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Authentic Ndebele Wedding Apron (Mapoto) - Not A Tourist Item - $525 (Mesilla)

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We are a retired couple who have been traveling and collecting for over 60 years. But that was then. Now: we recently sold our large retirement home and need to do some serious downsizing. Too much stuff! It is time for us to help some of our objects find a new Happy Home.

This listing is for Ndebele woman’s bridal apron. Strands of colored glass beads are woven onto a leather (probable goatskin) panel to create elaborate geometric patterns.

In the 1960s we were living in South Africa. We purchased this bridal apron in a small traditional Ndebele village in 1965. It was already old at that time.

There are several different styles of Ndebele bridal apron. This is the Mapoto style. The apron was traditionally made and gifted by the bride’s in-laws. Full of symbolism, the bold colors and patterns are often regional and contain specific references to family and status. For this apron, the roughly upper two-thirds portion is made up of two matching geometric patterns. These represent the two houses being joined in marriage. The lower, one-third portion, of the apron is a row of five smaller geometric designs. This represents a wish that the marriage will be fruitful and that many children will be born.

These aprons were not worn every day, but were reserved for ceremonial occasions. Bridal aprons served multiple purposes. First, they advertised the wearers status as a married woman, a desirable state within the tribe. But they were also an object of personal adornment. As such, the elaborateness of the design, the quality of the materials used, and the skill of the beadwork was an opportunity for both the bride and groom to visually stand-out, to show-off a little.

Although the historical origins of southern African beadwork are uncertain, it is known that glass beads from Europe were available in the area as early as the sixteenth century through trade with the Portuguese. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the region became the world’s largest consumer of glass beads. Dating beaded works is difficult, although the color and size of the beads, the patterns and motifs, and the material used can all provide some indication of age. Older works typically have leather backings and use mostly small, white beads with minimal color designs, as in this example.

Again, this apron was purchased almost 60 years ago and was old at that time. This is not a tourist item, but an authentic ethnographic object. The world and South Africa have changed a great deal. Ndebele designs and beadwork are now well known, and craft objects produced for the tourist market provide significant income to tribal villages and individuals. It is not hard to find beaded Ndebele aprons on-line, but most of these are relatively new. Many made specifically for the tourist trade. This object is not in that category. There are other, authentic, aprons also available on line, but at prices well in excess of what I am asking.

• An apron, collected by a Peace Corp volunteer in 1970, is available from Sotheby’s for $2,200.
• Two aprons are available from the La Jolla gallery Africa and Beyond for $895 and $795.

Thank you for viewing.



post id: 7754170793

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