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Beaded belt - Umutsha

Marriage belt made of glass beads by a Zulu woman for her husband.

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
Zulu Empire, now South Africa
Glass and fabric

This belt is made from glass beads and a black cloth backing. There are three fastening holes at the end of the belt. From the diamond shapes we can tell it was made by a Zulu woman and from the colours we know it was made for her husband.  

  • Black beads represented marriage
  • Green beads represented commitment
  • Blue beads represented faithfulness
  • Red beads represented love

The colours and size of the beads within this belt suggest it would have been created before 1700 and European interaction. This belt also tells us something of the social status and hierocracy of its owner. The sale of glass beads was only permitted to royalty right up into the mid 1800’s, so this would have been owned by a person of royal status. The glass beads bare close resemblance to ones found in archaeological sites in Zimbabwe dating to the 14th century.

The first glass beads found in Southern Africa were found in Mozambique at the Chibuene archaeological site and are believed to date back as far as the 8th century. The wearing of beads is believed to have started as far back as 76,000 years ago.

Researched as part of the Knowledge of the unseen project.

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On display in the History of the Museum case in Northampton Museum and Art Gallery