Clothing and beadwork in the Mpondo Kingdom

By Stella Sigcau

1 March 2019

AmaMpondo historically took pride in how they looked and are creative people; hence their traditional clothes have colourful beadwork and patterns. Men and women, young and old love to accessorise (ukutsikila in Mpondo language). Beading plays an essential role in accessorising men and women, young and old. The beadwork is done by the women.

Photo: Princess Dinwayo of AmaNtlane, Mpondoland

The beads in the Mpondo Kingdom are used to accessorise different parts of the body e.g. around the necks, around the wastes, hands etc.

Colours of the beads also have meaning for instance; green beads are used by girls who have children out of wedlock whilst the blue beads are used by unmarried girls without children. Black rubbers and bands called amamboza are used to accessorise ankles, legs and arms.

Umxhetsha with uphetsha (the head accessories for young girls) and umqhoboka (the head gear for married women) is also made of beads. Mpondo people also accessorise their walking or fighting stick with beads as well as their assegais. Older married men wear injinge which consists of strands of beads with brass buttons. There is also what could be termed Mpondo belt for married women, which is called isibhamba. Isibhamba is worn above the stomach and also made of beads. The metallic bangles that Mpondi women wear are called ubusengi. Isiganga is another type of bead that is worn mostly by elderly people which looks like a necklace but with an extension in front. Another is isiphephe of which for married women is made of green and white beads and for unmarried women the beads are blue and white. It is also found in reddish (mbola) and white colours. The Horses for the Mpondo horse parade (umkhwelo) are also accessorized with Mpondo beads.

The name of the skirts won by young girls is called umbhinco wentombi. Young girls who have undergone initiation (umgquzo) wear a blanket above which also covers their breasts. Men wear what is called isitshuba, a long bearded cloth that covered their bodies from waste to the ankles or traditional pants called umblaselo, Mpondo blanket that they were over their shoulders or cover their bodies when it us cold is called ifelani or isiganga. They carry a beaded stick called iqakathi. Mpondo women wear a skirt called iqwanguza or isidumza. Originally the traditional skirts were made of cow hides. In the present day, these skirts are made of hard cotton.

Historically Mpondos braided their hair. Mpondo braiding is called ukupikipa. At the back of the head for married women is ilibhu which is longer plaited/ braided hair. As part of accessorizing, a unique type of teaspoon will be found inserted on the hair and amaMpondo will always carry a small traditional tin with igwada (snyf) inside.

Amampondo also have what could be termed, for the lack of a better word, Mpondo “make up”. They apply ummemezi (foundation) and decorate their faces with black dots and black lines called oogesi on the forehead.  Imbola which is reddish in colour is applied on the body by initiates or can be used as a sun screen.