Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Namibian art goes back to the earliest days of antiquity. Rock art has been found in caves and shelters that were close to where these nomadic tribes had set up temporary settlements. Evidence of early stone tools and weapons has also been found in these locations as well. Many of these rock drawings depict their everyday life, their hunting expeditions, and their spiritual beliefs. Their paints were made from materials that were readily available to them in the desert, and paintbrushes were made from animal or human hair. Sharpened stones were used for carving. 

However, rock art wasn’t the only art Namibians produced. They were also skilled at creating art out of everyday utensils and tools. Items such as baskets and pots were woven, molded, and painted in a variety of subtle geometric designs. Belts, bracelets, and leather pouches were decorated with beads, ivory, and stones. Even musical instruments such as drums, rattles, and thumb pianos (mbira) are also decorated with carved designs. Textile arts were also a necessity: embroidery, weaving, and appliqué were used for wall coverings, clothing, tablecloths, rugs, and a number of other items.

As Europeans moved into the land and took it over, they also introduced a variety of styles of European painting. Landscapes were quite a popular thing to paint as was the abundant African wildlife. Namibian artists as well as European and foreign artists flocked to the rural areas to paint the view.

Even after independence, Namibian artists continued to utilize these European artistic styles and techniques. They merged their own culture into their art, and it became an expression of their identity, a means to tell a story, and to depict their life and their struggles. It’s hard to say if there’s a unifying theme or style among artists because each is unique. Perhaps the land and the people remain the unifying element.

Technically speaking, the first pieces of literature were probably those rock drawings. But the Owambo tradition is considered one of the earliest forms of literature in Namibia. As Europeans ventured into the area as explorers and missionaries, they wrote about what they saw. However, they wrote from their point of view, not necessarily about the people or their history or way of life. For the people who lived here, oral traditions were at the heart of their storytelling for many of the early times. 

As Christianity moved through the land, it influenced their literature in many ways. For one, there were cases where they downplayed the local cultures in lieu of European ways. However, in many areas, the church was responsible for education and the teaching of written language. Much of the early literature was in the form of poetry, short stories, and traditional tales that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Literature from colonization to today is mainly written in English, Afrikaans, or German. Many Namibian writers have had their works published and have made significant contributions to modern African literature. Common themes include women’s rights, the rise to independence and the shedding away of colonialism, the struggles of oppression, and cultural identity. One writer, Neshani Andreas, writes about women’s issues in her novel The Purple Violet of Oshaantu. Giselher W. Hoffman is an example of a Namibian writer who has produced several novels written in German.

Up next: music and dance

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