Ndebele Beaded Apron

An absolutely stunning and well used Ndebele beaded apron known as Amaphotho or Mapoto.
Tribe: Ndebele

Origin: Zimbabwe

Approx Age: Mid 20th Century

Materials: Animal skin/Glass beads

Dimensions cm: 52cm (long) x 52cm (wide).  

Ref. Number: 1214


An absolutely stunning and well used Ndebele beaded apron known as Amaphotho or Mapoto. A variety of colours including white, light blue, dark blue, pink and green glass beads being sewn onto a leather (animal skin) creating a lovely design on this apron. This is a lovely example of a well worn skirt as it still has all the beadwork intact.


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”.

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.

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.

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