Friday, January 7, 2011

Clothes and the Xhosa

When German missionaries came to the Eastern Cape, they decided that the ladies needed to be taught a thing or two about modesty, so they brought along plenty of cloth of the sort that is still called 'German print' and encouraged their converts to make use of it.

The missionaries didn't like the amount of skin that was to be seen, and they promoted neck to ankles coverage as well as the headscarf. Oddly enough, this purdah caught on, at least for married ladies. It was probably more comfortable than the goatskin aprons they wore at the time. To this day, an interesting transformation takes place when a Xhosa woman marries.

She gets given a new first name by her mother in law and her entire wardrobe of sexy gear gets passed on to younger sisters. From then on, she is 'makoti', a married woman, and this implies that she dresses something like these two ladies in traditional clothes:

Traditional wear is often saved for best, but everyday wear follows the same principles: long skirts and head coverings are much approved of. I think that most Xhosa women quite enjoy this tradition - there's a certain status and seniority to being married, and the clothes are worn proudly. You'll very rarely see a married Xhosa woman in slacks, for instance. Here's some everyday wear:

Headcloths and the colours of the fabric also indicate age and status, I'm not quite sure of the details there - but it does make sense that if you've got status, you flaunt it - at least it isn't as expensive as Western status dressing. Here's a very high status headscarf:

A few years ago I went to Denmark with a group of Xhosa ladies in the capacity of interpreter - they took along their best clothes - so there was plenty of traditional wear to be seen. You may be sure that the ladies presented quite an exotic appearance in Copenhagen! To be honest, I was proud to be seen with them, it mightn't be sexy, but it sure as anything looks regal.

For young ladies, anything goes. I've been trying to hunt down a Xhosa bunny pic for Grant, because sometimes the young ladies dress so sexily that the chaps on the farm get whiplash from turning their heads to look, but my files are in a mess, so it'll have to wait. Next time, Grant.


  1. I always thought their dresses were always like this only,but according to you this custom was brought by Germans, cool, they really seem to like it. They look very good, but don't they feel hot to wear that kind of head scarf. I suppose before the advent of this sort of dress they used to dress according to the climate.
    Good information, would like to hear more about your country.

  2. i like hearing your stories of your part of the world. have you lived there all your life or are you a transplant?

  3. Poor Grant... They do have an exotic regal appearance when dressed up. Very interesting, as all your stories are.

  4. The mother-in-law gets to give the first name? Wow!
    These women are beautiful. I wouldn't last a day amongst the tradition, but I certainly appreciate the culture.

  5. Well- my last sentence made no sense. To clarify- I have never lived a traditional lifestyle but I appreciate those who do.

  6. Wow, the Western Influence into the thick of Africa! There is a saying in Hawaii that the missionaries went there to do good and stayed there to do well. These is no escape, to resist is futile. We cannot fight the Borgs!

  7. I approve of this. It's a good way of marking which women are off limits and which are fair game. I'm for anything that removes some of the guesswork from mating rituals. Now if you can just get the single women to traditionally wear t-shirts that say "Penis goes here" you can usher in a new age of enlightenment.

  8. That's quite the conflagration of styles, I kinda dig it. But, the important question is, were the Germans kind enough to also introduce them to the glorious beer stein?

    Shower beer!