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Africa Direct

Zulu Isicholo Headdress Hat Married Woman Red African Art

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Title Zulu Isicholo Headdress Hat Married Woman Red African Art
Type of Object Hat/Headrest
Country of Origin South Africa
People Zulu
Materials cotton threads and cloth, wire, vegetal fibers, pigment
Approximate Age LAte 20th C
Dimensions 15.5 inches diameter x 7 inches H; 4 inch opening
Overall Condition Good
Damage/Repair stains; dye rubs off

We do not recommend laundering textiles, and do not accept returns of textiles which have been laundered in any manner. Even dry cleaning is too much for some of these antique textiles. For some of them, a very gentle HAND washing (NEVER MACHINE, on any setting) in cool water with a very gentle detergent works, but even then, dyes may not be colorfast, and fabric may be less strong than it appears.

Additional Information: Married Zulu women always keep their heads covered in public. For ceremonial occasions, they wear elaborately woven red hats with beadwork attached. It is then sewn into the hair of the wearer. Red powder is periodically reapplied. If the dried plant happens to have tiny yellow flowers in amongst the leaves then it's impepho (Helichrysum odoratissimum) which is used primarily as a ritual incense by Zulu diviners but is also used as a perfume and insect repellent: often found in bedding and pillows as well.

A similar headdress is published in Hlengiwe Dube, Zulu Beadwork Talk with Beads, AfricaDirect Inc., 2009, p. 63

About the Inkehli/Isicholo headdresses Hlengiwe wrote: "This one has beaded headbands (umqhawazi and isembozo). It is made out of dried grass. intertwined with red cotton and human hair and covered with red ochre, which refers to the living cow and also evokes the blood of the earth.In areas such as Eshowe the headdresses are made with lots of beadwork. As a signifier of respect for the new husband and the in-law family, a woven fibre beaded headband 9Umqwazi) is added to the base of the headdress. In some areas, the ochre colour headdress is adorned with elaborately stylized beadwork decorations and studs. The width of the isiholo is about 42 cm. The word Inkehli comes from the word Khehla meaning "to be ut". It conveys the fact that the woman is no longer among the Unmarried women-amaghikiza; she belongsto the new stage of life, the married woman-umfazi.' p. 61

On p. 67 she wrote: " Previously, women never removed the headdress from their head once they got married, even when sleeping. Thus the headdress played an important part as a pillow a night. Traditionally, the Zulu woman commissioned two headdresses before her marriage, one for herself and one for her future husband. These could be identical in design; or a woman might choose to acknowledge her husband's status by giving him a more intricately designed headdress than her own. The man sometimes used it as stool during the day."

For wonderful pictures of women wearing this type of hat see: Hlengiwe Dube, Zulu Beadwork, p.63; Magubane, Peter, DRESS and ADORNMENT in SPEAKING WITH BEADS, pp.28, 60, 64p. 63.