The Herero tribe of Namibia have an interesting and harrowing history. Their hybrid form of dress that incorporates Victorian-style dresses and headgear that resembles cow horns, is the result of a brutal history of the German colonisation of Namibia in the early 20th century. I’ve never seen their dress documented so beautifully than in the photographic portrait series of the Herero tribe by Jim Naughten, which I drew from to create this postcard.
Here is an abbreviated write up of the history of the Hereros from his website:
“In the European scramble to colonise Africa, Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany claimed one of the least populated and most hostile environments on the planet. It became Deutsche Sudewest-Afrika. Though sparsely populated, it was already home to the San, Nama and Herero people. Rhenish missionaries set about converting and clothing them after European fashion. Over time, this became a Herero tradition, and continuing to dress in this manner was a great source of pride to the wearer. Gradually, regional variations in the silhouette emerged; for example, the addition of ‘cow horns’ to headdresses reflects the great importance with which they regard their cattle.
War broke out between German colonizers and the local tribes in 1904. The Herero tribe was devastated, having lost almost eighty percent of its population. Garments became an important expression of identity during these fragile times. Upon killing a German soldier, a Herero warrior would remove the uniform and adopt it to his personal dress as a symbol of his prowess in battle. Paradoxically, as with the Victorian dresses, the wearing of German uniforms became a tradition that is continued to his day by Namibian men who honour their warrior ancestors during ceremonies, festivals and funerals.”
My friend Gabrielle de Gersigny is a talented stylist who often draws from the rich historical archive of fashion in her work. I thought it was fitting to give her this postcard.