In Awe of Ndebele Women

Originally written on March 29, 2015
Remember my first experience with Ndebele costume ( where I posed with a topless girl)? Well, during the host family farewell, several of my fellow trainees flaunted their host family’s traditional Ndebele clothing. Our family was too busy to have me wear traditional clothing for the actual event, but my Aunt was determined to have me wear Ndebele dress before I left.

I made it very clear that although that Ndebele women are bare chested in the costume, my breasts would be covered by a camisole for a photo-shoot. We arrived at Gogo’s house at 3:00 PM and quickly found out that I do not have the typical body type of Ndebele women. First the beaded skirt had to be attached (with a gigantic and anxiety-inducing safety pin) on my waist. Then we tried on several rings to go around my waist and eventually found one that fit over my broad shoulders. Once the waist rings were in place then it was time to adjust the leg rings.

Eish the leg rings. Since I stand on long legs, I had to try and place 4 rings below my knee. The first two went on with out an incident, and then we try to get the 3rd ring on…then things got tricky. The 4th ring, Mam and my aunt put a plastic bag over my foot and gently worked the last ring over my foot. It took about 15 minutes but once the padding was in place, we slowly stuffed padding down the rings, and walked (well in my case swung my legs around and waddled) outside for a photo-shoot.

The entire Ndebele ensemble and my buckling leg rings!

The entire Ndebele ensemble and my buckling leg rings!

When the entire street heard that the American was trying on Ndebele costume they all wanted to join the photoshoot. We spent 30 minutes posing in various parts of the costume. It was really neat to see how excited everyone was about sharing their culture. Once it was all over (and I was safely sitting down) we pulled the leg rings off. My family was very caring and the minute they started to pull too hard, they let me slowly guide the rings off myself.

 A beaded blanket that physically strong women can wear for hours. I was done after five minutes.

A beaded blanket that physically strong women can wear for hours. I was done after five minutes.

Maybe, I’d be a whiny Ndebele woman but I am astounded by the strength of my host family astounds me. These women dance, stand, and with thousands of beads for hours. They also drop everything for a neighbor in need. Just last week Mam went to Pretoria to help a woman with her job, because she needed a day off to visit the doctor. Another day she left at 5 to take another woman to the hospital so she could deliver a baby girl. Even though Mam is back in school to hopefully become a Creshe (preschool) teacher and does not have a lot of resources, she is always thinking about others. The generosity and strength of Ndebele women is astounding. I am so humbled that I got to experience it in the Bush and that one woman calls me her child.

My Ndebele family

My Ndebele family


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