Among the Ndebele peoples of the Northern Transvaal region of South Africa, it is the women who create distinctive and beautiful beadwork and mural paintings. Their designs tend to compact forms, primarily geometric, but may include modern objects or symbols.
Beadwork is used primarily for women's ceremonial garments. Among the most dramatic garments are ceremonial beaded blankets. Successors to beaded leather capes, the blankets are manufactured in South Africa and, despite the variety of patterns available, the Ndebele only choose striped or red patterned blankets for beading. The beads used are of European manufacture. The beadwork strips vary in width and number. Additional strips are added for special occasions and, when the blanket wears out, the beaded strips are transferred to another blanket. It is therefore not unusual to find isolated strips such as this one.
In the late 1800s white was the dominant color, but by the mid-20th century multicolored beads in geometric bands and stylized house patterns were balancing the white. By the 1970s the Ndebele showed an increasing preference for darker colors--blue, green, purple and black--and larger beads. This example with its reliance on small white beads, and openwork designs refers to the older traditions.