You really can’t beat the smell and feel of authentic shweshwe can you? Despite it’s European origins, this distinctive fabric has become something of an African symbol, with some even referring to it as ‘African tartan’. There’s some debate as to where the fabric gets its unusual name – locals will often tell you that it’s an onomatopoeic word which references the sound shweshwe makes when the wearer walks, but according to Da Gama Textiles, the only manufacturer of traditional shweshwe in the world, the name comes from the Sotho king, Moshoeshoe, who was presented with a gift of indigo printed cloth from French missionaries in the 1840s. Because of the association with the king, the cloth was originally called ‘shoeshoe’, which gradually mutated into ‘shweshwe’.
The story of shweshwe (or isiShweshwe) is a fascinating one, and definitely worth reading up on. If you are interested in learning more about this great African tale then get yourself a copy of isiShweshwe: A History of the Indigenisation of Blueprint in South Africa by Juliette Leeb-du Toit. The book has just been launched by UKZN Press and is available to purchase via their website.
Image of the Denis Hurley shweshwe print courtesy of zulumissions.co.za