Ndebele Apron

Elaborate use of many colours of glass beads to create an attractive Ndebele apron.

Tribe: Ndebele

Origin: South Africa

Approx Age: Early – Mid – 20th Century

Materials: Leather/Glass beads

Dimensions cm: 59 (long) x 47.5 (wide)

Ref. Number: 1215

Attractive traditional Ndebele apron is known as Isiphephet or Amaphotho. Made of hundreds of small glass beads in a variety of colours decorate this interestingly patterned apron from the Ndebele tribe who come from South Africa. The beads are sewn onto a piece of leather that is fashioned to be an apron. This apron has significant age to it and due to that fact, there is some wear and tear and bead loss.


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.

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.

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