The story of IsiShweshwe is a long and complex story of intercontinental trade and cultural exchange. Although it's roots are linked to colonialism, it is also tied to missionary movements and political resistance.
In the mid-1980s, as part of a campaign to encourage a means of income amongst women in the apartheid-era Ciskei homeland, Marie Peacey was invited by Nico Ferreira, then Chancellor for Lennox Sebe (President of Ciskei), to teach needlework. For a period of 13 months, she spent alternate weeks at the Ciskeian Small Business Corporation in Mitford, where she taught women to make mola applique squares, which she then assembled into jackets, waistcoats, etc., for sale in clothing boutiques.
The Dress of Makoti
This is an example of the dress of makoti. To show respect and submission to the authority of her husband and parents-in-law, traditional practice dictated that a newly-married Xhosa woman would wear her ikhetshemiya (headcloth) low over her forehead, keep her shoulders covered, cover her hips with a blanket and wear a isishweshwe skirt and apron. She should stay with her parents-in-law for up to a year, a period during which her behaviour conveyed that she adhered to ukuhlonipha traditions of respect. Aspects of this practice are still present but are being eroded with urbanization. Head cloth, blanket and towel on loan from Siphokazi Mesele, nee Lindelwa Pamela Mbola, who wore them when she was makoti.
Swazi Man's Amabutho Outfit
This is an example of a Swazi man's amabutho outfit. The Sidvashi (skirt) can be red, maroon or brown isishweshwe, and must be covered by a majobo (lionskin) of leopard, duiker, reed buck or even baboon pelt, worn at the front and rear. In this case the pattern on the isishweshwe is libululu (snake) - the Swazi king's favorite.
The Iziko Social History Centre
The Iziko Social History Centre is situated in Church Square, Cape Town. It is housed in the magnificent former National Mutual Life Association of Australasia building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and Francis Masey in 1905.
Iziko’s Social History Textile Collection
The isishweshwe collection forms part Iziko’s social history textile collection. A large part of this collection was donated by Dr Juliette Leeb-du Toit, an art historian who studied the cloth in the South African context over many years. She had conducted extensive research into its origins, significance (both past and present) and had investigated the development of its meaning, within various branches of South African culture, from its earliest roots to its present status.
Created by Lynn Abrahams and Sarah Schäfer.
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