Student Interpretation → Jessica van Buren

  • Brides Apron
  • Gala Blanket

Ndebele Beadwork

The Southern Ndebele people represent a rich culture of South Africa, usually known for their mural work, here are recognized for their beadwork. Typical geometric symbols and shapes make up the design of the object, comprised of many colored beads bound together with both manmade and natural thread. A metal chainmail integrated in the middle of the piece indicates its 20th century design. Most likely worn for a girls coming out ceremony, the elaborate quality of the beadwork shows the importance of the event among Ndebele culture.

Gala Blanket

Gala Blanket (nguba)

Ndebele People
South Africa
Gala Blanket (nguba)
c. 1960
Commercial blanket, fiber, glass beads
Gift of William D. and Norma Canelas Roth
2005.47.4

In the early to mid-20th century, England exported wool blankets manufactured by the Middleburg Company to South Africa. The multi-colored striped blankets became a favorite of Ndebele women who enhanced them with large horizontal beaded panels. Popularly named “Middleburg blankets,” or by their vernacular name, irari or nguba, the blankets replaced older skin capes worn on festive occasions such as weddings and initiations. Pink and red striped blankets covered with beadwork are identified as nguba, and were preferred for gala events. The dark beadwork panels have motifs suggesting modern homes with staircases, windows, and electric lights. The lavish use of imported glass seed beads also demonstrates the wealth of the owner.

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