Additional Information: A superb beaded apron showing clear evidence of wear. This beaded apron is a work from the Ndebele. This apron called MAPOTO was worn by a married woman. Mapoto is a symbol of motherhood. It means the wearer bears a child. In the past a mapoto apron could be worn daily. Today it is replaced by other cloths more modern and practical.
This is an old and traditional Mapoto apron distinguished by the strings of leather ending in beadwork in the bottom center and with a frame made out of goat-skin. The designs on the top and in the middle recall that of the painted facade of the Ndebele's houses.
The Ndebele of South Africa are superb beadworkers. Their beadworks are remarkable for their variety, their bright colors, and their intricate designs. Beadwork has became a cultural icon of the Ndebele. Beadwork as well as mural art are important aspects of the Ndebele and South Africans peoples. They have a social meaning and are part of important ceremonies and their decorative aspects bring color and outstanding ornaments to their environment. Beadworks are considered as signs of status, wealth, and beauty. These artistic activities are devoted to women. Also, women, especially, are the most active users of beadworks. Young girls as well as little children also wear beadworks. Men also use beaded jewelry, beaded loincloth, and ceremonial accessories. In special events both men and women would wear garments made out of beads. A complete Ndebele woman's attire would include beaded or metal jewelry such as brass rings around their neck and legs, wonderful headdresses of different medium, and aprons like this, which are worn to "beautify" the wearers, to show their status and to provide respect and dignity to the wearers and emphasize the ritual side of each important event. Today, a few women still wear metal jewelry, but most now have gold plastic replicas with Velcro, worn on ceremonial occasions. Ndebele married women still wear beaded blankets like large shawls, and beadwork on their arms, ankles, and heads. They still wear aprons like this heavily beaded with glass beads and decorated with geometric designs similar to those used on the painted facade of their houses.
For similar examples and much more information, see Courtney-Clarke's NDEBELE
Rhoda Levinsohn. Art and Craft of Southern Africa. Delta Books, 1984
I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi, Ph.D.