The Herero people (also known as the Ovaherero) are an ethnic group who live in Angola, Botswana and Namibia although majority of them are mostly concentrated in Namibia. The Herero people, like most Africans, experienced a rather dreary past in the hands of colonialists from Germany between 1883 and 1907. However, their experience was quite gruesome and inhumane as about 80 percent of them were killed in a mass genocide by the colonial invaders.
With an estimated total of about 80,000 Ovaherero before the outbreak of the war-turned genocide (1904 – 1907), figures placed the remaining Ovaherero at about 25,000 after the mass genocide staged by German forces led by Lothar von Trotha, a ruthless German military general
. The reason for this is that the Ovaherero tried to fight back their oppressors in order to reclaim their stolen lands and cattle but, outgunned and outmatched, they were easily overpowered by the Germans who decided to annihilate every last one of them from the face of the earth, but a few survived the genocide by escaping into the desert. In 1915, the Germans were ousted from that region by South African forces, and the Ovaherero regained their land and cattle.
Today, especially on national holidays, ceremonies and festivals, the Ovaherero keep alive the memory of their dreadful past by appropriating the clothes and Victorian style of dressing used by their German colonisers in the days of colonialism.
The Herero men put on uniforms (berets, gaiters, epaulettes, peaked caps etc.) that are similar to the ones worn by the German soldiers while the Herero women put on the Ohorokova – a type of outfit which features high-necked blouses with neckerchiefs and long puffy sleeves that is accompanied with long and elaborate skirts which are usually worn just below the bust or above the waist.
These skirts are designed to sweep the floor so as to give its wearer an appearance of floating whenever she walks. However, the most significant feature of the Ohorokova is the Otjikalva, a matching headgear which has the semblance of a cow’s horn. The Otjikalva is symbolic as it represents and celebrates the main source of Ovaherero’s livelihood: cattle herding.
The older women as well as the married ones wear the Ohorokova everyday but it is worn by the younger and single women only on festive days or ceremonies. Such ceremonies usually turn out to be a fashion show of some sort as every woman tries to be the centre of attention in her Ohorokova. Comparisons are made and healthy rivalry is fostered among the participants.
However, the only constant thing in life is change. This is why modern designs of the Ohorokova have begun to depart from the usual long sweeping skirts to a more contemporary look which features knee-length skirts. This trend has sparked some controversies and indignations from the older and more conservative women in the society who see it as an adulteration of their culture and history. Nevertheless, this has not deterred young and ambitious fashion designers of Herero origins from seizing the bull by horn in order to earn a spot among their counterparts in the fashion world.