Did you know?
Special Xhosa beadwork is reserved for both the bride and the groom at traditional weddings.
The 1st time the world really got to see the power and significance of Xhosa beadwork was in 1962, when anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela stood up at the Old Synagogue in Pretoria for sentencing in a trial he was involved in.
Mandela – who was to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994 – would normally have appeared in a dapper business suit. On that day he wore the beads of his royal lineage – the Thembu royal family.
Phoenician and Arab traders had been filtering glass beads throughout Africa for centuries, but it was in the early 1800s that the newly arrived British settlers introduced the beads to the Xhosa as barter goods.
There is also the incredibly romantic notion that ruby-red Indian beads from ancient Arab trading dhows washed up on the Wild Coast beaches of the Eastern Cape and were pounced on by locals.
As with the wildly popular shweshwe fabric, the imported glass beads were soon embraced into the Xhosa culture with gusto. They went on to form part of the visual messaging system that communicated the various stages of a Xhosa woman’s life.
Favouring white glass beads, Xhosa patterns adorn headdresses, necks and waists.
But they are not limited to the women. You’ll find intricate bead patterns on male and female Xhosa pipes – it is said the beadwork keeps the pipe cool.
South Africa has a number of beading projects, and most of them do effective work in combating poverty in rural and urban areas.
Monkeybiz Bead Project, based in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town, is such a co-operative. The Monkeybiz crafters – many of them Xhosa beadworkers – come from the hardbitten townships in the area.
They work from their homes and their products are marketed globally by the Monkeybiz initiative.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Monkeybiz Bead Project
Tel: +27 (0)21 426 0145
Pondo People (Port St Johns)
Tel: +27 (0)47 564 1274