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""Herero women.jpg
Three Herero women.
Total population
250,000 (Namibia only)
Regions with significant populations
"Herero (Otjiherero)
"Traditional faith, "Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Person Omuherero
People Ovaherero
Language Otjiherero

The Herero are an ethnic group inhabiting parts of "Southern Africa. The majority reside in "Namibia, with the remainder found in "Botswana and "Angola. There were an estimated 250,000 Herero people in Namibia in 2013.[1] They speak "Herero (Otjiherero), a "Bantu language.



Herero woman in their distinctive traditional dress.

Unlike most Bantu, who are primarily subsistence "farmers,[2] the Herero are traditionally "pastoralists. They make a living tending livestock.[3] Cattle terminology in use among many Bantu pastoralist groups testifies that Bantu herders originally acquired "cattle from "Cushitic pastoralists inhabiting "Eastern Africa. After the Bantu settled in Eastern Africa, some Bantu nations spread south. Linguistic evidence also suggests that the Bantu borrowed the custom of milking cattle from Cushitic peoples; either through direct contact with them or indirectly via "Khoisan intermediaries who had acquired both domesticated animals and pastoral techniques from Cushitic migrants.[4][5]


The Herero claim to comprise several sub-divisions, including the "Himba, "Tjimba (Cimba), "Mbanderu, and Kwandu. Groups in Angola include the "Mucubal Kuvale, Zemba, Hakawona, Tjavikwa, Tjimba and Himba, who regularly cross the Namibia/Angola border when migrating with their herds. However, the Tjimba, though they speak Herero, are physically distinct indigenous "hunter-gatherers. It may be in the Hereros' interest to portray indigenous peoples as impoverished Herero who do not own livestock.[6]

The leadership of the Ovaherero is distributed over eight royal houses, among them:[7][8]

Since conflicts with the "Nama people in the 1860s necessitated Ovaherero unity, they also have a paramount chief ruling over all eight royal houses,[8] although there is currently an interpretation that such paramount chieftaincy violates the Traditional Authorities Act, Act 25 of 2000.[7]


Herero, at the end of the 19th century

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Herero migrated to what is today Namibia from the east and established themselves as "herdsmen. In the beginning of the 19th century, the "Nama from "South Africa, who already possessed some "firearms, entered the land and were followed, in turn, by white merchants and "German missionaries. At first, the Nama began displacing the Herero, leading to bitter warfare between the two groups, which lasted the greater part of the 19th century. Later the two peoples entered into a period of cultural exchange.

During the late 19th century, the first Europeans began entering to permanently settle the land. Primarily in "Damaraland, German settlers acquired land from the Herero in order to establish "farms. In 1883, the merchant "Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz entered into a contract with the native elders. The exchange later became the basis of German "colonial rule. The territory became a "German colony under the name of "German South West Africa.

Soon after, conflicts between the German colonists and the Herero herdsmen began. Controversies frequently arose because of disputes about access to land and water, but also the legal "discrimination against the native population by the white immigrants.["citation needed]

Herero Wars[edit]

In the late 19th and early 20th century, imperialism and colonialism in Africa peaked, affecting especially the Hereros and the Namas. European powers were seeking trade routes and railways, as well as more colonies. Germany officially claimed their stake in a South African colony in 1884, calling it German South West Africa until it was taken over in 1915. The first German colonists arrived in 1892, and conflict with the indigenous Herero and Nama people began. As in many cases of colonization, the indigenous people were not treated fairly.[9]:31 [10]

Between 1893 and 1903, the Herero and Nama people's land as well as their cattle were progressively making their way into the hands of the German colonists. The Herero and Nama resisted expropriation [11] over the years, but they were unorganized and the Germans defeated them with ease. In 1903, the Herero people learned that they were to be placed in reservations,[12] leaving more room for colonists to own land and prosper. In 1904, the Herero and Nama began a great rebellion that lasted until 1907, ending with the near destruction of the Herero people. "The war against the Herero and Nama was the first in which German imperialism resorted to methods of genocide...."[13] Roughly 80,000 Herero lived in German South West Africa at the beginning of Germany’s colonial rule over the area, while after their revolt was defeated, they numbered approximately 15,000. In a period of four years, approximately 65,000 Herero people perished.[14]

Tree in Otjinene Koviunda where many Herero people are said to have been hanged.

