01 July, 2011

Traditional attires at the fest

Nontobeko Mambija, who is reffered to by her clan name Mamfene, is part of the Phambilimidaka Project from  that consists of 12 women who come together to make Xhosa indigenous attires which includes garments and beads. It was particularly important for them to make Xhosa attires because they feel that the Xhosa culture is dying and lossing its significance due to assimilation to the Western culture.

She explains the meaning that the clothing have. Each colour that is used for the beads has a meaning and signification. Mambija enlightens us on the meaning of the colours used:

white - great wishes
green - prosperity
red - the blood of the cow that will be used for the ritual
black - darkness which is being purged away through the performing of the ritual
orange - sunrise
gold - sunset

Mambija takes Xhosa props and customises them with beads to make them more commercial. She says that one of the indigenous steel buckets that she is selling was previously used bring food to the river in cases where a family member was called by the ancestors to become a divine healer and thus dwell under the water. She is disappointed at the kind of poor suppourt they get at the festival. She states that the World Cup particularly impacted negatively on their sale as many people went off to watch soccer.

Mamfene's beadwork is colourful, attractive and effectively appealing to the broader market apart only to Xhosa people. They are rich with symbolism and meaning. The have an amazing history and heritage which Mamfene believes is in threat of death because of Christianity, Westernisation and civilization. She asserts that it is the obligation of every parent to educate their kids about the Xhosa heritage.

Mamfene explains that the beads served a spiritual purpose in the past as it was viewed as a connection to the ancestors. The traditional healers use the beads as a symbol of their rank within the healing. Each colour symbolises a particual heirachy.  

The women sew the traditional garments through the use of cloth and beads. There is a limited number of stock. Historically, these clothes were worn on a normal day by women but nowadays they are worn exclusively on significant cultural rituals like initiation ceremony, weddings and graduations,

Mamfene and her assistant at their stall.

Consequently to the poor suppourt Mambija gets from the festival, the group has decided that they reduce their trading stock not to experience any loss. The group makes extensive use of beads. Each item they make has beads on it. To enhance the marketability of their items, they use the South African flag colours in order to appeal and attract the fest goers.

Mamfene is the custodian of the Xhosa culture and her dedication to preserve the group's customs and ancient ways of living for future generations is remarkable.

By Sibulele Magini

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