Namdeutsch: How has the German colonial period left its mark on Namibian culture?

Namdeutsch: How has the German colonial period left its mark on Namibian culture?
Archive photo from 2018 shows a street in Windhoek with German name. However, many streets commemorating the colonial era are being changed. Photo: picture alliance / Florian Pütz/-/dpa | Florian Pütz
When you think of German speaking minorities, this southwest African country may not be the first to come to mind. Though the relationship between Namibia and Germany is fraught, the influence of German culture can still be seen across Namibia’s urban areas. 

In May, Germany recognised for the first time that it had committed genocide in Namibia during the colonial occupation of the African country, which was at that time known as German South West Africa. Between 1904 and 1908, German forces massacred tens of thousands of Namibian people in what is considered the first genocide of the twentieth century.

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Germany’s actions in Namibia poisoned relations between the two nations during the last century, but the influence of German occupation can still be seen in modern Namibia. From the teaching of German in schools, to the selling of traditional German dishes, Namibian-German culture is certainly still alive and kicking. 

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German influence permeates deep into the culture of urban Namibia. If you visit Windhoek, the country’s capital, you will see street names, churches and schools all bearing German names. There is even an Evangelical Lutheran congregation in the capital with around 4.5 thousand members. 

Over the last few decades, a number of cities have started changing the names of streets and schools to better honour black Namibian figures and traditional elements of the culture, rather than German colonialists. English has been the only official language in Namibia since 1990, in an attempt to move on from the bloodied history of the German colonial period. 

A memorial for victims of the genocide committed by German colonial troops against Herero and Nama people in the centre of the Namibian capital Windhoek. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jürgen Bätz

German language in Namibia

German is the mother tongue of around 30,000 Namibians, while several hundred thousand more people are said to speak German as a second or third language. Afrikaans and English are also spoken across Namibia and show the influence of Dutch and British colonial efforts in Southern Africa. The traditional language of Oshiwambo remains the most widely spoken in Namibia. 

Namibian German is considered its own dialect and is the most common form of the language used in the country, but there are also a number of patois versions of German that will often be used by older Namibians. German is rarely spoken in rural communities, and most speakers of the language live in major cities in the centre and south of the country. 

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The German spoken in Namibia today is called Namlish or Namsläng by younger Namibians, while German academics tend to refer to it as Namdeutsch. The number of students learning German schools is actually increasing, despite fears from some that the Namibian-German is dying out. 

Modern Namdeutsch includes a lot of influence from English and Afrikaans. Here are a few of the most common Namibian-German words, along with their translations, that you might hear on the streets of Windhoek:

Morro-tse! Guten Morgen – Good morning!

DeutschländerDeutscher – a German, or a white Namibian with German heritage

Biekie/bikie bisschen – a bit, or a small amount

Drankwinkel Getränkemarkt – a shop selling alcohol

Lekker lecker – tasty

Nüffel Kind – a child 

Trockenzeit/KaltzeitWinter – winter (literally ‘dry time’ or ‘cold time’) 

Uitlander Ausländer – foreign national


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