Samuel Maharero, the Supreme Chief of the Herero, led his people in a large-scale uprising on January 12, 1904, against the Germans.[15] The Herero, surprising the Germans with their uprising, had initial success.

German General "Lothar von Trotha took over as leader in May 1904.[16] In August 1904, he devised a plan to annihilate the Herero nation.[17] The plan was to surround the area where the Herero were, leaving but one route for them to escape, into the desert. The Herero battled the Germans, and the losses were minor. It was when the majority had escaped through the only passage made available by the Germans, and had been systematically prevented from approaching watering holes, that starvation began to take its toll. It was then that the Herero uprising changed from war, to genocide.[18] Lothar von Trotha called the conflict a “race war.” He declared in the German press that “no war may be conducted humanely against non-humans” and issued an “annihilation order”: …The Hereros are no longer German subjects. All Hereros must leave the country…or die. All Hereros found within the German borders with or without weapons, with or without animals will be killed. I will not accept a woman nor any child. …There will be no male prisoners. All will be shot [19]

On the 100th anniversary of the massacre, German Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation "Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul commemorated the dead on site and apologized for the crimes on behalf of all Germans. Hereros and Namas demanded financial reparations, however in 2004 there was only minor media attention in Germany on this matter.[20]


""Herero Woman Namibia(1).jpg

The Hereros are traditionally cattle-herding pastoralists who rate status on the number of cattle owned. Cattle raids occurred between Herero groups, but Herero land (Ehi Rovaherero) belongs to the community and has no fixed boundaries.["citation needed]

The Herero have a "bilateral descent system. A person traces their heritage through both their father's lineage, or oruzo (plural: otuzo), and their mother's lineage, or eanda (plural: omaanda).[21] In the 1920s, Kurt Falk recorded in the Archiv für Menschenkunde that the Ovahimba retained a "medicine-man" or "wizard" status for homosexual men. He wrote, "When I asked him if he was married, he winked at me slyly and the other natives laughed heartily and declared to me subsequently that he does not love women, but only men. He nonetheless enjoyed no low status in his tribe."[22] The Holy Fire okuruuo (OtjikaTjamuaha) of the Herero is located at "Okahandja. During immigration the fire was doused and quickly relit. From 1923 to 2011, it was situated at the Red Flag Commando. On "Herero Day 2011, a group around Paramount Chief "Kuaima Riruako claimed that this fire was facing eastwards for the past 88 years, while it should be facing towards the sunset. They removed it and placed it at an undisclosed location, a move that has stirred controversy among the ovaherero community.[23]


Despite sharing a language and pastoral traditions, the Herero are not a homogeneous people. The main Herero group in central Namibia (sometimes called Herero proper) was heavily influenced by Western culture during the colonial period, creating a whole new identity. The Herero proper and their southern counterparts the Mbanderu, for instance, wear garments similar to those worn by colonial Europeans (see photo at top of article). Traditional leather garments are worn by northwestern groups, such as the Himba, Kuvale, and Tjimba, who are also more conservative in other aspects such as not buying bedding, but rather sleep in bedding made of cow skin. The Kaokoland Herero and those in Angola have remained isolated and are still pastoral nomads, practicing limited horticulture.[24]

The "Herero language (Otjiherero) is the main unifying link among the Herero peoples.["citation needed] It is a "Bantu language, part of the "Niger–Congo family.[25] Within the Otjiherero umbrella, there are many dialects, including Oluthimba or Otjizemba—which is the most common dialect in Angola—Otjihimba, and Otjikuvale. These differ mainly in phonology, and are largely mutually intelligible, though Kuvale, "Zemba, and "Hakaona have been classified as separate languages. Standard Herero is used in the Namibian media and is taught in schools throughout the country.["citation needed]


Herero people believe in Okuruo (holy fire), which is a link to their ancestors to speak to God and Jesus Christ on their behalf. Modern-day Herero are mostly Christians, primarily Catholic, Lutheran, and Born-again Christian.


