Tshogholo or Married Woman's Apron

   African Tshogholo apron
  South African Tshogholo apron (detail)

Imagine traveling through rural South Africa long before African beadwork became collectible and coming across an Ndebele woman in full regalia. Walking along a dusty road, she would be covered head to foot in beaded adornment including a cape, neck, leg, and arm bands, and an apron to indicate her marital status. Just about every part of her body would be covered in distinctive, colorful, beaded geometric designs. Most likely, you would’ve stopped in your tracks, hypnotized by the richness, complexity, and sheer weight of her dress.

Tshogholo or Married Woman's apron   
Tshogholo or Married Woman's apron 

This week’s spotlight features a classic example of Ndebele beadwork - a married woman’s apron called a tshogholo in their native tongue. Its unique five finger design composed of glass beads stitched onto cowhide marked the culmination of marriage and was worn only after the birth of the first child. It not only displayed the maker’s status, but traditional Ndebele design, which is unique in all of Africa.

When this piece was collected hardly anyone knew about Ndebele beadwork, no less a global audience. It’s a certainty the woman who created this apron was making a personal statement. After all, she was making it for herself, friends and family. It’s highly unlikely she saw it being heralded worldwide as an exceptional work of authentic art emanating from the hand and the heart.

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