Cattle breeding is the main source of subsistence for the Herero people, although trading, hunting and, to a lesser extent, crop farming are the other major sectors of their economy.
The Herero mainly breed bovines because they are considered a gift received from their god and provide also food and basic products, such as milk, meat and hides, that are either consumed by the family or traded; they also rear horses, donkeys, goats and sheep used both for transportation of materials and the meat.
Due to the lack of water sources, mainly in the Kalahari region, the Herero must dig wells to procure the water they need for their animals and the village life; it is up to the women and children to replenish the water tanks in the village as they do not take care of the cattle; in the dry season the cattle is taken to far-distant areas where grasslands and water are available.
Hunting has a marginal role and is practiced in the winter season, i.e. from May to August, because the game meat can be preserved for longer periods thanks to low temperatures; the meat of game animals provides the Herero with a higher source of protein and these are also products that can be either sold or bartered with hides or horns.
Agriculture is limited to a few products, including corn, that is the most important crop generally consumed by the farmers themselves; the irrigation of small plots of land is a task assigned to women and children.
The Herero people have practised trading since ever: before the arrival of the Europeans they used to exchange their products with iron, ornaments and salt from neighbouring populations; after the arrival of the colonisers, the Herero started to exchange their goods with carts, metal tools and alcohol.
The products they now take to the market are live animals, mainly sheep and cattle, meat, hides and butter; in fact, butter is not consumed by the Herero, it is only used as a cosmetic product for the skin, as it is for the Himba.
The trading activity is the prerogative of men, as well as the care of the cattle and the excavation of wells, while women are in charge of the irrigation of the crop fields and harvest of the fruits of the earth, the carrying out of household activities and the care of children and small animals, such as sheep, goats and poultry.
Life, tradition and culture of Herero people
- Herero economy
- Herero history
- Herero’s rituals and religious beliefs
- Herero villages
- Herero traditional medicine