Ndebele introduction

Ndebele Art

The Ndebele are well known for their outstanding craftsmanship, their decorative homes, and their distinctive and highly colorful mode of dress and ornamentation. They were once part of the Nguni-speaking peoples who settled along southern Africa's eastern coastal plain, but migrated to the central inland plateau. In the late 19 century, after the Ndebele suffered a severe political defeat by the Boers, the Ndebele consciously returned to "the ancestor's ways", including making and using fertility dolls, in an attempt to re-establish and strengthen their culture identity.

Ndebele Fertility Dolls

When a couple is unable to conceive a child, their families carefully examine them. If no physical problems are readily apparent, the two then go to a diviner for treatment. Often the diviner discerns that the woman didn't go through initiation or it wasn't done properly. The wife is instructed to return to her father's home and undergo the rites again, this time carrying a fertility doll as surrogate child (E. Cameron 1996: 110). The multiple beaded bands around the fertility dolls are made from a straw rings covered with beads and worn around the neck, legs, arms, and waist. They imitate women who used to wear rings around their neck and legs. Both married and unmarried women may wear beaded body rings. Married women in addition wear metal neck, arm and leg rings (dzila)  given to them by their husbands, offered public evidence of a man's wealth. The neck rings cannot be removed because they are associated with the ancestirs, the ancestors' wrath can be incurred if the rings are discared, possibly leading to illness or even death in the family (P. Magubane, AmaNdebele 2005: 32-34).