Zulu Inspired Craftwork
The Zulu heritage is one of proud warrior status and attention to exquisite detail. People of Zulu ethnic identity cherish their historic leader Shaka who united more than 360 clans to form a powerful kingdom. Zulu, translated as ‘heaven’ and ama
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, Zulu are largely rural people, though thousands have become businessmen and women or have entered other professions throughout urban 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 still as aware of her Zulu cultural heritage as the rural pastoralist.
Traditional Costume and Dress
Throughout the year a number of traditional functions occur throughout the land of the Zulu. In all of these Zulu traditional attire made from skins, beads and feathers is worn by men, women and children. Not so long ago it was possible to see such attire being worn on a daily basis though these days daily dress is westernized. In the deep rural areas exquisite bead work can still be seen adorned, much of it indicating the district from which the wearer comes.
The Unique Aspect of Zulu Beadwork
Traditional Zulu beadwork is often worn by Zulu women today as an affirmation of their cultural heritage. 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.
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. Zulu love letters, 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. Moreover, these traditions persist in the form of income generation. Zulu love letters and jewellery have been revived and tweaked in the form of commercial contemporary jewellery brooches and socially conscious items like AIDS pins
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.
The seven basic colours can be used to convey a negative or a positive meaning, as follows:
Black marriage, regeneration sorrow, despair, death
Blue fidelity, a request ill feeling, hostility
Yellow wealth, a garden, industry, fertility thirst, badness, withering away
Green contentment, domestic bliss illness,discord
Pink high birth, an oath, a promise poverty, laziness
Red physical love, strong emotion anger, heartache, impatience
White spiritual love, purity, virginity (no negative meaning)
Zulu Grass Baskets
The age old Zulu women’s skill of basket weaving has been revitalised by various empowerment projects in the rural areas of KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. One such project helps over 2000 Zulu people, to attain self sufficiency. These crafters work from their homes and therefore retain their lifestyle and rich heritage of traditional handicraft.
Every basket is made of indigenous raw materials. The fronds of the Ilala Palm (Hyphaene Coriacea) are commonly used to weave the fine, watertight baskets taking up to one month to produce a medium-sized piece. Young girls Follow in the footsteps of their mothers and grandmothers and by the time they reach their teens, they are fully conversant in the age-old art of Zulu Basket weaving. In harsh economic conditions, such a skill provides much needed income for schooling and survival.
Examples of Traditional Zulu basketry
Ukhamba (Zulu Beer Basket) is a bulb-shaped container rendered watertight by the tightness of the coil-weave, and generally used to serve sorghum Beer on ceremonial occasions.
Isichumo is rigid, bottle-shaped basket used for carrying liquids, it has a lid, which fits over the neck like a cap.
Isiquabetho and Iqoma are open Bowls. The Isiquabetho is a large basin-shaped basket, traditionally used for gathering and carrying grain.
Nut Bowls and OOPS Baskets (Out of the Ordinary Production System) are tiny bowls traditionally woven by the Zulu children, who are taught by their mothers to weave from as young as 5 years of age.
Iqutu (Herb Baskets), The smallest of the Zulu baskets are not woven to be watertight, as they are used for the storage of dried herbs, for both culinary and medicinal use.
Canisters, straight sided storage baskets, useful for trinkets and nick-nacks are a more recent adaptation of the Ukhamba, using the same materials and patterns
Mbenge are small, saucer-shaped bowls used to cover clay Ukhamba in order to keep the beer insect and dust-free.
As with many Zulu artifacts, the humble Zulu beer pot has been raised to a new status of interior décor,
The use of the Zulu beer pot is an integral part of Zulu culture since ritual beer drinking takes place in every aspect of the customary Zulu life. In fact King Ceshwayo claimed that beer was 'the food of the Zulu's'. Beer is used to introduce a new child to the families ancestors, at puberty ceremonies, at all marriage ceremonies as well as burial ceremonies. The beer is also used as a medium to evoke the ancestors - it is served in a pot and left overnight in the back of the hut for the ancestor.
Beer was even used as a form of economic exchange. It is the essence of hospitality and communality.
The beer is brewed and served in low-fired clay vessels. Three sizes are common:
the large imbiza, used for brewing,
the ukhamba, used for serving and
Pots are also used for cooking meat, storing water and grain and for drinking sour milk.
Most Zulu pots are blackened after the firing, this is largely for ritualistic purposes as the ancestors hide in dark, shady places. In time, through daily use, the pots develop a warm, brown, glossy patina characteristic. The patterns and decoration on the pots vary according to family and region. These days contemporary ceramics have been inspired by traditional Zulu pottery. White pots with ethnic designs are a favourite décor item.
(extracts from Bona Africa)
ISICHOLO’S: Zulu Hats
The Zulu hats or |”Isicholos”, originated from Kwazulu Natal stronghold of the powerful Zulu nation of South Africa. These hats are traditionally worn by married Zulu women for ceremonial celebrations. They are hand woven from cotton or rope or vegetable fibre dyed with ochre and covered over a basket frame. Traditionally, they were worn on occasions such as weddings and funerals. Today, however they have been adopted as an iconic fashion item for many glamorous events such as the opening of parliament, presidential inaugurations and more. They have also become a popular wall décor item and are even used as lampshades. While these hats are originally made from fabric, see our amazing design created from recycled tin can and wire.
(extracts from Rebirth Africa)