• June 2nd, 2020

The modernisation of the Otjiherero traditional dress… Is it an evolution or an insult?

Paheja Siririka

WINDHOEK - The recently ended third edition of the Simply You Magazine Lifestyle and Fashion Awards hosted style experts from around the country. 

The theme for this year was ‘African Royalty’ and people left no stone unturned to make sure their attires turned heads, while others had tongues wagging.

One such dress was worn by model, Virginia Kauhonina, who wore a black nightgown with a black Otjikaiva (headgear). The dress received mixed reactions from some award-goers, and once it appeared on social media, it got people talking even more.

So, what was the reason behind this design? one might ask. The model, who wore the dress, said she opted for that look because she wanted to make a statement. “There are elements of culture that should remain static (the same), for example, respect towards elders and kindness to fellow humans and then there are parts that should not, like me wearing Otjikaiva with a normal dress,” said Kauhonina.

Kauhonina said culture is dynamic, complex and keeps evolving. She questioned why people expect the outfit not to evolve while that has been happening to it for the past century. 

Even the Otjikaiva has evolved, she said. She said the Otjikaiva people wore 100 years ago is different, even the one her grandmother wears and the one worn by her mother are different. “The Otjiherero-speaking community wore at one point like the Damara/Nama-speaking people, why was that acceptable to how it’s worn today?” 

She said the double standard is real.
Historian and anthropologist, traditionalist and former Otjiherero Radio (Omurari FM) presenter, Jarimbovandu Kaputu, said women have been wearing these dresses since the 1840s when it was officially formed and confessed that it has changed over the years. “There has been a lot of alterations to the dress regarding its length but not necessarily its arms,” he said. 

Kaputu said the arms were and still are untouchable as they are supposed to fluctuate between the elbow and the rest. Initially, elbows of women were not even visible, not to mention the whole shoulder that has been seen on Facebook in the past few days. He was not happy about the latest alterations by Kauhonina. This he said is a person who is playing around with people’s culture with an intention of modelling.

Speaking to Entertainment Now!, he said there is nothing wrong with altering, as long as it does not seem insulting to the specific culture or tradition. “Regarding the arms of the dress, you can change the dress however you want but the elbows should be covered,” said Kaputu. 

He said if one makes such a dress, it does not deserve to be called a traditional dress. “The fact that she wore a normal dress and added Otjikaiva is an embarrassment to the tribe you are emulating. If you are going to wear something like that rather don’t put the headgear then,” said Kaputu in a disappointing tone.
This is not the first time debates are rife on social media about the Herero dress and specifically how it should be worn. Last year, fashion designer and model Lea Misika received a backlash for wearing an Otjikaiva with a blazer and a trouser.

New Era Reporter
2019-08-23 08:51:11 | 9 months ago

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