Herero women wearing traditional style dress and headdress shaped after cattle horns at Namibia. The headdress symbolizes their relationship with cattle farming, which is central to the Herero economy and lifestyle.
language. They live primarily in Namibia and Botswana in southwest Africa and number about 175,000. They are believed to have migrated from the Lake Tanganyika area in the east during the 18th century. Legend has it that the Herero once left 'a country of many mountains'. They came to a lead wood tree where the two leaders, Kathu, and his brother Nangombe decided to part ways. Kathu trekked north, while Nangombe stayed in Namibia to establish the Herero nation. The word Herero may be derived from okuhera, meaning 'to throw an assegai'. Indeed they were a fearless and warlike nation, taking on the might of the German empire in 1904.
A procession of Hereros dressed in traditional military-style uniforms led by Uetuesapi Mungendje (center) and Keeper of the Holy Fire Chief Tjipene Keja (left). The red accents in the uniforms indicate membership in the Red Flag faction
Approximately 150,000 Herero live in Namibia and about 20,000 in Botswana. The Herero make up approximately 7% of Namibia's population. The Herero have also scattered throughout southern Angola. Oral history has it that the Herero people group left the great lakes region of eastern Africa in the 1500s. They spent the next two centuries migrating to southwestern Africa where they settled in central Namibia. Things were relatively peaceful for the Herero for the next 150 years or so except for the occasional skirmish with the tribes from the south who were pushed north by South Africans who desired their grazing lands. The Herero are herders and the plains of central Namibia are perfect for grazing the cows that are foundational to their culture.
Inheritance: The Herero of Namibia and Botswana are unique among southern Africa's indigenous people in that they inherit different things from the mother's and father's families. Residence, religion, and authority are taken from the father's line, while the inheritance of wealth is passed through the mother's clan.
Livelihood: Traditionally, the Herero were nomadic pastoralists. Following contact with Europeans in the mid-19th century, many have become subsistence farmers, growing grains and raising sheep, cattle, and fowl.
Marriage: Apparently, not much significance is attached to marriage in the Herero group. No personal relationship exists between a man and his wife.
They each keep their own wealth and property. Each man has several wives, although a married woman is not allowed to have additional husbands. Despite the legalities, many women do have relationships with other men.
Dress: The striking Herero women's dress is derived from the Victorian era. German missionaries encouraged the women to wear clothes according to the fashion in Europe at the time. Until the mid 19th century, Herero people like others in southern Africa wore clothing made of leather.
Men and children wore different kinds of leather aprons, and male heroes wore special pieces of animal fur and other ornaments. Adult women wore two leather skirt ieces around their waists, along leather shawl decorated with iron beads and a headdress with three points on top.
Like their African neighbours, the Herero began wearing European style clothing in the 1850s, after Europeans missionaries began to settle in southern Africa. Herero people saw rival Nama groups and missionaries wearing western clothing. Today items of Herero clothing are still named after parts of the leather dress, suggesting that Herero people see continuity between the two types of dress codes.
Many children wear leather aprons when they are not in school. Men wear mostly store bought clothes but when they participate in the annual days of Herero cultural celebration they wear military type uniforms and bits of animal fur.
Religion: The Herero believe in a Supreme Being, called Omukuru, the Great One, or Njambi Karunga. Like the Himba they also have a holy, ritual fire which symbolizes life, prosperity and fertility to them. However, the majority have been converted to Christianity, although the Herero church, the Oruuano, combines Christian dogma with ancestor worship and magical practices
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah