• October 17th, 2019

Without a ‘tribe’, you’re irrelevant



Firstly, the writer wishes to acknowledge that the term ‘tribe’, which will be the focal point of this debate, has been used in a derogative manner mainly by the western world to refer to Africans who share a culture, language, beliefs etc. 

The Caucasians use the word ‘tribe’ to refer to  African ethnicities as primitive or ferocious and living under a headman or chief. Obviously, this definition was concocted by people who had no idea of the African realities.  In anthropology, the word ‘tribe’ refers to a human social group. As Namibians, and by implication Africans, we should rethink the use of the term ‘tribe’ in the context of Africa to support a discourse on African realities.

The discussion will embrace the word ‘tribe’ to refer to an organised human social group living in a given geographical space with shared interests and habits or a clan with a common ancestor.  There have been some voices that suggest that we should do away with cultural festivals such as Olufuko because they ‘demean’ women. 

Others are of the view that we should obliterate ‘tribes’ because they undermine national unity. Other people blame tribalism as the main source of the socio-political ills that have gripped Namibia. Furthermore, some voices have gone to the extent of calling for the removal of chieftainship because, according to them, it promotes ‘tribalism’, thus retarding development in their respective regions. Others are of the view that individuals should not identify themselves by their tribal affiliation if we are to give meaning to the political mantra of “One Namibia, One Nation.”

Namibia has a population of about 2.6 million – comprising of ancient and proud tribes, with more than 10 ethnic groups, that have different cultures and history. However, in the midst of all these differences, there are aspects of Namibian cultures that make us realise that we are not 100 percent different. 

The ethnic groups in Namibia include the Aawambo, Kavango, Herero, Damara, Nama, Caprivians, Tswana, !Kung hunter-gatherers and those of European descent. Although each of these groups has its own language and other unique cultural characteristics, there is unity in diversity, which made it possible for the Swapo movement to successfully fight the liberation war.

Namibia is a nation characterised by social organisations of different ‘tribes’ with diverse cultural and economic organisation set-up. Additionally, ‘tribes’ are societies that have been granted legal recognition, a deed that should be applauded.  Anthropologists such as Miles Garratt opine that in a tribal society, the benefit is that there would be limited dissident thought and action from the socially constructed rules and culture that everyone would have been raised to understand. 

Secondly, an individual who is raised in a tribal setting would be able to operate without fear of offense because there would be a clear understanding of social taboos and the most important values within one’s life and tribe, and what is expected of you as an individual. 

Relevance 
It is a ‘tribe’ that teaches the ‘dos and don’ts’ at the early stages of a child’s progression. It is the tribal group that defines who the person is, builds one’s character and infuses discipline; helps one to know where they came from and gives direction to an individual. Therefore, without an association to a ‘tribe’, you are irrelevant. 

The African culture is a resilient device used for the upbringing of children to be responsible future people.  Culture helps to develop a strong understanding of social responsibility in the child; and teaches children to be respectful, responsible and supportive member of the society. 

Loss of moral ground
In Namibia today the youth seem to shun their tradition in favour of western practice of Europe and America that is foreign to Africa. This has resulted in our youth to have limited information about the African values. Moreover, most, if not all, our young people have lost touch of the rich African values. For example, young people have lost or have no respect at all for the elderly; they no longer give a helping hand to the adult and do not offer their seats to the elderly whether in public or private. Presently, teenage pregnancy is on the increase. Young girls do not regard their cultural values as far as virginity and marriage is concerned. Perhaps they are not aware of the African cultural values!

African values
Values are beliefs that are held about what is right and wrong and what is important in life. Some of the African values include respect to elders – since elders are considered the foundation and custodians of the culture and traditions of the people, they are well respected in the African society.  The other value is zero tolerance for theft – a thief caught in an act is shamed and punished accordingly before a traditional court.

The shame and disgrace brought to himself or herself, friends, family and friends serves as a deterrent from engaging in crime. Adultery and other forms of immoral behaviour are strongly discouraged and punishable in a traditional set-up. The other value is the Puberty rite – this is a traditional practice which is performed mainly on adolescent girls to initiate them to womanhood. This rite is performed to make girls good wives. Puberty rite was initiated to prevent young girls and adolescents from teenage pregnancy, prostitution and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Boys who reach the adolescent stage also go through a similar practice.  Some communities used to initiate boys, a practice long abandoned because of the influence of the western culture. These values held African communities together and guaranteed their continued existence.

In will be suicidal for us to neglect our ‘tribal’ African culture because it is that makes us to be Namibians and Africans. Let us embrace our cultural practices for us to nurture responsible youth for Namibia. This will, in turn, result in social harmony in the country for many years to come.


Staff Reporter
2019-08-09 08:02:05 2 months ago

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