South Africa’s bead art plays an important role in the traditional societies of South African people like the amaZulu, amaXhosa, baSotho, baVenda and amaNdebele. Today, the colourful designs have found their way to the roadside stalls, markets and shops, where gifted craftspeople sell decorative beaded artefacts and jewellery.

Did you know?

Beadwork plays a role in Zulu weddings and engagements and beads can be admitted as evidence in court cases.

South Africa’s bead art is a favourite with local and international visitors as it reflects South Africa's many colourful cultures.

Firmly rooted in the age-old traditions of many South African cultures, bead art in South Africa has developed into a major ecotourism offering where people with beading skills create artefacts and jewellery based on traditional techniques and imagery.You will have several opportunities to buy beautifully beaded souvenirs on your trip to South Africa.

Choosing from the stunning range of bead art on offer won't be easy, particularly when you start understanding the language or symbolic code of beadwork and how each colour and pattern has a deep cultural significance and meaning.

Historically, beadwork was the insignia of tribal royalty. It has gradually developed broader meanings in traditional society. Beaded collectors items from centuries past are highly prized and increasingly rare. This end of the beadwork spectrum is widely recognised as fine art, and is either housed in museums or available for purchase through specialist agents and galleries.

At the other end of the spectrum are tourist curios such as the Zulu 'love letters' where the colours reflect the ardour and nature of your feelings.

The beadwork tradition continues as a living art and elaborate beadwork costumes and body ornaments continue to be created for use in traditional ceremonies to celebrate matrimony and the rites of passage from infancy to adulthood.

For people with a special interest in bead art there are a number of bead and craft tours on offer that give you the opportunity to get hands-on beading experience. For the casual tourist there are hundreds of street salesmen and craftswomen who create beaded dolls, necklaces, anklets, collars and belts so dazzling you won't be able to resist them.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Monkeybiz Beads
Tel: +27 (0) 21 426 0145

How to get here

Bead art can be found at street stalls in cities and rural areas alike. From Cape Town to the Kruger National Park, you will find craftspeople selling their work. You can also buy typical South African bead art at shops and galleries in most South African cities.

What will it cost

Smaller souvenirs may cost as little as R25, while larger art work can cost hundreds of rand.

Best buys

Beaded key-rings are popular souvenirs, as are beaded Zulu 'love letters' and beautiful beaded cutlery.

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