N'Debele Apron

  • Tribe: N Debele
  • Origin: South Africa
  • Approx Age: 1950 -1960
  • Materials: Cloth, Glass Beads
  • Dimensions cm: 29 x 26
  • Ref. Number: 0413

Attractive traditional N Debele Apron. Made of thousands of small glass beads and interestingly patterned apron from the N’debele tribe who come from South Africa. The main beaded area is worked in black beads with diamond shaped bead work carried out in yellow, blue, green and red beads outlined with white beads. A stunningly, heavy beaded fringe adds movement to the bottom edge of this n’debele apron.

N’debele children wearing beaded aprons – Photograph taken from Trip Down Memory Lane


The origin of the name “Ndebele” is full of speculations and there are many school thoughts. The necessity of trying to trace the origins of the term “Ndebele” has become apparent. Some school of thought posit that Mzilikazi, who originated from Zululand and led the breakaway factions from the Zulu people called himself  Ndebele. It is however not very clear as to when he actually started calling himself Ndebele because historically there are no facts indicating that he ever used the name whilst still in Zululand. This is aggravated by the fact that, the people who now live across the Limpopo in Zimbabwe call themselves Ndebele as well.

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Ndebele, South Africa is one of the smallest tribes in South Africa They are known for their geometric designs on their painted houses and this follows through to their bead work. The Ndebele women are some of the best known bead workers in Africa, having worked with beads for hundreds of years. Like all South African tribes, bead work of the Ndebele is an identifier of the age, sex and marital status of the wearer to anyone who can read the “code”. This fine fringed iGabe or “ghabi” apron is worn by young girls to puberty.

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Ndebele Girls in Traditional Dress


The size and shape of an Ndebele woman’s apron communicates information about her status in life . Ndebele bead work is essentially part of female ceremonial costume. Beads are sown on goat skins, canvas, and even hard board nowadays, and worn as aprons. Beaded necklaces and arm and neck rings form part of the outfit that is worn during rituals such as initiation and weddings.

Zulu Bead Skirt