Beaded Belts, ‘Umutsha’ and What You Need To Know.

Beadwork, a form of adornment which dates from the 19th-20th century, and used throughout Africa, plays a central role among the various cultures of southern Africa especially among the Zulu and Nguni peoples. As trade with Europe increased, imported glass beads replaced those made of ostrich shells and became a common component of personal decoration. While beadworking has remained the exclusive domain of women, lavishly beaded items colourful for men and women of all ages often conveyed key aspects of the wearer’s identity and social status.

Beaded belts known as umutsha were worn by both Zulu men and women. This example features finely interlocked patterns of glass beads arranged in colourful chevrons on a leather backing. 

The Zulu, like other Southern African peoples, drew upon distinct colours and colour combinations as part of a complex symbolic system, the precise language of which has not been documented. Moreover, the messages woven into such beaded items were of a highly personal nature and thus often only fully understood by those close to the maker. 

In some cases, however, the overarching significance of specific colors is evident through the name that is given to them. For example, ruby-colored glass beads are known as inkankane, which means “whenever I see you my heart leaps up in little flames.”

The medium usually used are: Fiber, glass beads, brass beads, leather, basketry, cloth, etc.