Namibia Holiday & Travel - People of Namibia - The Herero
The Herero are a pastoral cattle-breeding people who migrated to Namibia several centuries ago. It is believed that they formerly lived in a country with water and reeds, known as Roruu, before migrating further south. No one has, however, succeeded in tracing this legendary African marshland.
According to oral tradition, they moved southwards from the great lakes of East Africa, crossed into present-day Zambia and southern Angola, and arrived at the Kunene River in about 1550. After inhabiting Kaokoland for some 200 years, a large splinter group led by Maendo migrated further south, leaving the Himba and Tjimba tribes behind. They reached the Swakop River valley towards the middle of the 18th century. During the 19th century they moved eastwards, eventually establishing themselves in the northern-central areas of the country.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Herero and the Mbanderu were still living in family units headed by an Omukuru. The absence of a political structure can be attributed to the system of dual descent. A person’s status in the family hierarchy, the place of abode and traditions are determined by the paternal line, oruzo. Control and distribution of all movable property, on the other hand, is determined by the maternal line, eanda. The matriclans exert control over most of the people’s property, especially cattle, and supervise the application of the traditional laws of inheritance. The localised patriclans, on the other hand, take responsibility for sacred objects and the holy cattle (ozohivirikwa), the exercise of authority in the family, succession of chiefs, priesthood, ancestral fires and the ritual food taboos.
The colonial wars and Herero German War of 1904–1907 resulted in a drastic decrease of the Herero population. Under General Lothar von Trotha and his infamous Vernichtungsbefehl (proclamation of extermination), a large number of Herero were wiped out. Left without land and cattle, the survivors practically disintegrated as a group. A large number fled to Bechuanaland (Botswana). When South Africa took over administration of the Territory in 1915, the refugees began to return and were gradually allocated home areas such as Aminuis, Epukiro, Waterberg East, Otjohorongo and Ovitoto.
Despite the suppression of their traditional culture, confiscation of tribal lands and the restrictions of labour laws, the remaining Herero managed to keep their bonds of family life, tribal solidarity and national consciousness alive, as is demonstrated by the annual Herero Festival on Maharero Day in August when various units of paramilitary organisations parade before their leaders in full dress through the streets of Okahandja. Similarly the Mbanderu and the Zeraua tribes honour their captains at festivals in Gobabis and Omaruru respectively. In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the wives of the missionaries, Herero women developed the voluminous Victorian-style dresses that the more traditional of them wear to this day. The distinctive headdress with its two points symbolises cattle horns.
Today Herero-speaking Namibians number over 130 000. They can be subdivided into the following groups: The Herero proper, with the traditional chiefdoms of Maharero (Okahandja), Zeraua (Omaruru) and Kambazembi (Waterberg); the Ndamuranda; the Tjimba Herero of Kaokoland (Kunene Region); the Mbanderu, who live in eastern Namibia, especially in the Gobabis district and the reserves of Epukiro, Otjombinde and Omongua (known more commonly by the Nama name, Aminuis); the Himba of the Kunene Region (see below); and other smaller factions in northern Kunene and south-western Angola. Their language belongs to the Bantu group of languages.