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Zulu Beadwork (South Africa)

The special exhibition shows souvenirs of St. Ottilien missionaries from  the Inkamana Abbey / Zululand region.


A "knobkierie" (Africaans) is a cudgel-like stick. Originally, these clubs were used as missiles for hunting smaller animals. During apartheid, the knobkierie was a symbol of identity and resistance for many indigenous ethnic groups.

In the Zulu tribe, the cudgels are often decorated with glass beads. Girls and women braid the sticks in elaborate handicraft. The displayed sticks are mostly student works. Boys and men like knobkieries decorated with beads as a status symbol.

Today, beaded sticks and bead jewellery are sold to tourists and provide an important source of income for the locals.


Bead jewelry

The Zulu bead jewelry is not only a decoration but also transports messages. Patterns and colors form a language code. Apart from the bead jewelry of the traditional healers, it is all about searching for a partner and marriage.

Glass bead belts and necklaces made by girls and women show a number of defined geometrical patterns and a color code.

A base pattern is the triangle; an upside down triangle means a boy, otherwise a girl. Two triangles touching their tops mean a married man; for a married woman, the triangles touch.

Between the sexes, emotional messages are transported by a combination of patterns and colors. Certain colors have a positive or negative meaning depending on how they are arranged and combined with patterns.

RED means e.g. enthusiasm and love but also anger. BLACK means longing for marriage and as well sadness. YELLOW stands for the home, garden, prosperity, but for inferiority, too. BLUE symbolizes fidelity or else hostility. Only WHITE has the purely positive meaning of joy and love.

In the communities, older women transfer this art of beadwork and the knowledge about its meaning to the younger generation.