Omuroi is a "Herero noun for someone suspected witchcraft, flies at night, or rides people at night. More like "phantom or ghost person, some claim to struggle with sleeping when a certain person is around due to their belief of that person possessing omuroi. Others claim to also believe that such beings talk at night and when such voices are heard, a shout may scare them away.

Others resort to sleeping with candles on, believing that the omuroi are averse to light. Some may even bring in spiritual doctors to perform ceremonies to chase this omuroi away. This superstition has been passed on for generations and is still current in modern Herero culture.

Domestic animals[edit]

The Herero making a living out of rearing "domestic animals, including:


""Ankole Cattle.jpg

Cattle are most valued domestic animals in the Herero culture, therefore cattle herding is the most significant and substantial activity for the Herero people. In the Herero culture the "cattle herding and cattle

"trading activities are only conducted by males while females are responsible for milking cows, household chores, harvesting small field crops and taking care of the young children. As women are responsible for milking cows, there are also responsible for preparing the delicious sour milk called ""Omaere".[26] Although males are responsible for the cattle trading activities the females do most of the trading such as "bartering for other goods.

Cultural impact[edit]

The Herero people take pride in their cattle, hence the culture of Herero requires women to wear their iconic fabric hats shaped like cow horns.[26] They believe that the more cattle one has, the richer one is, making cattle a symbol of wealth. In celebrations such as marriages, cattle is normally eaten, whereas religious or "ancestral veneration ceremonies involve the sacrifice of cows or other animals.

Goats and sheep[edit]

Goats and sheep are kept for their meat and milk. Goatskin is manufactured into "child carriers and to create household "ornaments. Goat dung, meanwhile, is considered medicinal;[27] it is normally used to treat "chickenpox.

Horses and donkeys[edit]

Horse and donkeys are common means of transport for the Herero. In cases of herding or searching for lost domestic animals, the Herero engage horses to carry out these activities.

Herero people also consume donkey meat, but rarely consume horse meat.

Dogs and chickens[edit]

In the Herero culture, "dogs are used by men for both hunting and herding. The Herero people tend to hunt to acquire meat, hide, and horns that are bartered for goods such as sugar, tea, and tobacco.

"Chickens are kept for their meat and eggs.

