7 Fascinating Myths and Legends From Namibia

Elephants in Namibia play an important role in local mythology
Elephants in Namibia play an important role in local mythology | © MartinFuchs / Pixabay
Rukee Kaakunga

Myths and legends left behind by ancient Namibians have been kept alive through an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation. Representing the tribes’ beliefs regarding religion, the origins of life, or simply tales of pre-historic animals, these stories help us shed light on the country and culture we know today. Here are just a few to get you started.

Loved by over 40s

Fairy circles in the desert

Among the many natural wonders of the Namibian desert are its fairy circles: hundreds of circular patches scattered across barren land. Many urban myths have emerged as to the origin of these unique circles, with some claiming that they are footprints of God. According to one oral myth of the Himba, the circles were left by gods, while another has it that an ancient dragon living beneath the earth’s crust burns the vegetation on the surface of the earth by breathing fire onto it.

The legendary fairy circles of Namibia

The legend of Haitsi Aibeb

Haiseb or ‘Haitsi Aibeb’ is said to have saved the world from a monster which had caught many travellers in its pit. According to oral tradition, the demon sat beside his pit and mocked anyone who passed by. He challenged these passersby to throw a stone at him, and most of the time they did, even though the stones would bounce off him. He would then use this opportunity to catch the passersby off guard and throw them into his pit. Haiseb eventually overpowered the demon, saving the world in the process.
Haiseb is also highly revered because the moon and the stars are said to have risen from his breast. He saved the animal world by removing lions nesting in trees and fish from the desert. The grave of Haiseb is said to be in different locations; either along walkways or near waterholes. These graves are called “Haitsi Aibeb” (“the grave of Haiseb, a deity”) . Travellers have since then always placed stones and other offerings on the graves. Anyone visiting these graves is expected to show respect and upon leaving, should never turn back.

The legend of Makuru

The Herero legend about the origin of men says that Makuru, and his wife Kamungarunga descended from the roots of a sacred tree known as the Omumborombonga. The scientific name of this tree is Combretum imberbe but it’s also commonly known as leadwood, literally meaning ‘the tree of lead’ because of its inability to float on water. The Herero also believe that their prized cattle descend from the leadwood tree, while other animals and tribes descend from common flowers and have crawled out of the earth. The Omumborombonga is revered as the ‘father of life’ and when the Herero come across these trees they show respect to it by throwing twigs at its roots.

The silhouette of the incredibly dense leadwood tree

The Khwe and the elephant

The Kwhe people from the Zambezi region of northeastern Namibia believed that elephants were originally human and so their myths depict elephants as strong and wise chieftains and police officers. In one story, the elephant gets its nose stretched out after beating a hippo in a game of tug-of-war. In another story, the elephant gets its nose stretched after a fight with a crocodile. The second story serves as a warning to people about an elephant’s temper.

Many tribes have various tales that explain how the elephant got its trunk

The Mantis and the San

Mantis was the giver of life and the original giver of fire. The San do not regard the mantis as a god, but rather as a higher form of a human who represents the San’s idea of the ideal person. They represented him well in their ancient rock art which can still be seen across rocky and mountainous regions in Namibia. Mantis is said to have brought the San fire by snatching it from beneath an ostrich’s wings. The ostrich kept fire under his wings to prepare his food which tasted so much better than everyone else’s. The mantis, used to eating his food raw, tricked the ostrich and snatched the fire for himself. It is said that this humiliating loss is the reason why ostriches cannot fly, choosing opting to keep their wings pressed tight to preserve the little fire they have left.

The legend of the upside-down tree

Legend has it that the baobab tree, ‘upside-down tree’, or ‘ghost’ tree got to look this way because of neglect and a lack of appreciation. The baobab is said to have constantly compared how it looked to other trees and deemed its peers more attractive. After getting fed up with all its complaints and questions as to why other trees where better looking, God picked the baobab up and replanted it upside-down, leaving it unable to ever see its reflection in the nearby lake and complain again.

The baobab tree which is also known as ‘the upside-down tree’

Fish River Canyon

Namibia’s Fish River Canyon may be one of the top visited tourist attractions, but many who visit are unaware of the legend of how it came into being. According to the San people, a serpent named Kouteign Kooru looked for refuge within the massive territory of the canyon while escaping would-be captors. Kooru was so enormous that he was larger that a hippo. Chased by hunters, he fled into the desert and began to burrow. This was how the canyon was formed.

Fish River Canyon
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.