Among the Bantwane, women of all ages shave part of their heads and dress their hair with oil and other substances on important ritual occasions. These practices signal transitions in the status or identity of the person.
With the exception of mourning rituals, the life-transforming ceremonies related to shaving the heads of initiates are a cause for celebration. This explains why initiates often adorn their head with beadwork and others accessories.
Among the baBtwane, women sometimes wear wigs made from blackened, string-like materials, obviating the need to shave the head.
On special occasions, Bantwane and Baköpa girls and women decorate their heads with beautifully beaded ornaments, feathers, commercially produced everlasting flowers and old coins.
By drawing attention to the women, these decorations highlight important aspects of their femininity, and therefore also their identities as mothers and daughters.
Bantwane brides and older women shave their heads and wear detachable head-dresses similar to the hairstyles of female initiates passing through puberty.
These elaborately decorated head-dresses underline the women's importance as potential or actual mothers.
The use of coins as decorative accessories is common throughout Africa.
Whereas in the past the public display of coins signalled wealth, today they are favoured because their surfaces sparkle in the light of the sun.
Some detachable head-dresses are fashioned from hair-shavings, others from clay.
Before being baked, those made from clay are decorated with elaborate patterns. Beadwork and other accessories are added for further effect.
The innovative decorations used by BaNtwane women now include not only coins but also plastic discs, chains and beadwork strings.
The decorative effect is enhanced by the thoughtful attention women give to juxtaposing different bead colours and sizes.
By Professor Sandra Klopper