Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 92, Zulu traditions, South Africa

Oh dear, I really should not have mentioned "South Africa" to Ramzi yesterday.He is so upset that he didn't get to see all the beautiful Zulu maidens of my country!!

Sita loves beaded items , and so she wants to know about Zulu beadwork.

Well, beads were probably first traded in Africa during the time of the Egyptians, Sumerians and Chaldeans about three thousand years ago!

Beading is a strong part of the African heritage and in traditional Zulu culture is used not only to create useful or decorative items but also as a means of communication.

Since the Zulu people could not make these themselves they came to value them highly and used them to craft many different items and also as a means of communication.

What makes Zulu beadwork unique?

It is the code by which particular colours are selected and combined in various ways to create messages that are woven into decorative geometrical designs and shapes.

Both the colours and the shapes have particular meanings assigned to them, which makes it possible for a "love letter" (incwadi) made entirely from beads to be sent to a sweetheart to express a range of emotions.

Thus Zulu beadwork forms an intricate system of communication which is devoted entirely to the expression of ideas, feelings and facts related to behaviour and relations between the sexes.
Zulu beadwork is designed and manufactured exclusively by women, but is worn by both sexes - thus any beadwork worn by a man has been received from a woman.

In this way, beaded items can be used to facilitate communication between unrelated males and females, which avoids the discomfort of initiating direct discussion on the sensitive subject of personal relations.

Men usually wear beadwork to show involvement with women they may marry. This means that mothers, sisters and daughters do not give their sons, brothers or fathers beaded gifts, owing to the incestuous implications of such gifts
Natal South Africa 2010

Nopi wants to know about love letter...

The love letters are small, postage stamp sized plaques of beads that convey an emotion to the recipient - usually a favourable or unfavourable inclination towards his advances.

The colours are mixed to convey a range of meaning.

White is the colour of purity.
Black indicates the colours of the rafters of the hut, to which colour the maiden has turned in pining for her loved one.
Blue - if I were a dove, I would fly to your home and pick up food at your door.
Yellow - I shall never eat if we marry because you own no beast you can slaughter.
Pink - You should work harder to gain your lobola and not gamble your money away.
Green - I have become thin like the sweet cane in a damp field and green as the first shoots of a tree because of my love for you.
Red - My heart bleeds and is full of love.

They were also used to show whether a girl was single, engaged to be married or a new mother.

What makes these so special is the fact that these people will handcraft each item and so each piece is unique....and Nopi loves that because she hates to wear something that everybody else is wearing!!.

Zulu beadwork tells us a lot about the way in which the Zulu have constructed their society.

One soon understands that they have produced a closely integrated system in which all institution - religious, social, economic, educational, technological, communicational, recreational, legal, political as well as those designed to give aesthetic satisfaction in the form of art - are mutually supportive.

This makes it a very powerful system, highly resistant to change.

Oh, Ramzi is definitely not interested in my story about Zulu crafts........he just wants to know why the women are bare breasted?

Well, women in different stages of their lives wear different attire. The older they get and marry, the more they cover their bodies.


An unmarried girl (intombi) wears only a short skirt made of grass or beaded cotton strings, she wears nothing on top regardless of her size, weight, small or large bosom.

Zulus do not contribute any sexual meaning to the naked breast, but rather to back of the upper thigh.

She then spruces herself up with beadwork. They also keep their hair short.

When a young woman has been chosen or engaged, she lets her hair grow and covers her breasts with a decorative cloth as a sign of respect to her future family, it also indicates to the community that she has been spoken for.

Married women cover their bodies completely, which signals that she is off limits.
She wears a heavy knee length cow hide skirt.
The hide is treated until it is relatively soft, then the leather is cut into long strips and sewn together.

Over the skirt , a cloth that is decorated with predominantly red, white and black is worn or draped over.
Beads are also worn over this.

Married women also cover their breasts with either material or skin though nowadays they tend to wear vests or beaded bras.

When a woman is pregnant she wears an ‘isibamba’ a thick belt made from dried grass, covered with glass or plastic beadwork to support her stomach and additional weight.

Married women also wear hats ‘izicolo’, traditionally they were made of grass, and more often than not intertwined with red or white cotton thread.

Size and shape of the hats differ from clan to clan.

They were traditionally sewn into the hair – the bride’s hair would be straightened, herbs applied then the hat would be sewn into her hair so it could no longer be taken off and over a period of a few months would rot on her head.

Her hair would then be washed and the procedure repeated again.

During her husband’s long absences, a woman could not take the hat off and pretend to be unmarried. Nowadays though, hats are generally not sewn onto the head, but are worn only on special occasions.

I hope that I have answered all your questions now Ramzi.....yes, all the bare breasted maidens are available.......so take your pick...BUT of course you will also have to pay a lobolo

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