Friday, February 14, 2014

Herero women of Namibia - Fashion & Genocide

I love, love, love fashion anywhere!

I  was so excited when I posted a few weeks ago about the Sapeurs, elegantly dressed men form the Republic of the Congo. Today I'm equally excited to post about the Herero women who reside in Namibia which is in the south west corner of Africa. There are about 100,000 Herero in Namibia.

Their clothing is extraordinary.  I could not believe it when I saw the women dressed in Victorian-style clothing, complete with hats that represent the horns of cattle. Cattle are a sign of prosperity and are very important to both the Himba and Herero communities. The Herero and Himba people are a proud, pastoral, cattle-breeding people who migrated to Namibia several centuries ago. Around 150 years ago, the two groups split and Herero settled in towns and villages while the Himba continued with a nomadic lifestyle.

Himba women

The hand sewn long dresses worn by the Herero are heavy and reflect the style of the Victorian period complete with numerous petticoats worn to add fullness to their skirts.

For over a century these women have fiercely protected their dress as a crucial part of their cultural identity. The Victorian influence on the Herero tribe is a direct result of the 19th century colonialism in Africa and the clothing is modeled after clothing worn by the wives of the German missionaries.

As the story goes,  German missionaries and colonialists who first came to the country in the early 1900s gave the Herero tribesmen and women work in their houses and on their land.

Instead of the Herero going topless and barely covered, which would offend the modest attitudes of Victorians at the time, they wanted them to be covered up.

Over time, the style of dress has become an important part of the Herero women's identity and the women have become more and more creative with their elaborate homemade outfits, choosing vibrant colors and sewing bright patchworks into the dresses. Wearing the dresses often symbolizes a woman's place in the society.

 But, it's not all peaches and cream. Namibia has a bloody past.

The German-Namibian War
Between 1893 and 1903, the Herero and Nama peoples' land as well as their cattle were seized by militarily superior German forces who regarded them as subhuman.
Then in 1903, the Herero people learned that they were to be placed in reservations, leaving more room for colonists to own land and prosper.

German rule ended in 1915 when the German army was beaten by the South African - but, once liberated, the Herero men began not only dressing as much like their German oppressors.

The Herero genocide in 1904 killed almost 75% of the population, and the event is a key moment in Herero identity.

The clothes the Herero choose to wear, both men and women, are a permanent reminder of the deep scar in the tribe's history when they came very close to being exterminated.

This is in part assimilation to European culture, and in part appropriation, a coming-to-terms with, and overcoming of history and the colonial experience
Anthropologist Dr Lutz Marten said: 'Wearing the enemy's uniform will diminish their power and transfer some of their strength to the new wearer.

“We Germans accept our historical and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time.”
The possibility of paying out special compensations to the Namibians has been ruled out but Germany has promised continued economic aid for Namibia which currently amounts to $14m a year.

Namibia is in many ways quite similar to South Africa. Since it was ruled under the apartheid system, Namibia also has many of the problems resulting from that system.

(photo credit: Men and women of the Herero tribe feature book by photographer Jim Naughten)

for more on the Himba see link below

No comments: