In the era where what you wear carries meaning, it is almost impossible to wonder what the narrative of a tall and beautifully dressed woman in a Victorian-like yet well fitted dress with so much meaning portrays. The incredulous sight makes you believe you are experiencing a living mirage of the past brought to present. This is none other than the beautifully clad Herero woman in her full traditional gear found nowhere else but in Namibia.
Without getting into the values that come with the gear, those who have seen it and had a share of wisdom on the meaning of the dress say this is one of the boxes to tick should you want to identify a complete Herero women. It carries so much meaning, status and a long dressed history.
‘Ohorokova jozonde’ as it is commonly known, the enormous dress worn over several petticoats includes a bodice that buttons up close to the neck, long sleeves and a shawl worn across the shoulders. To witness Herero women walking in the streets of the city or performing daily chores on the family homestead in their colourful Victorian dresses is a sight to be cherished.
It is not your regular gear that you could do with at any occasion. It comes with a tailored attitude and style deeply rooted from the traditions. It has a walk and talk or prestige as one flaunts up to five layers of petticoats worn to make the dress as voluminous as possible. The more under dresses or petticoats, the more impressive the dress.
Thus, when adorned in this gear, one should steer away from uncontrolled and unchecked social conduct. To date, this is the aura the wearer and its cultural proponents would want to maintain as part of their culture even though it is often seen as a derivative and heritage of western Victorian fashion, as it may have been.
The Ovaherero are known for their strong relationship with animal farming especially cows that have become a part of their identity. The dress is not complete without the wide headdress – otjikaiva. With pointed edges emulating the shape of cow horns, the head gear forms an integral part of the dress to pay homage and respect for their cows.
To complete the look, a modern belt with a metal buckle is worn high above the waist and as a final touch, a pretty broach is pinned to the dress. Any type of shoe may be worn but it is custom that one is not supposed to see the feet of a Herero woman in this dress.
No culture is static, meaning it changes to adapt to new and changed circumstances. In the process it undergoes a metamorphosis by either assimilating other cultures. Often it stops short of being assimilated or by conquering other cultures and making them its own.
For the first time and to be an annual event, the fashion fraternity will add another edu-cultural glam event to its cards. This follows the launch of the Otjikaiva Festival slated for 28 April at the Habitat Center in Katutura.
The festival will be a celebration of the rich Ovaherero cultural and traditional practices and customs, primarily highlighting the Ovaherero dress and the head gear (Otjikaiva) in particular.
The event, which comes after a timeline of perceived misrepresentations of the dress influenced by globalization, will dedicate lessons to teach the do’s and don’ts of the traditionally rooted gear.
“We are going to showcase the transition of the Otjikaiva. A Herero woman without Otjikaiva is not complete.
We want to preserve our culture. There is so much globalization going on that has an effect on our cultures. But before I am a person, I am a human that belongs to a certain tribe and I want to preserve that,” said Grace Pujatura from the organizing team.
“There is a certain way an Otjiherero woman should dress. You cannot wear an Otjikaiva with a short dress showing your ankles or feet. You also cannot wear Otjikaiva with a jean; that is not our culture.”
The festival is organized by a consortium comprising of charity organization Ozongama Zomuara, initiated by the late Omuara Meriam Mbapeua Rukoro with the Kombat Trust and other close partner individuals and companies.
A fundraising gala dinner for 24 April at the Airport Lodge just outside Windhoek will be the starter of the festival, aimed at collecting funds to host the big day.
“The day will showcase our pride. We will have our Ovaherero men alongside us to showcase their side of the tradition. We will have a panel discussion on the dress that will tell our youngsters where we are coming from and what we want them to keep close to their heart,” said Pujatura.
“We want to package an event that showcases the transition of the Otjikaiva. It has come a long way in terms of design,” she added.
This year’s event also features slots dedicated to the celebration of the life of the late Omuara Meriam Mbapeus Rukoro, for elegantly and consistently donning the Ovaherero dress and her involvement in several community projects.
It goes without mention that preservation of one’s culture is only possible if driven by the owners of such culture themselves, this is what is to be expected at the festival.