Friday, October 17, 2008

Zulu Crafts and Traditions

A display or woven baskets, lidded pots and fruit plates

Zulu women weave their goods on the roadside

A woven place mat plaited in the traditional Zulu manner

When shopping for curios in South Africa, popular souvenirs are woven goods. In fact, as a South African, I only buy my household baskets, place mats and grass fruit plates directly from the vendors. They normally sit on the pavement (sidewalk) or beside the road (as in my photo above) with their wares displayed beside them. When you buy an item, the woman will always pass the artefact to you using her right hand only. The palm of her left hand will be under the right forearm. This custom is significant, and serves to assure you that there are no hidden weapons and you have nothing to fear from her.

Zulu beadwork (not shown here) is an art in itself. This traditional craft has a most fascinating manifestation: its own unique language. Every colour has a different meaning. Zulu women can weave a message of love, grief, jealousy, poverty, wealth or uncertainty into her patterned creation. Young Zulu girls, in particular, use the vocabulary of the beads to send sweet (or bitter) thoughts to their loved ones.

On our way back from our family wedding in Kwa-Zulu Natal, which you can read about here, hubby and I stopped at the top of Oliviershoek Pass (http://oliviershoek-pass.html/) where two Zulu women were plying their woven wares. After greeting them in Zulu, (one of the eleven official languages of South Africa and primarily spoken in Kwa-Zulu Natal) I asked whether I could take a photograph. Immediately the younger of the two replied: “Pay me R5” (approximately US .50с) I patiently explained (in her language again) that I wanted to buy an item from her which would earn her more than her charge for a photograph. She laughingly agreed and I got my photo. I then bought a placemat (photographed above) as a gift for Emily , my stalwart, loyal house-lady back home.


  1. Another beautiful post, Jo with stunning photo's. Thanks for explaining about the tradition/reason behind the hand movements, too. What talented ladies !

  2. Thanks for the compliment re the photos and post. Yes, the Zulu nation is very close to my heart. I grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal and spent many [young] years Zululand getting to know this proud people and their traditions. Hugs Jo xxx


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