Necklace

ca. 1850-1900 (made)
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Although there is a long history of glass production in South Africa (glass beads formed part of an Iron Age excavation in the northern Transvaal) the tiny glass beads from which most beadwork in the area is produced only became available in large quantities in the late 19th century. These beads were mass-produced in Europe – particularly in the glass-making centres of Venice, Bohemia and the Netherlands – and transported to African countries to be used in trade.

The beads became an important element in artistic expressions of cultural and ethnic affiliation amongst Xhosa and Zulu-speaking peoples. Elaborate pieces of bead embroidery were worn by men and women and, through colour and design, communicated the wearer's ethnicity, age, regional roots, wealth and status. Xhosa and Zulu women continue to produce and wear large quantities of beadwork, particularly on ceremonial occasions.

British people were able to collect examples of beadwork such as this necklace through their involvement in conflicts like the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the South African War of 1899-1902, or via their work as colonial agents.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Glass beads, brass button
Brief Description
Necklace, beadwork, Xhosa or Zulu-speaking peoples, South Africa, 1850-1900
Physical Description
Necklace made of imported European glass beads. Long string with three square beadwork panels at centre to hang around the wearer's chest and fringe of beads near fastening (loop and brass button) to rest on the back of the wearer's neck
Dimensions
  • Height: 83.8cm
Styles
Credit line
Given by A.L. Byrne
Object history
Accessions register entry - 'Necklace of European glass beads made up in South Africa. 19th century. L.2ft. 9 1/2 in. Given by A.L. Byrne, Esq.

The necklace consists of two strings with coloured beads arranged in a pattern; at the back are three square pendants and in front a small fringe.' [Handwritten addition - 'Esplanade Hotel, Bombay']
Historical context
The square beadwork panels on this necklace are commonly known as 'love letters' (ubala abuyise, 'one writes in order that the other should reply') believed to be used in courtship to carry personal messages. However most Xhosa and Zulu beadwork was traditionally used in communication between the sexes.
Summary
Although there is a long history of glass production in South Africa (glass beads formed part of an Iron Age excavation in the northern Transvaal) the tiny glass beads from which most beadwork in the area is produced only became available in large quantities in the late 19th century. These beads were mass-produced in Europe – particularly in the glass-making centres of Venice, Bohemia and the Netherlands – and transported to African countries to be used in trade.



The beads became an important element in artistic expressions of cultural and ethnic affiliation amongst Xhosa and Zulu-speaking peoples. Elaborate pieces of bead embroidery were worn by men and women and, through colour and design, communicated the wearer's ethnicity, age, regional roots, wealth and status. Xhosa and Zulu women continue to produce and wear large quantities of beadwork, particularly on ceremonial occasions.



British people were able to collect examples of beadwork such as this necklace through their involvement in conflicts like the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the South African War of 1899-1902, or via their work as colonial agents.
Collection
Accession Number
1488-1903

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record createdDecember 13, 1997
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