Ndebele: Tribe Where a Woman’s Ornament is Status Symbol
In South Africa, there is a tribe with very interesting traditional costumes and adornments.
The tribe’s name is Ndebele, also called Transvaal Ndebele, Bantu-speaking African peoples who live primarily in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, and they are famous around the world for their traditional wall painting art.
Researchers say that probably the colored geometrical patterns of the wall paintings are derived from the more ancient ornamental tradition of decorating women’s clothing.
Ndebele women traditionally adorned themselves with a variety of ornaments, each symbolizing their status in society. After marriage, dresses became increasingly elaborate and spectacular.
In earlier times, the Ndebele wife would wear copper and brass rings around her arms, legs, and neck, symbolizing her bond and faithfulness to her husband, and once her home was built, she would only remove the rings after his death.
The rings, (called idzila) were believed to have strong ritual powers. Husbands used to provide their wives with these rings and the richer the husband, the more rings the wife would wear, however, today, it is no longer common practice to wear these rings permanently.
In addition to the rings, married women also wear neck hoops made of grass (called isigolwani) twisted into a coil and covered in beads, particularly for ceremonial occasions.
Isigolwani is sometimes worn as neckpieces and as leg and armbands by newlywed women whose husbands have not yet provided them with a home, or by girls of marriageable age after the completion of their initiation ceremony.
Married women also wore a five-fingered apron (called an ijogolo) to mark the culmination of the marriage, which only takes place after the birth of the first child.
The marriage blanket (nguba) worn by married women was decorated with beadwork to record significant events throughout the woman’s lifetime.