Doll Making and the Ndebele Tribe in South Africa

Doll Making and the Ndebele Tribe- a special African Art form

 The Ndebele, one of the smallest tribes in South Africa, are easily the most colorful and distinctive. Artistic beadwork is one of the oldest and most elemental of the decorative arts, which among the Ndebele tell stories of life from infancy to death. Beadwork worn during different life stages indicates the individual’s status within the community. Hand-beaded dolls made by Ndebele women symbolize the different life stages. You can view and purchase any of these Ndebele dolls, made by the Ndebele women on our website at The art of beaded doll making, like all African craft traditions are passed down from mother to daughter, one generation to the next.

Ndebele Initiation Doll  

This doll is made in the traditional dress of a married woman. The style of the apron signifies that she has borne a child within wedlock and symbolizes her status as a parent.

Ndebele Maiden Doll

The style of the beaded apron on this doll signifies that the girl has undergone her puberty rites and is now of marriageable age. A beaded black hoop around the waist indicates that she is engaged to be married.

 Ndebele Sangoma Doll

Among the Nguni people the Sangoma is an important specialist, a diviner who claims contact with ancestral spirits. It is believed that she receives the will of the spirits. The Sangoma is referred to as the protector of society and her opinion and judgment are highly valued.  

Ndebele Fertility Doll

Fertility is of major importance to the Ndebele people. A fertility doll is made (in secret) for the bride by the maternal grandmother and is ritually presented to her when she enters her new hut after the wedding ceremony. According to custom, after the birth of the third child, the fertility doll must be given away or destroyed because it is considered unlucky to keep it any longer.

 Ndebele Ceremonial Doll

During courtship, a suitor would place a doll outside a young woman’s hut indicating his intention to propose marriage to her.

Ndebele Bride Doll

This doll is in the traditional dress of an Ndebele bride. The panels of her apron are symbolic of the deposit of five heads of cattle toward the lobola (bride price). She wears a beaded train (inyoga), which hangs from her shoulders. Her face is covered by a beaded veil called a siyaya.  

Ndebele Linga Kobe Doll

Every four years, hundreds of Ndebele boys spend two winter months in a secret place in the mountains undergoing the wela, their initiation from boyhood to manhood. During this time the mothers of the initiates wear linga kobe, strips of beadwork that stretch from their headdresses to the ground, to show that their sons are away in the mountains. Linga koba translated means ‘long tears’—tears of sadness at losing a boy and tears of joy at gaining a man.

If you like to win a hand- beaded Ndebee doll, please email, subject line- competition. 

Congratulations Karen on winning last months competition. Karen won a set of four geoemetric Ndebele inspired kits. Well done!

Comments (1) -

This is totally fascinating!


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