Ndebele Dolls

South Africa

All the bead workers are rural Ndebele women who live mostly in remote areas in South Africa where there are very few job opportunities. The Ndebele women produce beadwork work individually from their homes in rural KwaNdebele, and in doing so are able to care for their children and retain their traditional lifestyles at the same time.

This project has enabled more than 70 Ndebele women from very poor economic circumstances to earn an independent income. The Ndebele are one of the smallest tribes in South Africa, and the women are one of the most colourful and distinctive in their dress and adornment. The beadwork worn during the different life stages indicates the individual’s status within the community at any given time. Beadwork is one of the oldest and most elemental of the decorative arts, and in terms of colour and design, there are few other crafts that compare with the beadwork of the Ndebele women. Ndebele are noted for their extraordinarily beautifully painted homes of brilliant colors that stand out like jewels in the drab countryside. Their clothing is similarly colorful. The bead work on these Ndebele dolls is as detailed as the clothing of the women themselves.

When taken in context of African culture, the dolls are more than children’s play toys, they are symbolic of the important rituals that take place in the Ndebele community.