Nama Debate: More Questions than Answers

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By Wonder Guchu WINDHOEK The lecture held at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre on Wednesday last week was supposed to be about the Khoekhoen culture, tradition, and the origins of the word Nama, but it turned out to be something else. While Isaac Gowaseb, the former executive producer at the Nama/Damara Service of the former South West African Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC), who delivered the lecture, said there is not much difference between the Nama and Damara languages except in the way the two pronounce their clicks, Nama people in the audience challenged him to prove his claims. The only difference, Gowaseb said, is that the Nama accentuate the clicks while the Damara assimilate them. Gowaseb, although he spoke on the history and culture of the Nama people, could not explain the origins of the word Nama and could not say whether the Nama were also the Khoekhoen. Most speakers who contributed to the debate disagreed with Gowaseb and during the discussion it emerged, according to the arguments, that Namas “are not Khoekhoen” despite some physical similarities. “I am not a Khoekhoen. I am a pure Nama. If you look at me you will see that I have Asian looks. This is because we originated from Asia when the continents were still joined together,” said one female speaker. Explaining how the word Nama came to be, the speaker said that when the Dutch came to South Africa and forced tribes to work for them, two brothers from her clan decided to trek north because they did not want to work. Because of this resistance, the word Nama, which roughly means ‘taking a stand’, came into being Another speaker said the word Nama could have come about when the people met strangers who could not speak their language. In referring to the strangers then, the word Namara was used and from this was derived the word Nama. Although the origins of the Damara were not the subject of discussion, speakers said that the word Damara is a question on who was here first? On the issue of clicks, it was said that the missionaries who came into the country made the Damara to change the way they pronounced their clicks. The lecture sought to open up debate on the origins of Namibia’s tribes that were played against each other by the apartheid regime.