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HERERO DAY, NAMIBIA - 23rd AUGUST.  Each year the Herero Chiefs and followers pay homage at their ancestors graves.


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Herero Day Namibia - 23 August

 Each year the Herero Chiefs and followers pay homage at their ancestors graves.



Okahandja: is one of the  traditional 'seats' of the Herero people and it is here that many of the Tribe's Chiefs are buried. 


Herero Day is an important annual event in Namibia and is day of commemoration for the Herero people that has deep meaning. It is the day when the Herero visit the graves of their Chief's and pay homage. It also is a day of Remembrance of the funeral of Chief Samuel Maharero, his life and times, and of the great struggle against the forces of Imperial Germany. The Herero men parade Military Style and the women wear their distinctive and colourful traditional dress. If your visit to Namibia is at this time try to plan a visit to Okahandja.

Chief Samuel Maharero who, following the disaster of the Battle of Waterberg, sought refuge from the British authorities in Bechuanland remained in exile until his death on 14 March 1923. His body was returned to Okahandja to be placed next to the bodies of his Grandfather Chief Tjamuaha (died 1859) and his father Chief Maharero (died 1890).


A Brief History:

At 10h00 on Thursday morning the 23rd August 1923 a steam locomotive carrying a metal coffin containing the body of Samuel Maharero arrived at Okahandja station. 

Samuel had lived in exile for nearly 20 years, and during his absence the powers that ruled over Africa had fought their way through the most violent war in history to that time. A war that brought with it dramatic changes to societies across most of the world. In far off Namibia the culture and traditions of the indigenous peoples had also been subjected to change. For the Herero, as a people, many of the 'old ways' had suffered from the devastation that followed the quelling of the 'Herero Uprising' and they had begun to absorb much of the 'new' culture brought by the Europeans.


Hereo Chief Samuel Maharero

Chief Samuel Maharero

Samuel Maharero Funeral Procession

Funeral Procession Of Chief Samuel Maharero


The Herero leadership came to the consideration that the most dignified ceremony that their 'Warrior Chief' could be afforded should be that of a military style funeral similar to those they had witnessed when German Officers who had fallen in battle against them were being interred.


A parade of about 150 mounted horsemen along with some 1,500 Hereros mostly dressed in German military style uniforms and regalia made its way through the town in solemn procession. Samuel Maharero's son Friedrich was reported to have been somewhat displeased regarding the 'German dress code' of many of those present and it was asked of the governing authorities present if the British Union Jack could be draped over the coffin, which was granted. The respected Rhenish missionary Dr. Heinrich Vedder conducted the funeral service.



Every year since, on the Sunday nearest to the 23rd August the Hereros gather in Okahandja to parade and then pay their respects to their deceased Chieftans. The procession starts at 09h00 and marches firstly to the graves of Chief Tjamuaha, Chief Maharero and Chief Samuel Maharero and Chief Kaimbire Tjamuaha that lay in a grave area just off Heroes Street in Okahandja. The procession then makes its way south along the street to pay homage at the graves of Chief Hosea Kutako, Chief Clemens Kapuuo and Chief David Kukajoria Ndisiro. This is followed by a church service. The celebrations usually span a period of 3 days.


The Men's Dress: The men wear military style uniforms along with regalia, some of which are quite decorative, and some are mounted on horses.


Hereo Day men in uniform

Parade Dress

Herero Day Women in uniform traditional dress

On Parade

Herero Day. Men paying repects at grave of Herero Chiefs

Paying respects at the Graves of the Chief's


Herero Woman wearing traditional head dress

Original Head-dress

The Women's Dress: Dr. H. Vedder, the missionary historian, wrote in the early twentieth century of the Herero women, "The dress of the women is more artistic (than the man's) and ample. They wear a front apron reaching to the knees and a leather apron pf the same length at the back. Their head-gear of which they are very proud comprises a leather cap showing three high points beset with iron beads and running down the neck to terminate in a covering for the back with artistic designs worked out in beads on it. The head-gear of the Tjimba (HImba) are not so high as those of the Herero women. Their arms and legs are encumbered with brass rings which greatly impeded their working and walking, consequently it is regarded as shameful for a real Herero women to be seen not walking slowly and with measured step. A European woman hurrying about her work is scorned by the Herero women, for she reveals to them that she is not a born mistress, else her movements would be more stately." The 'old traditional' leather wear was greased with goat fat to make it supple and rubbed over with red ochre dust.

Modrn Day Herero Womens' Traditional Dress

The German influence brought the easy availability and adoption to making and wearing woven textiles. The 'modern traditional dress' with its voluminous skirt of many layers causes the wearer to retain the slowness of walking while the head-gear comprise of 2 wide points. The colourful and sometimes ornately decorated dresses are worn for general day purposes, while the above red dresses are normally worn on special occasions. Note the 'horned hat'. Cattle are an integral part of Herero lifestyle. The Herero have in the ancient language over 1,000 different words in which to describe the markings etc. of their cattle.


The Grave Site:  Prominent Hereros paying their respects at the graves of Chief Tjamuaha, Chief Maharero and Chief Samuel Maharero.


The gathering of the Hereros at Okahandja has, over recent years, become the platform from which claims for financial reparations from Germany are made. This is with regards to the Genocide of the Hereros who, at the time of the Battle of Waterberg in 1904, fled into the wastelands of the Omaheke Desert where the majority perished. Those who survived the ordeal were hunted down and either slaughtered or taken into slave labour camps where, it is estimated, that less than one-in-five survived the terrible and brutal conditions.


Acknowledgements and further reading: H7, H22, P2, P1

Okahandja Local Area Attractions


Gross Barmen Hot Springs

Herero Chiefs' Graves  Moordkoppie Accommodation

Von Bach Dam Resort

Herero Day   Okahandja
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