The Nama practice an animist religion that they have been handing down orally for several centuries; they believe there is a god, Haiseb, who has existed since primeval times.
Haiseb is represented by a bull who was born after his mother, a cow, ate magic grass and his name means "one who is like a tree"; this deity is usual singing wonderful songs that are based upon the trees and the bushes.
The Nama believe Haiseb has saved the world from an evil monster.
According to oral tradition, this demon would sit next to his hiding place and, as he was often derided by those who went over there, he challenged the passengers to hit him with a stone; but the boulder launched bounced on the body of the demon and struck the man who had thrown it, he fell inside the hideout and then was devoured by the monster.
The Nama tell that Haiseb died several times and every time he always resurrected in a different form, this legend explains why his tombs, Haitsi Aibeb, literally "Haiseb’s grave", are found in many places in Namibia: usually they consist of piles of stones, generally in the vicinity of ancient paths and passages or sometimes near water holes; the Nama consider these places as sacred and respect them very much.
When a Nama, during a shift or a trip, runs into a Haitsi Aibeb usually adds a stone, a stick or a twig, and sometimes a few drops of water or diluted honey, a little piece of meat or tobacco; making this offer in reverence kneeling and reciting a prayer.
As he moves away from this place, he is not allowed to turn and look back, this rule applies even while leaving any sacred place; in case of disobedience, a disgrace or an accident will strike him.
Within the numerous Nama legends there is one that has a curious similarity with the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses in his escape from Egypt.
Haiseb was traveling with his people when an enemy began to chase him to capture both him and his faithfuls, at one point he came to a stream of water and the only way out was beyond the river; then he asked his father for help and he separated the waters so that Haiseb and his people were able to pass undamaged, the waters closed again after their passage drowning the enemy pursuing them.
The Nama were forced to migrate from the North to the South of Namibia pushed by some populations of Bantu origin; a legend tells that some Nama were transformed into the halfmens tree, that means " half men trees ".
This species of tree, a rare succulent plant, the pachypodium namaquanum, from a distance seems an anthropomorphic figure with the head pointing North, the Nama claim it has this position because it looks at the beloved land it had to abandon.
In reality, the tree head, constituted by a rosette of leaves, is facing North to have a greater exposure to the sun, especially in winter.
Life, tradition and culture of Nama people
- Nama huts and villages
- Nama origins
- Nama wedding ritual
- Nama religion and legends
- Nama history