Working with brass and copper wire, men historically wove decorative patterns on sticks and staffs. In the mid-20th century, these techniques were adapted by migrant labourers who began using plastic covered telephone wire to make items for sale to outsiders.
In some cases, the vessels fashioned from telephone wire emulate the shape of clay beer pots. In the past, men used grass to weave the lids covering pots like these. Women frequently embellished these lids with intricately designed beadwork overlays. In this context, the Zulu phrase ungaminyi serves as a rebuke: ’Don’t be gluttonous’ or ‘Don’t gulp’.
By Professor Sandra Klopper