Friday, November 4, 2011

modern herero women and the victorians

My sister Leigh sent me quite a rare treasure of an article on CNN about African tribeswomen who are inspired in fashion by the Victorians!

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According to the article, the Herero women of Namibia have adopted and altered Victorian fashions for over 100 years, assimilating the long, conservative dresses of the Victorian period into a fashion that is now considered to be the traditional dress for the women of this tribe.

Surprised?  I was.  Apparently the Herero women used to look more like the Himba tribeswomen, pictured below:

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So why the drastic change from sparsely garbed to modestly dressed?  The answer goes back to the days when Germany colonized Namibia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:
"The Germans in Namibia brought people in to work for them so they took the local communities and gave them work in their houses and on their land," said [Tim] Henshall, who runs Kamili Safaris [a British tour operation].

"Instead of the Herero being topless and barely covered, which would offend the modest attitudes of Victorians at the time, they wanted them to be covered up," he added.  Henshall added that the women showed no sign of being bothered by wearing the outfits, even in Namibia's tropical climate.
A quick skim of German-Namibian history online shows that a war broke out in the area in 1904, leading to a genocide that killed nearly 75 percent of the Herero population.  One would assume that one of the results of such a conflict would be the disrobing of such European styles of dress as the population was made to wear in the colonial period.  On the contrary, the Herero women wear the dresses proudly as a symbol of national identity, as well as a woman's awareness of her responsibilities to her husband and children:
[Blogger Mwalimushi Kamati-Chinkoti of My Beautiful Namibia] wrote on her website: "These outfits are regarded as proper dress for traditional married women. By wearing the long dress, a newly-married woman shows her in-laws that she is willing to take up the responsibilities of a Herero home and will raise her children to respect their heritage and their father's family."
Besides, the dresses are so colorfully decorated and paired with horn-shaped hats (to represent the cattle that is so important to them) that the Victorians would have never worn that these outfits have, from all appearances, become uniquely Herero.

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These dresses are so popular as a symbol of Herero women that some of the women even make dolls in the dress as souvenirs for tourists:

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To read the article in its entirety, click here.


  1. Oh my, those pictures are stunning!

  2. Wow. I like the dresses and despite the colonization of Namibia and all the good and horrible things that came from it that the women still remained strong and hold self-pride within themselves and culture.