Fingo Beaded Dress
Things from the House of the People - Pg. 4
The Mfengu are
Nguni people, mostly of Bhele, Hlubi and Zizi origin, who fled during the early
19th century upheavals in Natal - known as the
Mfecane - Lifaqane or Difaqane.
They arrived in what is today the Eastern Cape - where they were suppressed by
local Xhosa and Thembu chiefs - working as domestic slaves. Their tribal name
Ama-Fengu, Fingo or Mfengu, means 'The Wanderers' or 'Foreigners'.
Mfengu speak Xhosa, but do not consider themselves Xhosa. Their beaded tribal
dress was adapted from the Xhosa, but it remained with distinguishing factors.
carved staffs are
straight - this totally unlike their Gcaleka / Xhosa masters. Throughout the
region, a person's home area, ethnic sub group, age, marital status and
sometimes the amount of children one had, could all be communicated through
items of dress.
Mlanjeni's War -
Eighth Frontier War - Circa 1851
In 1835 the
Mfengu made representations to the Cape Colony government for land. Sir Benjamin
d'Urban permitted them to settle on the banks of the Great Fish River - 'at
Xhosa expense'. This location created a buffer zone for the British to ward off
further Xhosa invasions of the Cape Colony. Mfengu fought for the British in the
Frontier Wars or 'Kaffer Wars' of 1835, 1846 and again between 1851
Mfengu Skirt - Fingo
adopted Xhosa styled dress, who themselves had adopted attire from Victorian
fashion. Their dresses or skirts were called Umbhaco or Imibhaco.
The cotton sheeting fabric itself is called ibayi.
Barbara Tyrrell -
Mfengu (Fingo) Woman - Man - Circa 1948
blankets were colored with red ochre, yielding a rich reddish brown fabric that
was then cut and sewn into three sections to form the skirt. They were then
embroidered, braded and beaded. When worn with other garments and accessories, a
vivid display of adornment was shown.
Our example uses
1000's and 1000's and 1000's of beads as decoration.
any image to enlarge.
were worn together with shoulder wraps or beaded blankets.
Mfengu Woman's Blanket - Fingo Blanket
Amabhayi - Ibhayi
blanket was called Amabhayi or Ibhayi. The blanket depicted
above is to our knowledge, the most outstanding example on offer today. It is
ornately decorated mother-of-pearl buttons - glass beads and embroidery.
Ibhayi were worn around the shoulders as body wraps and often used to cover
children. When a person wore such a decorated example, they sent out a clear
message notifying others of wealth and status.
either image to enlarge.
buttons are Mother of Pearl (MOP) and often date back to 1900 - in that
they are reused again and again. Most of these were made from the great green
turban snail Turbo Marmoratus - of the Turbinidae family.
Upwards to 1000 buttons were used to decorate this blanket, together with
many 1000's of glass beads.
Mfengu Woman's Turban - Fingo Turban
This turban is
called an Iqhiya or Ibhayi. It forms the body of Mfengu headdresses.
These were worn to complement a woman's outfit. Sometimes a colourful Santulo
is attached, to add volume to the headdress. Barbara Tyrrell's watercolour
(below right) shows an Mfengu nursing mother with such a Turban.
Barbara Tyrrell - Mfengu (Fingo) Woman
either image to enlarge.
are spent embroidering three sides of the dark Melton cloth.
Xhosa Beaded Headband
Large headbands were worn
by young men of the Fingo and Xhosa groups living around East London.
The Magic World of the
Xhosa - Aubrey Elliott - Pg 39
Young men's headbands were
called amadiliza entloko.
Click either thumb to enlarge
Beaded Front Apron - Fingo Apron
Click this thumb to enlarge the
This apron called an
inkciyo, was collected amongst the Mfengu people. It is decorated
with glass beads in traditional Fingo color, brass rings - washers and
leather straps. Inkciyo translates as underpants.
Field Images of Thembu and Xhosa related Aprons -
First half 20th Century
Mfengu Boys Cap - Fingo Hat
Young Mfengu boys sometimes wore
beaded 'flat caps'. Few examples were as heavily beaded as this.
Click thumbs to
The young men
who wore them were not yet 'men', as they had yet to undergo or experience
Abakwetha is a long and detailed circumcision ritual that passed a boy into
published the picture (above right), in his long out of print book entitled;
The Magic World of the Xhosa.
Mfengu Mans Tobacco Bag
The Magic World of the Xhosa
- Page 34 - Aubrey Elliot
Large tobacco bags worn by males
are called Ingxowa Bokwe. Aubrey Elliot wrote in his book
The Magic World of the Xhosa;
The man’s bag is quite different and more masculine. It is made from a wild
domestic animal’s skin. The particular skin used, to some extent, owes its
popularity to the fashion in a clan in the same way as does the pattern by which
it is made up. In the Ncera area, near Kidd’s beach where I lived as a child,
the popular bag was a tubular one made of monkey skin. In other areas goat skins
are used for this purpose.
Our male tobacco bag was made from
a reversed goat hide .
These large tobacco bags were worn
by men to carry home grown leaf tobacco and other items, but their main intent
was to add to the wearers adornment and prestige.
Annals of the South
African Museum Volume 58 March 1988 Part 4
Ezakwantu - Beadwork from the Eastern Cape
The Material Culture of the Cape Nguni
Fig 58 - Page 105
Part 4 Personal & General by
E.M.Shaw & N.J.Warmelo
This example is the most highly
decorated specimen known to us. The bag is heavily beaded with bells, coins and thimbles, all adding sound and visual impact. The article was
made to send a powerful statement to onlookers.
The tail of the backpack is
heavily beaded on both sides.