The Zulu nation is the largest group in South Africa and came into being in the early 19th century, when Shaka Zulu brought the more than 360 clans together, to form a single nation. (Zulu: ‘heaven’ amaZulu: ‘children of heaven"). Living in what is today known as KwaZulu-Natal, the Zulu are largely rural people, though thousands have become businessmen and women as well as following professional careers throughout South Africa. The culture and traditions of the Zulu people are immensely strong, deeply respected and remain little affected by western influence. The most sophisticated and highly educated Zulu person is as aware of Zulu culture, traditions and history as the most remotely rural pastoralist.
Throughout the year a number of traditional functions occur throughout the land of the Zulu. In all of these Zulu traditional attire is worn by men, women and children. Not so long ago it was possible to see such attire being worn on a daily basis. The use of skins, beads and feathers play the major role. Much of this is handed down from father to son, mother to daughter. In the deep rural areas exquisite beadwork can still be seen adorning young beauties, much of it indicating the district from which the wearer comes. The old art of sending messages through the skilled use of colours in a piece of beadwork is fast dying out. However, much is known and recorded about the skill of combining colours and designs to produce a message.
Not only seen at weddings, traditional Zulu beadwork is often worn by Zulu women today as an affirmation of their culture. Beads have been used since they first became available through trading - from India in the main. Prior to that time use was made of seeds and dyes from natural sources.
History of the Glass Beads
Glass beads are a by-product of the discovery of glass, which occurred in Egypt during the rule of the pharaohs some 30 centuries ago. Egyptian glass beads were transported by the Phoenicians from the Nile Delta to every port along the North African coast and the ancient Negro kingdoms of West and Central Africa. The Arabs succeeded the Phoenicians as traders and continued to supply beads to Africans along the East Coast. To this day, red cornelian beads of Indian origin are washed out on South Africa's shores from ancient Arab vessels that fell victim to storms and sank.
Glass beads were valued in Africa, not because Africans were duped into believing them to be precious stones, but because they were the products of an exotic technology, of which the equivalent was unknown in sub-Saharan Africa at that time. Beads, therefore, became precious in their own right and were crafted into a variety of objects to be worn according to custom, and as a token of social status, political importance and for personal adornment.
The Unique Aspect of Zulu Beadwork
What makes Zulu beadwork unique is the code by which particular colours are selected and combined in various decorative geometrical designs in order to convey messages. The geometric shapes themselves have particular significance and the craft itself forms a language devoted entirely to the expression of ideas, feelings and facts related to behaviour and relations between the sexes.
Meaning of Symbols
The Zulu beadwork language is deceptively simple: it uses one basic geometric shape, the triangle, and seven basic colours. The triangle's 3 corners represent father, mother and child. A triangle pointing down represents and unmarried woman; pointing up it represents an unmarried man. Two triangles joined at their bases represented a married woman, while two triangles joined at their points, in an hourglass shape, represent a married man.
Meaning of Bead Colours
The seven basic colours can be used to convey a negative or a positive meaning, as follows:
||sorrow, despair, death
||fidelity, a request
||ill feeling, hostility
||wealth, a garden, industry, fertility
||thirst, badness, withering away
||contentment, domestic bliss
||high birth, an oath, a promise
||physical love, strong emotion
||anger, heartache, impatience
||spiritual love, purity, virginity
||(no negative meaning)
All the wooden products are made from local woods – those are either Red Ivory, Mzithi or mThamboti. The replanting of the natural resource base is occurring in order to assist traditional woodcarvers as well as contributing to environmental care.
Most of the items of this range can be ordered with a lead-time of 6-8 weeks. The reason for this is that all these items are hand crafted in very remote areas in rural KwaZulu Natal or Mpumalanga or Limpopo, where accessibility is not always easy. Moreover , most items require skills that not many craftspeople share, and take time to make in the proper, traditional way. Quality control puts another limit on the quantities since we will only supply with those items that match the standards that you require.