The Hereros belong to the Bantu-speaking group, which counts about 120.000 people today. Most of them live in Namibia, some of them in Botswana and Angola. They mostly earn their money as workers on big farms or in the cities as merchants and tradesmen.




Little is known of their origin, but it is believed that they were descendants of the large groups of people, who migrated southwards from Central Africa during the 16th century. Their traditions clearly show that their origins stem from East Africa. Probably they separated from their main group and entered present – day Namibia from the northeast. At this stage they split into two groups. One crossed the Okavango River and became known as the Mbanderu (Eastern Herero). 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. In 1830 the Hereros were driven out southwards by other stronger African groups.

By the mid–19th century, European explorers, traders and missionaries began to move into central and southern Namibia. In 1884 Namibia was declared a German colony. After that the Germans established their presence on the coast of Namibia and soon moved inland. They made „protection treaties“ with the local cultural groups, which means that the Germans would protect the Hereros against other African groups in exchange for the Herero chief`s sovereignty. More and more Germans settled in Hereroland. The chiefs had thought that the treaty with the Germans would make them stronger, but when they realised that the opposite happened, it was already too late. The Germans took away the land from the Hereros, cut them off their waterplaces, plundered them, forced them to be slaves and raped the wives and girls. Their plan was to rob the Hereros of all they had, to degrade them and to put them into reservations.

But the Hereros started to defend themselves and made a rebellion.

The Hereros were actually well organised and armed. They fought bravely with good tactics. The Germans were about to lose the fight, but the situation changed when the Germans sent reinforcement. The Hereros were beaten in the battle of Waterberg on August 11th 1904.

After that, the horrible genocide on the Hereros happened, which only a fifth of the people survived. The German forces drove them into the desert without any water. Tens of thousands died of thirst. The few who survived were put into concentration camps. On top of that the German General issued the following rules to his soldiers: „Within the German borders every Herero will be shot down, with or without a gun, with or without a cattle, no one protects women and children. They should be sent back to their people or shot, too. These are my words to the Herero people. “

Some people could flee to Botswana. There they became farmers growing grain and raising sheep, cattle and fowl. On March 21st 1990 Namibia became independent. And now many Hereros expressed their desire to return to their roots. The Botswana government let them go, but they had to leave behind their herds and possessions.

Today the Hereros make out 7% of the Namibian population.


In October of 2003 some Herero chiefs made a claim for compensation against Germany. They wanted 4 million dollars and an apology for the genocide on their people 100 years ago. But the claim was refused. When Joschka Fischer visited Namibia, he didn`t want to make an apology. The Germans try to forget about the events in their African colony. It`s weird and horrible that nobody really knows that a massacre was committed on the Hereros, while there`s so much talk about extermination of the Jewish people. It shows how much power the press has in the present world.



Way of life



The Hereros know a supreme being, whom they call Njambi, he is the heavenly God. He lives in heaven, yet is always present. His most striking characteristic is kindness. Human life is due and dependent on him and all blessings ultimately come from him.

People who die a natural death are carried away by Njambi. As his essence is kindness, people have no fear of him but veneration for him. As his blessings are the gifts of his kindness, without any moral claims the belief in Njambi has no moral strength, nor has the worship of Njambi became a cult. They only pray to him during thanksgiving, after an unexpected lucky streak or when all other means of help fail. For the rest of the time it is forbidden to speak his name. This is why the missionaries who had lived in close contact with the Hereros since 1844 heard his name for the first time 27 years later, in 1871.




Herero women wear very long, flowing Victorian gowns and head dresses. Multiple layers of petticoats made from over 12 meter of material look volumious. As an example: if two women walk side by side they occupy the whole pavement. They don`t wear a hat only because it’s beautiful to them. There is a religious reasons because cows are holy to them and the hat is formed like a cow’s horns.

Missionaries who were appalled by the Hereros` semi-nakedness introduced this style of dress in the 1800`s. Now the Hereros continue to wear these heavy garments and it has become their traditional dress. The women dress in Victorian dresses while men dress informally. We just wonder how the women make it through the day in these hot clothes!






The tradition of the Herero culture is all about proper behaviour. Before 1990 men were not allowed to milk cows, but due to other religious influences they now can. All Herero girl’s dress must fall below their knees. Girls are not allowed to talk to boys, and they cook and collect wood from the forest. Youths are not allowed to look into an elder person’s eyes when talking; if you do, you will offend them and show that you were not raised properly. These rules still exist though they are easing. Some believe they help maintain discipline and prevent teen drug abuse and pregnancy.

In the Herero culture women are very important and are respected, but they don’t have a say in many decisions.

Every Herero man must have sheep and cows, which are holy. Otherwise he will be hated by the others.

A Herero man should marry a Herero woman but if he wants to marry someone from another culture or tradition, his father decides. Most of the time the father finds a wife for his son, who is told when his wedding day will be, even though he has never seen the bride.

When a couple divorces the woman returns to her relatives and leaves her children behind. Having illegitimate children isn’t a shame. It fulfils the purpose of reproduction.

It is important for parents that their kids get a good education and they give them the opportunity to go to school in a nearby city.



Our opinion:


We’re surprised how proud and independent the Herero people are, although they were almost exterminated and totally degraded by the Germans.

It is funny that the women  wear these very heavy layers of cloth although they live in a hot environment and still have to do hard work as farmers. It seems as if they were still stuck in the 19th century.

We’re glad that we have come to know the Hereros a little bit through this work. Because it’s terrible that hardly anybody knows about the genocide that was committed against them. Only because the Germans try to keep it secret.


By Céline Bonhôte and Nora Köhli