][5]


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.[6]

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.

Damara women wear ankle length dresses with high neck lines. Adopted from Missionary wives in the Victorian period it is worn with a ǃkhaib (cloth headdress), less frequently with a ǃkhen (shawl) and karan (beadwork). It is this very same style of dressing that the Herero women adopted and only elongated the headgear.

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. ^ "Jo Ractliffe. The Borderlands". www.stevenson.info. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Miyanicwe, Clemans (22 October 2014). "Riemvasmakers seek recognition". The Namibian. 
  6. ^ Barnard, Alan (1992) Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa: A Comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan Peoples Cambridge University Press pp 210-211