Revisiting one of my favourite books this Africa Day
Jim Naughten’s wonderful book Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia, tells the tale of the surviving descendants of the Herero whose 1904-1908 genocide at the hands of German colonialist is considered the first of the 20th century.
Each image, a portrait of Herero tribe members of Namibia, reveals a material culture that harkens the region’s tumultuous past: residents wear Victorian era dresses and paramilitary costume as a direct result and documentation of its early 20th century German colonization. Namibia’s borders encompass the world’s oldest desert. Bleak lunar landscapes, diamond mines, German ghost towns, rolling sea fogs, nomadic tribes and a hostile coastline littered with shipwrecks and whale skeletons comprise the region’s striking and haunting natural features. Namibia’s geography has witnessed a turbulent and little documented history of human settlement, upheaval and war within a particularly brutal period of European colonization.
The history of Herero clothing is extraordinary. Rhenish missionaries first introduced Victorian dress, which the tribe gradually accessorized by adding, for example, cow horn headdresses. Later, during the 1904 war with Namibia’s German colonisers, Herero tribe members claimed the military uniform of dead German soldiers.
Dressed in the costumes that have been appropriated from their colonial past, the men, women and children are taking part in a modern re-enactment of their peoples’ bloody history. The tribe’s now traditional costumes are seen by anthropologists as a fascinating subversion of their former rulers’ fashion, showing how the tribe survived a concerted effort by German colonialists to wipe them from the face of the earth.
All photos: Jim Naughten
Introduction by Lutz Marten
Published by Merrell Publishers (February 19, 2013)