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Miss Betumondo, Herero woman in Opuwo - Namibia

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posted by Eric Lafforgue alias Eric Lafforgue on Sunday 29th of August 2010 10:09:49 AM

The Hereros are an ethnic group belonging to the Bantu speaking group. The 320,000 Herero people mainly live in Namibia (representing about 7 per cent of the namibian population), but some of them live in Botswana and Angola. They mostly earn their money as workers on big farms or in the cities as merchants and tradesmen. They are famous for dressing in a victorian style with full length coloured dresses and hats. According to their oral history, Hereros have come from Betschanaland (the current Botswana) with Himbas in the 15th and 16th centuries, and maybe formerly from eastern Africa from Tanganikya Lake area. Both ethnic groups used to be a unique one. Hereros belong to the bantu linguistic group, and as all Bantus, are sedentary farmers and pastoral people. Himbas and Hereros got different and went separate ways. One of the subgroups crossed the Okavango River and became known as the Mbanderu (Eastern Herero) while the other group went to the northwestern part of Namibia and became known as the Himba. During the 18th century, a group of the Himba migrated to central Namibia and there met again with the Mbanderu. The two combined groups settled in the Kalahari Desert and became known as the Herero. At the end of the 18th century Herero people settled in the area of Okahandja (nearby the current capital city : Windhoek). During the 19th century Hereros have been in perpetual conflict with the neighbouring tribes, in particular with the Oorlams and the Namas. Oorlams were an ethnic group of descendants of Boers and Khoikhois (the original inhabitants of south west Africa) migrating from Cape colony in order to escape from the discriminatory laws. They arrived in Okahandja area during the 1820 s led by their chief Jonker Afrikaner. Their modern military organization and the fact the had fire arms (rifles and guns) gave them a big advantage over the Hereros. The latter under Oorlam domination, however the conflict lasted for 50 years, with a break between 1842 and 1850, after a peace treaty was signed. After the death of Jonker Afrikaner in 1861, Hereros and Namas became allies against the Oorlam which led to a peace treaty in 1870, which confirmed the new supremacy of Hereros and their leader Maharero. A conflict the started with the Namas and their leader Hendrik Witbooi. At the Berlin conference in 1884, which is the climax of the Scramble for Africa, western powers decided that South West Africa (current Namibia) would become a german protectorate, meant to protect Hereros from the neighbouring tribes (especially from the Namas who didn't sign any treaty with the Germans) in exchange of lands for German settlers. Numerous German settlers arrived on Hereros lands in addition to the missionaries that were already there for a few decades. In the beginning Samuel Maharero (who succeeded his father as chief in 1890) sold good lands and farms to German settlers for money. 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 (with the creation of the first reservations in 1903) and the liberation of the Damaras slaves (a tribe which was under Herero rule). The growing dissatisfaction among Herero people led Samuel Mahaero to rise up his people against German colonialists in january 1904, by slaughtering about 150 german settlers during the attack of a garrison in Okahandja. In the beginning Hereros had some military successes against the Germans. But when General Von Trotha arrived with reinforcement troops (called Schutztruppe meaning Protective Force) from Germany in june 1904 in order to put down the uprising ; war became a genocide. Herero were victims of the first genocide of the 20th century before the one suffered by armenians or Jews. Von Trotha gave the following order to his soldiers : "Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot". Herero resistance was broke down during the Waterberg battle. German troops encircled Herero warriors giving them no other choice than escaping in Omaheke desert. Von Trotha gave the order of poisoning all the waterholes and sources. Of an estimated 65,000 Herero, only 15,000 survived from hunger and thirst in the desert. The survivors became prisoners of war and were put in concentration camps (that were inspired by the ones used by the british during the war against the Boers in South Africa a few years earlier). When these exactions became public in Germany, it provoked protests and indignation which led the Chancellor to resign Von Trotha s duties. Germany made an apology in 2006 for the massacres that occurred, and proposed a multi million dollar development deal for Namibia. The remaining Hereros became tenant farmers in german farms and afterwards in south african ones. Indeed South West Africa switched under south african rule (as part of the british colonial empire) after the german defeat in World War I. Under south african rule Herero people also were also subjected to Apartheid policies. Lots of Hereros joined the SWANU and the NUDO which fought for the independence of Namibia from South Africa. In 1968, South african authorities create the bantustan ( a self governing homeland) of Hereroland to restrict Herero claims. Nevetherless Hereros kept fighting until the complete independence of Namibia. Nowadays most of the Herero customs dates back to the times they were evangelized by german missionaries. It had an influence on the way Herero people dress, they wear victorian style clothes (hats and dresses), called Hererotracht. Most of the customs and the traditional beliefs are no longer observed by Hereros, as a result of active missionary work. Some of the traditional features of traditional religion (rituals that Himbas still respect and accomplish nowadays) has been mixed with christianity. © Eric Lafforgue

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  • Published 01.24.22
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