In Namibia, where the average temperature in summer is 50 degrees, women of the Herero tribe, an ethnic group, that inhabits the Southern part of Africa, deck themselves up with long sleeves and petticoats!
But, why do these people deck themselves up in such Victorian tradition even in such extreme warm conditions?
Well, behind these colourful patterns and the striking variety of these costumes of the Herero people in Namibia, there is a tragic story.
Their gorgeous, colourful dresses, elaborate headpieces, and the vibrant patterns display their pride in their identity. The Herero tribe, majority of whom reside in Namibia are extremely proud to wear their distinctive fashion wear.
The history of Herero costume is extraordinary.
The present style was introduced to the Herero people during the German-Herero conflict, in between the late 19th and early 20th century. The first German colonists arrived there in 1892 and conflict with the indigenous Herero and Nama people begun.
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In most of the cases, these indigenous people were treated badly. In fact, according to reports, the German missionaries who came up with their own prejudices of civilization never accepted the dressing style of these indigenous people. The traditional semi-naked dress of Herero and Nama people was unacceptable to them. So, the Herero people, especially women were constrained into adopting the Victorian dress. They were forced to take up this tradition.
Since then, the Victorian tradition is continuing among the Herero tribe, and they are extremely proud to wear this dress, which is locally known as ‘Ohorokova’.
The present Herero dressing style, was thus adopted from the German Colonizers. During the early 20th century, Lothar von Trotha, the then German General devised a plan to annihilate the Herero tribe. He issued an ‘annihilate order’ and it was then that the Herero’s uprising war changed into genocide. The colonizers, according to history, wiped out almost 75 per cent of the Herero population.
During the war, Herero warriors used to steal and wear the uniforms of German soldiers as a badge of honour, after they had killed the soldier. They believed that this practice would transfer the power of that dead soldiers’ into them. Since then, on all auspicious occasion, the Herero men dressed themselves like a German military personnel, including wearing the peaked caps, berets, epaulettes, gaiters and aiglet (aiguillettes).
Married and aged women wore the ‘Ohorokova’ on a daily basis, while unmarried and younger ones wore it occasionally. The most significant milestone in a young Herero girl’s life is getting her first Ohorokova dress, as it would mark her entry into womanhood. Ohorokova dresses looks exactly like a Victorian gown. The high-necked floor length voluminous skirts they wear consume up to 10 meters of fabric and looks a bit bulky because of the petticoats. These fabrics are got from South-Africa and the cost depends on the quality and quantum of the fabric. Herero people use a light brown colour liquid as perfume that is made from ground plant roots; locally known as ‘Orupapa’.
Earlier, women had to marry to wear the Ohorokova dress or else, she had to take permission from elder ones. But, today, these traditions have been relaxed, and after a certain age they are allowed to wear this dress.
Moreover, the children, in the past, used to wear their traditional dress ‘Omutjira’, an apron covering the front and back portion of the body, leaving exposed the sides and also wore a belt or strap to decorate the dress. The belt represents a cow tail, as Herero people are traditionally ‘pastoralists’.
Another style of their fashion is ‘Oshikaiva’, they dedicate this to their tradition also, which is a symbol of respect. They wear the ‘Oshikaiva’ to pay homage to the cows that have historically helped Herero to sustain. The Oshikaiva dress looks like a cow horn. Herero’s headgears can be formed from rolled up newspapers covered in fabrics, and the size depends on the age of the wearer.