Heavyweight Fashion
Traditional Clothing and Adornment of Herero Women

Exhibition at the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum (RPM) Hildesheim, 11 February – 2 August 2020

– Extended until 31. Januar 2021 –

In the context of the joint project PAESE, provenance research is currently being conducted on the ethnographic Namibia collection of the RPM. This, in combination with the 175th anniversary of the “Hildesheim Museum Society of 1844”, is a perfect occasion to present a small exhibition of late 19th-century traditional ladies’ fashion from Namibia at the RPM. The fashion treasures were worn by women of the Herero in what was then “German Southwest Africa”.
The clothing of Herero women was originally made of leather studded with heavy iron beads. While diamonds were coveted by Europeans, it was iron that was considered particularly precious by the Herero. It signalled women’s wealth and status. Women’s dress was completed by personal adornments made of ostrich eggshell discs and ornamental beads. A complete attire would weigh more than 12 kilogrammes and left the breast bare.
Taking offence with the bare-bosomed Herero women in their parishes and churches, the German missionaries of the Rhenish Mission society began to introduce a new fashion in the mid-1800s: “decent”, floor-length cotton dresses.
In Germany the Herero and Nama peoples are known mainly due to the genocide committed on them by the German colonial rulers during the Namibian War of 1904–1908. Those who survived were not only bereft of their land by the German colonial authorities but also lost the cattle that had been their basis of existence. They became cheap labour to be exploited by the colonisers.
When the Herero’s old way of life disappeared in central Namibia, their material culture vanished as well, and cotton dresses came to completely replace the heavyweight fashion made of leather and iron.

Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim GmbH
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