At the mention of the Ndebele people – a Nguni ethnic group native to modern South Africa and some parts of Zimbabwe, what comes to mind? Colourful geometric wall art, Elaborate neck rings, Unique yet stylish fashion sense? These are some of the amazing characteristics of the Southern African Ndebele people.
The Ndebele people were originally an offshoot of the Nguni people of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The language amaNala and amaNzunza are related to that of the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe.The people refer to themselves as “Amandebele,” or “Ndzundza” or “Manala,” denoting the two main tribal groupings.
There are quite a number of stories surrounding the origins of the Ndebele tribe but one thing we are sure of is that their Culture, Traditions, Arts and Crafts are unique and original.
Today the Ndebele population in South Africa is mainly rural, as many young people leave the villages to seek job opportunities in the cities. Nevertheless, they are still one of the most colourful African tribes best known for their eye-catching geometric wall art, statement jewellery, traditional clothing and skilful beadwork.
The Ndebele women are responsible for the colourful wall murals and intricate beadwork. These murals are created using multicolour application of acrylic paint on the outer and inner courtyard and house walls. Painting and breadmaking are skills passed from mother to daughter. Weaving is another traditional Ndebele craft, the dried grass is used to create jewellery and household items like sleeping mats.
Adorning oneself with elaborate jewelry is another art form that the Ndebele pride themselves it. Ndebele jewelry pieces are mainly made from beads, dried grass and metals. These jewelry are symbolic and serve different purposes.
For instance, a Ndebele wife would adorn herself with copper and brass rings; given to her by her husband around her arms, leg and neck. These rings (called idzila) serve as a symbol of wealth and societal status, the richer the husband, the more the rings. In addition to the rings, married women also wore neck hoops made of grass (called isirholwani) twisted into a coil and covered in beads, particularly for ceremonial occasions.
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For rituals, initiations and other ceremonies, young Ndebele men, women and little children adorn themselves with jewelry ornaments made for them by the other women.
The Ndebele men are responsible for animal husbandry and a few agricultural activities. They also construct and thatch the roof of the houses before the women embark on the mural painting
One famous Amandabele is 81 years old, Esther Mahlangu who is known as the first woman to create artwork on a BMW 525i Sedan. She was also commissioned to refine a BMW (Individual) 7 Series.Esther’s artwork gives a modern perspective on the rich Ndebele mural painting skill.
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