Namibia's Herero: amazing fashion derived from early 20th century German colonizers

Wired has a gorgeous gallery of photos from Conflict and Costume, a new book by Jim Naughten documenting the Herero tribe of Namibia, who fought an early 20th-century action with German colonizers, and wore captured German uniforms as trophies. The women adopted the ankle-length dresses of German missionary women, and adapted them into gorgeous, patchwork garments that are worn with headdresses made to look like cattle-horns.

The Herero women adopted the German missionaries’ Victorian-style floor length gowns, but they eventually incorporated the vivid colors and cow-horn-shaped headdress (to represent the Herero’s respect for cattle) you see today. After a woman is married, she is expected to make most of her dresses, often from the offcuts of other garments. These voluminous, patchwork outfits are considered every-day attire, while dresses made from a single material are reserved for special occasions. In the book’s introduction, Lutz Martin writes: “Rounded to resemble healthy cows, the dresses contain up to 10 metres of cloth, despite summer temperatures reaching 50 degrees celsius.”

To get his portraits, Naughten immersed himself in Herero culture. He and his guide traveled from village to village, asking permission of the elders to photograph. In turn, he would be invited to weddings, funerals and ceremonies where would he set up his equipment and snap shots of passersby against the Namibian landscape. Naughten said he lost track of how many people he photographed (it was a lot), but he does recall that most everyone was excited to show off their garb. “The man in the yellow suit has to be a favorite,” Naughten wrote. “For walking in front of the camera/lighting set up without saying a word, posing so perfectly for one shot, and then walking off smiling.”

Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia [Amazon]

Photos: The Amazing Costume Culture of Africa’s Herero Tribe [Liz Stinson/Wired]