Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Cattle herding remains the primary subsistence activity, but Herero are also engaged, in decreasing order of importance, in trading, hunting, and cultivation. Cattle management may be characterized as laissez-faire. Except for the rainy season (October or November through early or mid-April), adult cattle are not penned up at night. They graze freely on their own, returning every three or four days to a well near the homestead for water. When grass becomes too thin in a given area, a herdsman leads the animals to another unoccupied area. During the rainy season, however, the herd must be watched more closely. In the dry season the herd tends to stay together because good pasturage occurs in relatively isolated and well-delineated areas, but during the rainy season more good grass is found over a wider area, and individual animals may wander and become separated from the herd. With few naturally occurring watering spots in the Kalahari, the Herero must dig wells. One well provides drinking water for the people of a single homestead; another, larger well provides water for the animals that are kept by a cluster of three to five homesteads, located within several kilometers of each other. Horses and donkeys are watered with the cattle, but sheep and goats usually do not approach the well until after most of the larger animals have left. Tubs of water are also filled each day by women and children and are kept at the homestead for the animals that remain there. The Herero keep dogs, for hunting, and chickens, whose eggs are eaten (as are the chickens themselves when they die, although they are not killed for consumption). Cattle, goats, and sheep are also eaten, as is some wild game, whereas horses, donkeys, and dogs are not. Although of minor importance to the Herero economy and diet, hunting is considered an exciting and psychologically satisfying pursuit by these formerly nomadic warriors and raiders. Winter (May to August) is the most active hunting season; the weather is cooler, and meat can be kept longer without spoiling. In addition to meat for consumption, the Herero hunt to acquire commodities (meat, hides, horns) to barter for such staples as sugar, tea, salt, and tobacco. The Herero engage in this activity only if early rains indicate a lengthy wet season. On average, only one homestead in a cluster has a field. Both horticulture and agriculture are practiced; planting is in November and December and harvesting in April. Crops, chief among which is maize, are grown mainly for consumption by the cultivators themselves, but any surplus is sold or traded to neighbors.
Industrial Arts. Nowadays the Herero manufacture little, either for their own use or for sale or trade, except for an occasional three-legged, triangular chair, for which they were once well known.
Trade. Trade has always been an important element in the Herero economy. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Herero traded animal products with other groups, such as the Ovambo and Bergdama, for axes, iron for weapons and ornaments, and salt. With Europeans, the Herero traded sheep, oxen, butter (which the Herero did not consume, but used as a cosmetic and sunscreen), pelts, and ivory in return for barrels, wagons, metal implements, rifles, salt, and whiskey. Today the Herero are thoroughly dependent on markets. They travel to towns to sell their cattle and the products derived from both domestic and wild animals, and they frequent general stores to purchase such items as canned food and fresh produce, tobacco, clothes and material for clothes, furniture, tools, gasoline, paraffin, soap, matches, and machine parts for well pumps. Some Herero even own motor vehicles, and nearly every homestead has at least one portable radio. Gone are the leather aprons and white-plumed headdresses of former times. Men wear contemporary Western clothes, and women make their own brightly colored versions of the high-necked, long-sleeved, long-hemmed "Mother Hubbards" that were worn by the wives of colonial missionaries. Weekly visits by a goods-laden truck from a general store provide occasions for the residents of an area, both Herero and non-Herero, to gather, gossip, haggle, and flirt.
Division of Labor. Herding remains today primarily a male activity, the only cattle-related female chore being the daily milking. Women and children see to the daily watering of sheep and goats at the homestead, and women are responsible for domestic activities, care of young children, and tending and harvesting the small fields of crops when these are present. Men conduct trading activities regarding cattle and the products of the hunt, but women do most of the bartering of other goods. Cooperative activities that involve large numbers of people (such as watering herds, care of livestock wells, and hunting) are undertaken by the men of a homestead cluster and other neighbors. Formerly, according to the Herero, large-order cooperation occurred only between agnatic (patrilineal) relatives; thus, they say, kin tended to live near each other to facilitate joint activity. Nowadays those who live near each other, regardless of their relationships or the absence thereof, are those who cooperate. Research conducted during the 1970s indicated that, contrary to Herero claims, this may have largely been the case even in the past (Vivelo 1977).
Land Tenure. In precontact times, the land upon which Herero cattle grazed at any given time was Herero land. After the arrival of Europeans in South-West Africa, Herero access to open territory became increasingly restricted as the settlers staked out exclusive claims to the land. By the time of the 1904 war, the Herero were confined by the growing European population to the areas around a few permanent or semipermanent waterholes. Today all land is owned by the state but is leased to local residents, through the offices of district land boards, for ninety-nine-year terms. Inheritance of rights in land is determined by civil law, according to which the land passes from elder to younger brother or from father to son.