Those who have travelled in South Africa and spent some of their time in the Province of KwaZulu Natal, might have seen some of the colourful beadwork made by the Zulu people. The beadwork is sold in many outlets in the region and in major centres throughout the country, where some of these beaded trinkets have been offered as souvenir hunters as “Zulu Love Letters”.
To appreciate the true significance of traditional Zulu beadwork, however, one has to understand how effectively the Zulu have integrated social values into their arts and crafts. Traditional colours, colour combinations and patterns are still found in modern Zulu beadwork but the real eloquence is rapidly subsiding under the pressures of urbanisation and culture change.
In Zulu tradition adulthood comes with marriage, married people have the advantages of seniority over those who are not. This creates a major male incentive to find jobs and gather what is required as marriage goods. The large number of single mothers indicate that urban females have been largely emancipated from this convention, but the importance of marriage as access to adulthood explains the connection between traditional beadwork and transsexual relationships.
Social conventions often influence the combinations or arrangements which determine the meaning of colours and geometric figures. As in the “hlonipha” language of Zulu woman, certain rules need to be observed in beadwork design. A girl expressing in beadwork her love for a man would not place the unfulfilled male symbol within its feminine counterpart, but arrange them the other way around, with the unfulfilled male symbol enclosing the unfulfilled female symbol.
Without negative association, white regularly selects positive meanings in colour arrangements where this may be in doubt. Next to white blue signifies fidelity, so the blue and white combination has become a conventional engagement symbol. Blue, white and black is a standard combination denoting marriage.
There are many ways of combining colours, using them in certain items rather than others, or emphasising meaning by increasing the number of beads in an appropriate colour.
Love letters date from the introduction of glass beads which were quickly given meanings dependent upon their colour. Prior to beads, Zulu girls would use seeds, ostrich eggshell and seashells for adornment. The love letters are small, postage stamp sized plaques of beads that convey an emotion to the recipient usually a favourable or unfavourable inclination towards his advances. The colours are mixed to convey a range of meaning.
White – is the colour of purity.
Black – indicates the colours of the rafters of the hut, to which colour the maiden has turned in pining for her loved one.
Blue – if I were a dove, I would fly to your home and pick up food at your door.
Yellow – I shall never eat if we marry because you own no beast you can slaughter.
Pink – You should work harder to gain your lobola and not gamble your money away.
Green – I have become thin like the sweet cane in a damp field and green as the first shoots of a tree because of my love for you.
Red – My heart bleeds and is full of love.
Zulu Summary: Love Letters
Kulabo asebake bathi gqi kwelikaMalandela ngiyafunga ngiyagomela sebake bazithela phezu kwencwadi yothando yesiZulu. Kusukela kudala ngesikhathi kusabusa iNkosi Shaka Zulu ukuthunyela komyalezo kwesinye isigodi kwaku yinsakavukela umchilo wesidwaba. Kanye nasendimeni yezothando ke kwakunjalo, kodwa okuhlukile kundima yothando kwakuyindlela ekuthunyelwa ngayo umyalezo esokeni. Intombi yayiye yeqhathanise imibala yobuhlalo kuphume umyalezo ovutha amalangabi ngensizwa eyizwa ngaphakathi. Lubu buciko bezandla buyinqubo yakwaZulu yokugcina kwamasiko kanye nolwazi olucashile lwesizwe esinsundu.
Imibala yalomyalezo kulobuhlalo yagcizelela uthando iphinde idlulise umyalezo wothando nenkuthazo. Ngizotomula eminye yemibala nencazelo yayo ekuhlanganisweni kwencwadi yothando.
Omhlophe– umbala wenhlanzeko
Oluhlaza (okwesibhakbhaka)– uma ngiyijuba ngiyondiza elawini lakho ngizothatha ukudla kothando emnyango
Obomvu– inhliziyo yami igcwele uthando.
By: Sbo Dladla