Missionary and Other Colonial Influences
At church services and on other ritual occasions, South Sotho women wear colourful dresses decorated with strips of bright braid. Like the dresses worn by Herero women in Namibia, these garments were inspired by the clothing of 19th-century missionary families.
Women sometimes sew braided cloths in emulation of beadwork panels. By comparison, these innovative designs are not heavy. Importantly, they are also relatively expensive to produce.
In common with the influence of missionaries elsewhere in South Africa, the flowing cotton garments and elaborate head scarves adopted by Xhosa-speaking women in the 19th century are based on hats and dresses worn by Victorian women. This clothing replaced the simpler, much shorter garments made from the leather of goats and cattle.
Like the dresses of South Sotho women, those worn on special occasions in the Eastern Cape commonly include braided sections. These braids are normally confined to the bottom of skirts and other garments.
Elaborate headscarves originally inspired by Victorian hats are individually folded and arranged. Traditionalist Xhosa women pride themselves on the skills required to position these scarves.
By Professor Sandra Klopper