By LEON WATSON
PUBLISHED: 12:12 EST, 1 March 2013 | UPDATED: 07:21 EST, 2 March 2013
Shot in the vast expanse of the world’s largest desert, these stunning portraits of the Herero tribe of Namibia look like they’re from a bygone age.
But, 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, pictured here by Jim Naughten, 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.
The history of Herero clothing is extraordinary. Rhenish missionaries first introduced Victorian dress, which the tribe gradually accessorised 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.
Germany officially claimed their stake in a South African colony in 1884, calling it German South-West Africa until it was taken over in 1915.
The first German colonists then arrived in 1892, and conflict with the indigenous Herero and Nama people began.
Between 1893 and 1903, the Herero and Nama peoples’ land as well as their cattle were seized by militarily superior German forces who regarded them as subhuman.
Then in 1903, the Herero people learned that they were to be placed in reservations, leaving more room for colonists to own land and prosper.
Standing to attention: More Herero cadets, one in a kilt and another wearing a cardboard hat
By 1904, the Herero and Nama began a disasterous rebellion that lasted until 1907. During this time the Germans devised a plan to annihilate the Herero nation.
Experts estimate that around 80,000 Herero lived in German South-West Africa at the beginning of Germany’s colonial rule over the area.
When the revolt was defeated, they numbered around 15,000. In a period of four years, approximately 65,000 Herero people perished.
Those who survived, once freed from concentration camps, were robbed of their lands, segregated from whites and forced to work in slave-like conditions.
The clothes the Herero choose to wear, both men and women, are a permanent reminder of the great scar gashed in the tribe’s history
German rule ended in 1915 when the German army was beaten by the South African – but, once liberated, the Herero men began not only dressing as much like their German oppressors.
Herero women also affected the styles and the airs and graces of the Christian missionary ladies who had come among them in the 1890s.
At the 100th anniversary of the massacre, German Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul apologised for the crimes on behalf of all Germans.
But the clothes the Herero choose to wear, both men and women, are a permanent reminder of the great scar gashed in the tribe’s history when they came close to being exterminated.
Anthropologist Dr Lutz Marten said: ‘Wearing the enemy’s uniform will diminish their power and transfer some of their strength to the new wearer.
‘This is in part assimilation to European culture, and also in part appropriation, a coming-to-terms with, and overcoming of history and the colonial experience,’ he said.
Speaking about the clothes Herero women wear, he said: ‘A correctly worn long dress induces in the wearer a slow and majestic gait.’
Today, there are around 250,000 Herero peoples in south-west Africa and the tribe is thriving.
Conflict and Costume: the Herero Tribe of Namibia by Jim Naughten, with accompanying text by Dr Lutz Marten is published by Merrell.
An exhibition of Naughten’s portraits of the Herero tribe will be held at the Margaret Street Gallery, London W1, from 5 March to 13 April.