The Herero are herdsmen who live between Angola and Namibia. In the late 19th century they had the misfortune to be colonised by the Germans, who wanted to rule over the area and seized their cattle and lands, resorting to methods of genocide.
Despite this troubled sad past, the Herero still live in their homeland and maintain close links with their own traditions and cultural identity, but one of the things they sadly had to change, because of the strict rules imposed by the colonizers, was their dressing style.
The Germans were shocked by their scanty clothing and forced them to wear long, bulky dresses in Victorian style, and the Herero women still wear this type of outfit made of colourful fabric and geometric patterns.
Even today, when travelling along the roads of Namibia it is not unusual to see the Herero ladies with their unmistakable dresses and big hats, while they look after their children, farm the land or tend sheep and goats, while men lead the cattle to grazing lands.
It is believed that the Herero people moved to Namibia from the Great Lakes in Eastern Africa.
They have always been a population of cattle breeders and settled in the plains of Central Namibia because of the grassy pastures they found there for their cattle.
Livestock breeding is extremely important for the Herero people because from the cattle they obtain meat, milk, hide and horns, which are staple items for their livelihood and also for trading.
The importance that cattle plays in the daily life of the Herero is symbolized by the headdress worn by their women; in fact the voluminous Victorian-style clothes imposed by the shocked colonizers are completed with the Otjikayiva, an accessory made with coloured fabric rolls, with two horn-shaped projections at both ends, that reflects the great importance they give to their cattle, i.e. their primary source of food, life and wealth.
Herero villages are built with the safety of cattle in mind; the enclosure where the animals are kept is located at the centre of the village, near the sacred fire, which is kept permanently lit to worship the God Ndjambi, through the mediation of ancestors, and celebrate major events, such as weddings.
Men and women play separate roles within the Herero society: men are usually in charge of the trade and cattle rearing and, in the dry season, they move the herds to grassy pastures; women take care of children, and also look after sheep and goats, and irrigate small plots of cultivated fields.
The Herero people are very familiar with the beneficial properties of plants and shrubs that grow in the area as, rather than relying on modern Western medicine, they prefer using traditional ointments and infusions prepared using roots, leaves, barks, flowers and fruits.
There are no events worth of note in the Herero history until the colonial era, with the exception of occasional clashes with the Nama people, other breeders living in the same area, for the control of pastures.
The arrival of the Germans dramatically changed the Herero life, and although they initially tried to fight the colonizers with some victories, at the end the Germans prevailed, in what rather than a war turned to be an extermination on the part of the colonizers, who committed the first genocide in the history of humanity.
At the turn of the 20th century the Herero population was estimated at around 80,000 individuals, while in 1905 it dropped to a mere 16,000, as the result of the deadly policy of the Germans; nowadays, 100,000 individuals belonging to the Herero ethnicity live in Namibia while around 20,000 live in South Angola.
Life, tradition and culture of Herero people
- Herero economy
- Herero history
- Herero’s rituals and religious beliefs
- Herero villages
- Herero traditional medicine