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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Herero women.jpg
Three Herero women.
Total population
Regions with significant populations

Herero as well as Portuguese in Angola, English in both Botswana and Namibia, and Afrikaans in Namibia


Both African Religion and Christianity

Related ethnic groups


The Herero are a people belonging to the Bantu group, with about 240,000 members alive today. The majority live in Namibia, with the remainder living in Botswana and Angola. Most are employed as workers on large farms or earn their living as merchants or tradesmen in the cities. There is also a growing number of professionals.

The Ovaherero comprise several subgroups, including the Ovahimba, the Ovatjimba (not actually a tribal connotation, but a class one), the Ovambanderu and the vaKwandu, groups in Angola include the vaKuvale, vaZemba, Hakawona, Tjavikwa, Tjimba and Himba who regularly cross the Namibia/Angola border when migrating with their herds. During the colonial period, Europeans attempted to define these as separate ethnic groups, but the people consider themselves all to be Ovaherero. They speak Herero (Otjiherero), and partly Portuguese in Angola, English in both Botswana and Namibia, and Afrikaans in Namibia.



During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Herero migrated to what is today Namibia from the east and established themselves as herdsmen. In the beginning of the 19th century, the Nama from South Africa, who already possessed some firearms, entered the land and were followed, in turn, by white merchants and German missionaries. At first, the Nama began displacing the Herero, leading to bitter warfare between the two groups which lasted the greater part of the 19th century. Later the two peoples entered into a period of cultural exchange.

During the late 19th century, the first Europeans began entering to permanently settle the land. Primarily in Damaraland, German settlers acquired land from the Herero in order to establish farms. In 1883, the merchant Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz entered into a contract with the native elders. The exchange later became the basis of German colonial rule. The territory became a German colony under the name of German South-West Africa.

Soon after, conflicts between the German colonists and the Herero herdsmen began. Controversies frequently arose because of disputes about access to land and water, but also the legal discrimination against the native population by the white immigrants.


In 1904, those conflicts resulted in an uprising, known as the Herero Wars, by the Herero and Nama (interestingly, the uprising was planned in an exchange of letters among tribal leaders and some of these documents have been preserved). After a period of success for the well-equipped insurgents, the German Empire sent a military expedition corps of about 15,000 men under the command of Lothar von Trotha. The war and the subsequent genocide ordered by von Trotha resulted in the death of between 25,000 and 100,000 (possibly 65,000) Herero, about 10,000 Nama and 1,749 Germans, three quarters of the Herero are believed to have been killed.[1] Since the insurgents had been ordered not to harm priests, clerics were falsely accused of collaboration and sometimes taken into custody.

At the 100th anniversary of the massacre, German Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul commemorated the dead on site and apologized for the crimes on behalf of all Germans. But the Herero feel that an apology is not enough and they are demanding financial reparations. In 2004 there has been minor media attention in Germany on this matter.[2]

Herero culture and language

The Herero language (Otjiherero) is the main unifying link amongst the Herero peoples. It is a South-Central-Bantu language, part of the Niger-Congo family of languages.[3] Within the Otjiherero umbrella, there are many dialects, including Oluthimba or Otjizemba- which is the most common dialect in Angola-, Otjihimba, and Otjikuvale. These differ mainly in phonology, and are mutually intelligible. Standard Herero is used in the Namibian media and is taught in schools throughout the country.

The Herero are traditionally cattle-herding pastoralists who rate status on the number of cattle owned. Cattle raids occur between Herero groups, but Herero land (Ehi Rovaherero) belongs to the community and has no fixed boundaries. Chieftains have little power

The Herero have a bilateral descent system. A person traces their heritage through both their father's lineage, or oruzo (plural: otuzo), and their mother's lineage, or eanda (plural: omaanda) [4]. In the 1920s, Kurt Falk recorded in the Archiv für Menschenkunde that the Ovahimba retained a "medicine-man" or "wizard" status for homosexual men. He wrote, "When I asked him if he was married, he winked at me slyly and the other natives laughed heartily and declared to me subsequently that he does not love women, but only men. He nonetheless enjoyed no low status in his tribe."[5]

Despite sharing a language and pastoral traditions, the Herero are not a homogeneous people. The main Herero group in central Namibia (sometimes called Herero proper) was heavily influenced by Western culture during the colonial period, creating a whole new identity. The Herero proper and their southern counterparts the Mbanderu, for instance, wear garments similar to those worn by colonial Europeans (see photo at top of article). Traditional leather garments are worn by northwestern groups, such as the Himba, Kuvale, and Tjimba, who are also more conservative in other aspects. The Kaokoland Herero and those in Angola have remained isolated and are still pastoral nomads, practicing limited horticulture.

Herero in fiction

A group of Herero living in Germany who were inducted into the German military during the Second World War play a major part in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow. The genocide under von Trotha plays a major role in another novel by the same author, V..

German author Uwe Timm's novel Morenga, set in German South-West Africa, also includes several Herero characters.

See also


External links

The following links were last verified 24 June 2007.


  1. ^ Herero - Minnesota State University
  2. ^ Krabbe, Alexander. "Remembering Germany's African Genocide". OhmyNews International. Retrieved 2004-08-06. 
  3. ^ Herero at Ethnologue
  4. ^ 1 How Societies Are Born by Jan Vansina: “Of Water, Cattle, and Kings”
  5. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen Murray & Will Roscoe. Published by Saint Martin's Press in 1998. p. 190


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HERERO, or OVAHERERO ("merry people"), a Bantu people of German South-West Africa, living in the region known as Damaraland or Hereroland. They call themselves Ovaherero and their language Otshi-herero. Sometimes they are described as Cattle Damara or "Damara of the Plains" in distinction from the Hill Damara who are of mixed blood and Hottentots in language. The Herero, whose main occupation is that of cattle-rearing, are a warlike race, possessed of considerable military skill, as was shown in their campaigns of 1904-5 against the Germans. (See further GERMAN SOUTH-WEST AFRICA.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun




  1. A people belonging to the Bantu group, with about 240,000 members alive today mostly in Namibia, Angola, and Botswana.
  2. A person belonging to Herero people.
  3. The language of Herero people.


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