Traditional dress and adornments of Ndebele

photo source

Today I am taking you to Africa again. On the south of the continent a tribe lives women of which have very interesting traditional costume and adornments. The tribe's name is Ndebele and they are famous around the world for their traditional wall painting art. Researchers say that probably the coloured geometrical patterns of the wall paintings are derived from the more ancient ornamental tradition of decorating women's clothing.

photo  source

The main element of Ndebele woman's dress is an apron. Girls wear small front aprons made of tassels and beads which increase in size as the girls grow up. When they reach marriageable age the aprons are replaced by stiff larger ones traditionally made of hardened skin but nowadays of cardboard backed by canvas. These aprons, called iphotho, are lavishly decorated with bead-work in geometric designs. The apron's pattern indicates which age group the woman belongs to, whether she is a mother or expecting a child or her desire for chastity and purity.

photo source

Also typical of the Ndebele costume are the idzilla - metal rings worn by married women around the neck, ankles and arms and isigolwane - large rings of beads on an iron or straw core worn on the hips and legs and sometimes on the arms and around the neck too. It is said that tradition of wearing these beaded rings appeared thanks to the Ndebele men's love for fatter women and the rings function is to imitate rolls of fat. These rings can be pretty wide and the whole set can weigh as much as 25 kg, hence another explanation of the tradition: in earlier times men used to kidnap girls to make them wives often against their wish. The mother of the man then put on those heavy beaded rings on the girl that she could not escape.

Unmarried girls and women traditionally go with bare upper torso with only a wide beaded collar covering their shoulders. Married women must cover their upper part with blankets. Blankets with red-green and blue-yellow vertical stripes are favoured by the Ndebele women. Traditionally these blankets are also decorated with beaded panels that go horizontally to contrast with the vertical stripes.

Ndebele beaded blanket, 1940. Wool, glass, plastic beads, cotton. Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta

Blankets that are not beaded are called ikombesi and the beaded one are called ngurara. To convert an ikombesi into a ngurara requires great skill and a large quantity of glass beads, and the beading may be added to over many years to record significant events throughout the woman’s lifetime.
Also as a sign of respect to her husband a married woman covers her head with anything from the simple band of beads to a full beaded tiara.

photo courtesy Nick Pellegrino

Ndebele men wear an apron made from the skin of a genet or civet cat and beaded in geometric designs. Leather of fur headdresses and a small shoulder cloak too are part of the traditional attire but now are seen rarely.
The Ndebele tribal prints and adornments have inspired some fashion designers to create beautiful pieces of clothes or accessories.

Ndebele inspired dresses, photos from  here and  here

Ndebele inspired collection by  Jayne Bristow

Ndebele inspired necklaces, photo from here

Christian Louboutin Ndebele print shoes

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  1. such a fascinating and rich culture. loved going through your article here.

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  2. What incredibly vibrant colours! I love them. Thanks for introducing some African style to my life! x

  3. wow! This post just blown me away...I love how they bring culture in fashion :)
    vibrant color sounds so much fun :)

  4. so unusual! It's amazing that contemporary designers are inspired by traditional costumes. Love it.

  5. The Nbele inspired designer clothes are fantastic, the traditional costumes too - to look at. But do they actually wear the metal rings the whole day long? If so that's hard and I do not envy these women. Although the colors and the artwork they wear are gorgeous.

    1. I'm ndebele the metal rings are not metal. But a vinyl sort of material with Velcro at the back. So's one thing with you open up at the back

  6. Hi Olga, I'm new to your blog, and it's so interesting! The colour and detail of the Ndebele clothing is so rich and beautiful. And as with all clothing, much of it communicates a lot within the culture. Clothes/decoration is rarely just that, it has meaning.
    Love Curtise xxx

  7. This is really very nice collection.Thanks for introducing some African style.
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  8. I learn so much from your posts! Thank you. I did not know of the costumes and adornments of the Ndebele.


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