Herero - Sociopolitical Organization



Previously, leadership among the Herero depended on a combination of descent, wealth in cattle, success in warfare, and personality characteristics, and it carried little real authority. In precontact times, Herero society consisted of autonomous herding units, each headed by an elder male, or omuini, each ranging over large tracts of land in search of pasturage and water. At the end of their migratory period, these units set up homesteads around major water sources, and although they still practiced nomadism, their movement tended to be more regular and less far-ranging. They gathered in neighborhoods or clusters of homesteads around a dependable water supply and formed alliances for military and economic purposes. In each cluster, an omuhona, or headman, emerged, one of the homestead heads who had distinguished himself as a military leader and who was respected for his fairness and good judgment. An omuhona's authority was limited, however; he led only because others saw an advantage in following him. When the Herero settled in the new land, they lived under the political jurisdiction of Tswana chiefs. As they grew in number and economic independence to be recognized as a separate group, with their own settlements, local Herero headmen were designated by the Tswana chiefs. Nowadays headmen are appointed by the Botswana state administration, and they function as the lowest-level bureaucratic authority, serving as spokespersons for the state, rather than for indigenous leaders and constituents. They handle local disputes of a relatively trivial nature; more serious conflicts and social control in general are the purview of the police and district commissioners.

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