Herero in fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The incredible Victorian-style fashions of Africa's Herero people". Death and Taxes. 
  2. ^ Immaculate N. Kizza, The Oral Tradition of the Baganda of Uganda: A Study and Anthology of Legends, Myths, Epigrams and Folktales, [1], p. 21: "The Bantu were, and still are, primarily subsistence farmers who would settle in areas, clear land, organize themselves in larger units basically for protective purposes, and start permanent settlements."
  3. ^ Mark Cocker, Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold: Europe's Conquest of Indigenous Peoples, Grove Press, 2001, p. 276
  4. ^ J. D. Fage, A History of Africa, Routledge, 2002, p. 29: "In the north-east, the Bantu entered 'Azanian' lands inhabited by peoples speaking southern Cushitic languages. Indeed, this was of some importance because there is firm archaeological evidence that modern Kenya and northern Tanzania were the home of a succession of societies, once known as the 'Stone Bowl' cultures, which from about the middle of the third millennium B.C. onwards had cattle and were developing food-producing techniques well suited to the environment. It is unlikely that the Bantu would have brought large cattle with them through the forest, and their cattle terminology suggests that they acquired cattle from eastern African speakers of Cushitic languages, possibly through the mediation of Khoisan-speaking peoples. There is also linguistic evidence to suggest that at a later stage the Bantu may have borrowed the practice of milking directly from Cushitic-speaking peoples in East Africa."
  5. ^ Was there an interchange between Cushitic pastoralists and Khoisan speakers in the prehistory of Southern Africa and how can this be detected?: "This paper will argue that the explanation for some continuities of pastoral culture between NE Africa and the Khoe-speaking peoples is really quite simple; pastoralists speaking Cushitic languages once spread as far as south-central Africa, where they were in contact with the ancestors of present-day Khoe-speakers. This led to a transfer of both species of domestic animals and also some rather specific techniques of pastoral lifestyle including dairy-processing etc. Khoe pastoral culture is known mainly from records and their original sheep and cattle breeds have now become heavily crossbred. The explanation for related traits among adjacent Bantu peoples is likely to be a similar, subsequent transfer from the Khoe to the Bantu, although it is possible that there was also direct Cushitic contact with the Bantu in the same region. It is further likely that this was connected with the expansion of the Khoe peoples, explaining why their language subgroup is remarkably coherent within Khoisan, which is otherwise characterised by a high level of internal diversity, reflecting its considerable antiquity. The importance of the pastoral revolution in Southern Africa led to the borrowing of livestock terms into other branches of Khoisan."
  6. ^ Roger Blench, Are the African Pygmies an Ethnographic Fiction?
  7. ^ a b Immanuel, Shinovene (24 October 2014). "Rukoro chieftaincy rejected". "The Namibian. p. 1. 
  8. ^ a b Kandetu, Bob (23 October 2014). "Kambazembi and Rukoro Await their Reigns". Informanté. 
  9. ^ Jan-Bart Gewald (1998) Herero heroes: a socio-political history of the Herero of Namibia, 1890-1923, James Currey, Oxford "ISBN "978-0-82141-256-5
  10. ^ Peace and freedom, Volume 40, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, page 57, The Section, 1980
  11. ^ "A bloody history: Namibia’s colonisation", "BBC News, 29 August 2001
  12. ^ Samuel Totten, Paul Robert Bartrop, Steven L. Jacobs (2007) Dictionary of Genocide: A-L, p.184, Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn. "ISBN "978-0-31334-642-2
  13. ^ Chalk, Frank, and Jonassohn, Kurt. The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. Published in cooperation with the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies. (Yale University Press: New Haven & London, 1990)
  14. ^ UN Whitaker Report on Genocide, 1985, paragraphs 14 to 24, pages 5 to 10 Prevent Genocide International
  15. ^ The New York Times. 18 August 1904
  16. ^ The Times (London). 7 May 1904
  17. ^ Mahmood Mamdani (2001) When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press, Princeton "ISBN "978-0-69105-821-4
  18. ^ "Germany moves to atone for 'forgotten genocide' in Namibia". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 December 2016. 
  19. ^ Haas, François. "German science and black racism—roots of the Nazi Holocaust". The FASEB Journal. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  20. ^ Krabbe, Alexander. "Remembering Germany's African Genocide". "OhmyNews International. Archived from the original on 2004-09-05. Retrieved 2004-08-06. 
  21. ^ 1 How Societies Are Born by Jan Vansina: "Of Water, Cattle, and Kings"
  22. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by Saint Martin's Press in 1998. p. 190
  23. ^ Nunuhe, Margreth (31 August 2011). "Holy fire relocation triggers storm". "New Era. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. 
  24. ^ Carvalho, Ruy Duarte (2000). Vou lá visitar pastores. Rio Mouro, Portugal: Círculo de Leitores, Printer Portuguesa Casais de Mem Martins. "ISBN "972-42-2092-3. 
  25. ^ Herero language at "Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  26. ^ a b "Herero People: Hats & History". University of San Francisco. Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. 
  27. ^ "Domestic Animal Farming in the Fransfontein Area". 
  28. ^ Serebrov, Mari. Mama Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia: Wordweaver Publishing House, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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