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Man's Back Tie

Man's back tie (ulimi, uthaye, isishunka)

Zulu People
South Africa
Man's Back Tie (ulimi, uthayi)
c. 1950
Glass beads
2007.27.19

Young Zulu men and women wear long beaded panels, ulimi, meaning tongue, or uthayi (derived from tie) on the chest or back. The color sequence, called isishunka, which includes dark green, black, pink, light blue, red, white and pale yellow, is the oldest and most complex of the color sequences of the Msinga style. The two main colors, black and green are the most essential. Black is symbolic of soot used to blacken oxhide skirts (isidwaba) worn by married women, and thus conveys readiness to marry, whereas green denotes sickness and pining. Other colors are said to be enhancements only, although they too have associated meanings. This ulimi was worn by a man on the back, probably for a ceremony such as a wedding or a coming of age ceremony, but ulimi may also be worn in rituals honoring ancestors.

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