BY Deborah Dzifa Makafui, 3:00pm August 27, 2022,

Explore the rich and beautiful fashion culture of Namibia

Herero women. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Bries

The Republic of Namibia is a country in Southern Africa made up of so many different ethnic groups, with its culture and customs. The Coloureds and Basters, like the majority of white and Black Namibians, maintain distinct communal identities while having identical ancestry and cultural traits. Although Namibia is thought to have 11 distinct ethnic groups, these are really only combinations of smaller ethnic groups with similar languages and traditions.

Namibia is a diverse country where clothing spans cultures, eras, and locations. Whatever they wear has significance, whether it’s talking about the present or Victorian periods. The Namibian outfits tell a lot about their culture by the things they wear.

The Damara

The Damara wore garments made of animal hides. For clothes and blankets, the main animal hides utilized were those of springbok, goat, and jackal. In the same way that it distinguishes between boys, unmarried and married men, and men of a certain age, Damaran traditional dress distinguishes between a girl, an unmarried or married woman, and an elderly woman. Unlike regular clothing, some costumes were saved for particular rituals.

In the Damara culture, where clothing is typically worn at cultural ceremonies and on special occasions, animal hides have been replaced with fabrics. The Damaran created the Damarokoes as an ideal substitute for animal hides (Damara dress). In the middle of the 19th century, the Damarokoes were adopted from missionary brides. The dress was used to cover up the “nude” Damara ladies, and with its ankle-length, long sleeves, and khens (shawl), it made sure to provide the most coverage possible.

The Nama

The early Nama dressed entirely in animal skin. In order to stay warm, they would wear skin-covered robes in the winter and wear inside-out clothing in the summer. The Nama people, however, lost many components of their culture as a result of colonialism, and one of the first things to change was how they dressed. The majority of Nama people wear attire in the Victorian style, which has been greatly affected by settlers. Long, formal dresses resembling Victorian-era clothing make up Nama women’s traditional attire. The long, swaying garments originated from the missionaries’ fashion of the 1800s, and they still play a significant role in Nama culture today.

San People

The San people wear basic attire. They wear animal skins and hides since they are mostly hunters and gatherers. The ladies also wear animal-skin skirts and pants, leather jackets, and a double leather apron that covers the front and back with hair, arm, and leg decorations made of rings and necklaces. The males dress in antelope skirts, leather coats, and shoulder bags that hold everything they need.

The Kavango

Animal skins are used in the Kavango people’s traditional clothing. The ladies wore long braids made of plant fibers, spiral-shaped bracelets and bangles made of copper, and multiple rounds of necklaces made of ostrich shell beads. One hairstyle could be worn for a year or for several months before needing to be replaced. The men regularly remove their hair. 

The Kavango people’s attire used to be genuinely traditional. The only clothing the men could put on was a belt and a short front apron to cover their genitalia, however, the women had access to more clothing, and their apron-like garments more closely resembled skirts. Men’s buttocks and women’s breasts could be seen.

The Himba

Although modern fabrics are increasingly being employed, the Himba men’s traditional attire consists of a straightforward calfskin skirt that is paired with non-traditional clothes, like shirts or coats. Their sandals frequently contain discarded car tires as the sole material. According to old traditions, the Himba still adorn themselves with traditional jewelry today. Many arm bracelets and necklaces fashioned of ostrich eggshell beads, grass, fabric, and copper are worn by both men and women. The enormous white shell that Himba women wear around their breasts is known as an ohumba, and adult women wear beaded anklets to protect their legs from dangerous animal bites.

The Herero

Herero women’s clothing choices serve as a constant reminder of the tribe’s disturbing past and recent history, during which the Germans came dangerously close to wiping out the entire population. The once-prosperous Namibian population was practically wiped out by the genocide. Their traditional clothing subverts the style of their previous masters as a continuing protest against the Germans who massacred them. The traditional Herero dress, known as the “Ohorokova,” is an A-lined garment with brilliant, colorful patterns and numerous petticoats. The result is a structured, broad skirt. A cap in the shape of a cow horn completes the outfit. The Herero people, who have traditionally been cattle breeders and who measure their wealth in cattle, are honoring that aspect of their identity by wearing this traditional article of clothing. 

The Ovambo

Odelela is the name of the fabric used to make the traditional clothing of the Ovambo people. The males of Ovambo wear odelela-made shirts, while the women of Ovambo dress in long dresses, skirts, and puffy short sleeves. The women of Ovambo additionally accessorize with waist beads, shells, skins, and hides. Depending on the women’s age, class, or marital position, different jewelry are worn. The Ovambo can be identified by their clothing, and other tribes’ traditional attire, such as that of the Ovaherero and the Namas, frequently incorporating Ovambo fabric. The odelela skirt is embellished with waist beads, shells, and animal hide belts that are all worn differently depending on a woman’s age and marital status; these outfits are for weddings and traditional rituals like olufuko.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 27, 2022


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