Location: Namibia, Botswana in Africa.

Traditional dress of a Herero woman

The Herero is actually a term like "Nguni" - a group of tribes. The various tribes forming the Herero group and speaking a common language are the Himba (also known as the Ovahimba), Herero, Tijimba and Mbanderu.

Currently there are about 107,000 Herero living in Namibia, southern Angola and Botswana. Unfortunately little is known of their origin. It is believed that they were descendants of the large groups of people, who migrated southward from Central Africa during the 16th century. Their traditions clearly show that their origins stem from the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. And most probably they separated from the main group and entered present-day Namibia from the North-east.

At this stage they divided into two groups. The one crossed the Okavango River and entered the Gobabis area, east of Windhoek and became know as the Mbanderu (or Eastern Herero). The other group crossed the Kunene River and settling in the Kaokoveld in the rocky dry north-western part of Namibia and became known as the Tijimba and Himba. During the 18th century about 1750, a group of the Kaokoveld population migrated southwards to central Namibia and met up again with the Mbanderu. These people eventually settled throughout the Kalahari Desert and became known as the Herero.

Until the arrival of the early European settlers the Hereros were semi-nomadic pastoralists, profiting from the relatively rich grassland. However, they started clashing from 1830 onwards, with the northward moving Nama who together with the Orlam clan, the Afrikaners, drove the Herero from their southernmost settlement in the area where Windhoek is today.

Tradition play a important rule in society

In 1842 some Herero chiefs joined forces with the Namas to organise a united resistance against the Orlam. The chiefs were convinced that this would help them in their battles with other Herero chiefs over land and live stock.

The most prominent of these chiefs to be in collaboration with the Namas was Chief Tjamuaha. By the mid-19th century, European explorers, traders, and missionaries began to move into central and southern Namibia. During the 1884 Berlin Conference had awarded Namibia (then known as) South West Africa to the Germans with the rest of the continent going to the other European powers.

The Germans established their presence on the coast of modern Namibia and soon moved inland as they began to consolidate their occupation of the area. They created individual "protection treaties" with the local cultural groups. This opened the door for German dominance as many local groups traded their sovereignty for German military support against their rivals. Chief Maherero, too, signed a treaty with the Germans…without consulting the other Herero chiefs. He thought this would strengthen his power, but it weakened his standing among the other Herero and led to more and more German settlers moving into Hereroland.

Maherero was forced to break the treaty, but by this time the Germans had firmly entrenched themselves in their new colony. Unable to resist both the Nama and Germans, Maherero signed another treaty with the Germans shortly before his death in 1890. In the ensuing power struggle, Samuel, Maherero's son (who was backed by the Germans) rose to power. This caused a deep rift within the Herero, as the others would have preferred someone with fewer ties to their German neighbours.

Herero tibe of Namibia and Botswana

This, combined with increasing theft of land and cattle by the Germans led to a short-lived alliance between the remaining Herero and the Nama in 1892. Short-lived because the German military soon crushed the meagre resistance posed by the two peoples. In 1904, Samuel Maharero defied the Germans and led his people into battle. He called for a united resistance of all South West African communities against the Germans.

Despite having an army of only 7,000 warriors, the Herero were able to use the element of surprise to score key victories early in the fighting; regaining control of much of central South West Africa. However, the tide of battle soon shifted as Germany flexed its military might, fortifying the region with seasoned, experienced soldiers.

The arrival of the more German colonial troops resulted in the infamous 'Extermination Order' during which 75% of the countries' Herero population perished and the survivors were scattered all over the country. A substantial number of Herero also fled to Botswana, where they became subsistence farmers growing grains and raising sheep, cattle and fowl.

After Namibia's independence many Herero expressed their desire to return to their roots, the Botswana and Namibian governments stipulated though that any Hereros going back to Namibia had to leave behind their herds and possessions.

Religion: The Hereros know a supreme being whom they call by two names: Ndjambi Karunga. The Karunga has an Ovambo derivation and is only known intimately to those Hereros, who have been in contact with the Ovambo in former times.

Ndjambi is the Heavenly God. He lives in Heaven, yet is omnipresent. His most striking characteristic is kindness. Human life is due to and dependant on him and all blessings ultimately come from him. He who dies a natural death is carried away by Ndjambi. As his essence is kindness, people cherish no fear but a veneration for him.

As his blessings are the gifts of his kindness without any moral claims, the belief in Ndjambi has no moral strength, nor has the worship of Ndjambi become a cult. At best his name is invoked only in Thanksgiving after some unexpected luck or they pray to him when all other means of help fail. For the rest, the utterance of his name is not allowed. In reply to a question I put to a Tjimba woman in the Kaokoveld as to the abode of Ndjambi Karunga, she said: 'He stays in the clouds because, when the clouds rise, his voice is clearly heard,' and further research has brought to light that the Tjimba look upon Ndjambi as the giver of rain.

(H. Vedder, The Native Tribes of South-West Africa, Cape Town, 1928, p.164) -Dr. Vedder's statement that the sacred name should not be uttered is significant. It explains partly, if not wholly, why the missionaries who had lived in close contact with the Herero since 1844, heard his name for the first time only in 1871.

In the Herero culture, cattle remain the most precious possession and the tribal hierarchy divides responsibilities for inheritance between matrilineal and patria-lineal lines of descent. The striking Herero Women's dress is derived from Victorian Era.

German missionaries who encouraged the local women of the time to dress according to the fashion in Europe in those times. From the 1920's onwards the Herero have set up various chiefs' councils to safeguard their national identity, handle defence and manage tribal affairs. One of their chiefs was Hosea Katjikururume Kutako who became a national hero, as he petitioned to the United Nations in order to push forward Namibia's independence.