Costume and Conflict

Statement fashion? Perhaps. For the Herero people found in parts of Namibia, Botswana and Angola, dress code is more than just that. It is infact an integral part of their culture, a woven tapestry of remembrance. You see, 1904 marked a significant year for the Herero people, where they set out to reclaim their land from the German colonists and traders, and a battle it was.

Herero men on horses



“Simultaneously the Hereros burst forth; they left the protective thorn abatis and trenches and ran towards [the Germans]; but not in a wild, thick mass, like the Dervishes at Omdurman, but on the contrary in a long skirmishing line, crouching down and bounding, with great skill and exploitation of all cover.

One did not see the [enemy (Herero)] at all; from this morning on I lie in the skirmishing line; I have seen bushes and trees, and I have roasted in the sun; bullets have whistled around me the entire day, but I have not set eyes upon a single Herero.” (Translation by Roy Jones as stated by a German Schutztruppe)

This went on for months. And near depletion of food and resources, the Germans encircled the Herero people, driving the men, women and children out of their land and into the Namib desert where almost 80%  would die from heat, hunger and thirst.


An old warrior


herero man on a horse


Herero Boy


herero man wearing a yellow suit



To this day, the men pride themselves in Calvary cadets, a uniform they claimed for each German killed. The women, in the scorching summer heat or the coldest winter, adorn themselves in Victorian dresses paired with a cow horn shaped headscarves. To the Herero, cows are a revered symbol of wealth and this is also seen in their traditional dance, where they shuffle in imitation to its movement.

In 2011, Jim Naughten, set out to explore the Herero culture, beautifully capturing their colourful, yet very symbolic traditional wear in his book Conflict and Costume.


Herero woman attire
Nothing goes to waste, some of the dresses are handmade by the woman herself, patching old dresses together to make a beautiful gown.


herero women


herero woman dancing
The cow horn dance


herero woman purple dress


Herero Woman in blue dress
Lady in blue: For special occasions, the women usually wear plain dresses.

Herero women formation

All images are the work of Jim Naughten.

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