Embellished Beauty

Beaded Bergville Dolls

Adornment and embellishment remind us of the Amangwe clan of Bergville, a rural community situated in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. The women of Bergville make a statement as they beautify themselves with rich patterns, textiles, and exquisite color combinations. They adorn their hand crafted beaded dolls as intricately they do themselves, wearing symbolic regalia, which characterize one’s social and marital status. Traditionally, these dolls were made by women who were childless in the belief that they would become fertile, but are more recently being designed so that their attire indicates age, female marital status as well as the various stages of growth into adulthood. This art of doll making is ancient within Zulu culture, playing a role in not only fertility but healing, courtship, and ritual.
The Bergville Beaded Doll Project was developed under the African Art Center based in Southern Africa, with the goal of providing a sustainable source of income and a way to preserve cultural heritage throughout this province. Lobolile Ximba, master beader and doll maker has graciously taken the initiative by teaching these technical doll making skills to women living in rural communities, working with materials such as wood, fabric, beads, buttons and animal hide.
Traditionally, these dolls were used at a girl’s initiation called “The Coming Out Ceremony” which is integral in Bergville culture and held once every two years as a girl enters into adulthood. Women would often be seen carrying these dolls until their first child was born and were worn around one’s neck, under her clothes, or carried openly to increase the chances in finding a suitable husband. Shamans would also use these dolls for healing purposes as they we believed to have the power to transmit healing energy to the wearer, releasing evil spirits or disease. 
Aside from being auspicious, these Bergville dolls are used as decorative figures in how their apparel closely indicates age, marital status as well as the stages of maturation. The traditional dress of these women, mirrors the attire of these dolls. When a child is 14 to 16 their clothing is fairly minimal, wearing only her mother’s old beaded cape tied at the back of her waist with beaded fringe in front, decorated with long beaded strips. As these women get older, their dress becomes more and more elaborate. The layering and number of capes increase, hairstyles become more sophisticated and the detail on their clothing is more embellished.  When one reaches a marriageable age, she wears four beaded capes, where a newly wed and pregnant woman wear up to five or sometimes six at one time. A bride will wear an elaborate cape made out of eleven panels, which is given as a gift from her relatives and family. A respected healer or elder will wear five to six beaded capes around her waist, a leather skirt, and plaits his or her hair in locks. The symbolism of these dolls is profound, as they ignite a sense of fascination about their cultural references and signify each girls' phases of emerging womanhood.
For more information, please visit http://www.afriart.org.za



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