Any fellow  bead lover  perusing the catalog for Sotheby’s upcoming tribal sale in New York would have immediately noticed Lot 85, described as “49 Northern Nguni (Zulu, Swazi and Transvaal Ndebele) and Southern Nguni (Xhosa) Beadworks and Jewellery, South Africa”. If you did, I wonder if it left you as perplexed as it did me? The 49 pieces of beadwork are cataloged as the property of The Robbins Center For Cross Cultural Communication in Washington and are attributed to two d Continue reading...

Buttons ‘n Beads.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Southern Africa was the world's largest consumer of European beads and, since a button is no more than a flat bead with two or more holes in it instead of one, it’s quite strange that so few tribal bead workers took to buttons in a big way. In fact, only one tribe did. The Xhosa of South Africa made buttons as distinctive a part of their tribal costume as beads. It all must have started back in the 19th century, when Europeans settlers and traders were e Continue reading...

The Beaded Horse.

It's a scene we remember from hundreds of Hollywood westerns -  a troop of Native American horsemen gallops across the plains shouting war cries while  loosing off a shower of arrows from the saddle,  or with their rifles blazing at the US Cavalry  or a beleaguered settler family. It is such a cliche, you might think that the mustang was native to North America. It wasn’t. Horses were brought to Mexico in the 15th century by the Spanish invaders and by the 16th century, they were widely Continue reading...

  The legs tell the story,  that is why the skirt is raised to display them.The lady on the left is a dancing queen with her legs at an angle. The lady on the right is a hard working housewife, run off her feet looking after her family. Both these superb keepers are 1950's or earlier. The English  expression “to wear your heart on your sleeve” means  to be quite open and public about the way you feel about some person or cause. But how about wearing your heart around your neck? Xhosa Continue reading...

“Living with American Indian Art" by  Alan Hirschfield and Terry Winchell, with a foreword by Gaylord Torrens.   Photography by W Garth Dowling.   Gibbs Smith 2012,  Hard cover with dust jacket, 279 pages. $40 - $50 at amazon.com. Most private tribal collectors who publish books on their collections seek to make them resemble an official museum publication or exhibition catalogue as closely possible. One thinks of John Friede’s meticulously researched two volumes on the Jolika Coll Continue reading...

  Tribal bead workers are almost always meticulous perfectionists. A woman’s beadwork, worn in public by her husband, her children and herself, made important statements about her skill, creativity as an artist, diligence as wife and mother and peer group status. It also indicated the wealth of her family and her personal rank in the community. So, if peer group approval was so important to any bead maker, why do we keep on finding “wrong” colours on beaded items? Why has the maker Continue reading...

 The baTonga (or baTonka as they are sometimes called) are one of the most interesting minority tribes in Southern Africa and are very different in language and culture from the two majority tribes of Zimbabwe - the Matabele and the Mashona. The baTonga are fishing folk who originally lived on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, in what was then called Sothern Rhodesia, but when the river was dammed at the Kariba Gorge in 1960 to create the Lake Kariba - the largest dam in Southern Afr Continue reading...

Palm wine plays a very important social and ceremonial role in many West African societies. In the Cameroon Grasslands,  a large cultural area located in central Cameroons which is inhabited by a number of related peoples including the Bamun, the Bamileke and the Bamenda Tikar, palm wine is used at funerals, celebration of marriages, for performing traditional rites, and as a reward form the king or Fon to his loyal subjects on special occasions To make palm wine, a palm sap collector climbs Continue reading...

The Khosian people of South Africa, the Hottentots and the San, are small golden brown people rather than black who speak a language of complex tongue and palate clicks, and once inhabited Southern Africa right down to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope, before both black and white strangers settled their land and took the grass for cattle and the land for crops. Because they regarded the invading cattle as a new species of antelope rather than domesticated property, and because itwas very hard Continue reading...

 An Indian wedding is a joyous affair, whether it takes place in a palace or a village compound. The bride and groom are treated like royalty for that wedding day, and the groom arrives on a splendid horse, while the bride is often transported from her home on a bullock cart covered  with flowers. In the old kingdom of Shaurashtra, the groom's horse and the bullock pulling the cart are often decorated with  special beadwork coverings. Apart form this small Shaurashtrian enclave near Kutch, Continue reading...

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