Heritage Month – Xhosa Culture

Hello Lovelies, thank you to those that reached out and showed interest in this mini series, it’s awesome to share the beautiful and colourful facets of South Africa. Last blog I introduced you to the Nguni Tribes. I thought I’d go a little deeper and take you into one of the the Nguni tribes – Xhosa (Xho-Sa). The language, IsiXhosa is considered by some as one of the more difficult due to it’s abundant usage of the click phonemes (try listening to Miriam Makeba’s “the click song” for reference). When non-speakers of the language mimic speaking the language, they will often string non-cohesive click sounds together. I chose to highlight Xhosa attire because of how simple and complex their traditional monochrome attires can be. The traditional attire is made from heavyweight cotton square weave fabric. The fabric’s weight is that similar to upholstery fabric, and comes in single colours, most popular colours are white/cream, red, blue, mustard/yellow and black. The attire is then decorated with black bindings and narrow black or white appliqués, and the sparse use of monochromatic beads. For makeup, you will find that the women paint their faces with white face paint in dot tribal pattern formations. The men and women wear beaded lace looking collars called Ingqosha. The attire might look simple, but it has so many intricate and striking small details that it requires attention to detail and master craftsmanship.

The Pattern

The traditional woman’s attire is called Umbhaco and has several pieces; a wrap skirt with three panels, a shoulder blanket shawl, a chest shawl, a sling bag and a doek (head wrap). I decided to draft a simple A-line shirt instead of a wrap skirt, I knew that the bindings would be a lot of work and I didn’t want to spend too much time drafting and sewing the skirt. Also I was very much aware of the skirt circumference, the fuller the skirt the more work attaching the binding would be. So let’s call this a small Xhosa attire, going as wedding guest or an informal event..

The Fabric

Xhosa people use a cotton weave fabric but my local 2 fabric stores didn’t have the fabric in stock, so I decided to use cotton twirl which is also cotton fabric. Also since this is the first time making such a skirt, I’d rather not spend buying expensive fabric in case it didn’t work out quite right. But definitely one day I will make one skirt using the proper fabric, it would be awesome to own the real thing.


First I made the skirt, then I designed the binding formations on how I would like them to look, I also decided how I would like to add the white wooden beads that I often see used in the garment. This skirt kinda turned sentiment for me. My mom grew up doing a lot of beading as she was thought by her mom, but she lost interest after some time even though I’ve seen some of her work, it was really good. When I showed her the bead, she offered to teach me how to design a pattern and how to attach the beads. We spent 2 hours one evening and we created the bead pattern on the skirt and sewed the beads on. I feel honoured that my mom was the one teaching me. So please don’t judge me that some of these bead are not perfectly straight, it was my first time.

Overall I am so happy with my efforts to creating the Xhosa skirt, what I learnt is that I should leave a little more space between the bindings so the blue is more visible. Thank you to my friend Chuma for vetting some of the Xhosa information I shared. To all my Xhosa friends, what do you think, am I ready to attend your traditional wedding as a perfectly dressed guest?

3 thoughts on “Heritage Month – Xhosa Culture

  1. Your skirt is beautiful! And it is the star of your entire outfit, which is lovely! I’m so happy I followed the link to learn about these beautiful facets of South Africa. I learned a lot from your story about Xhosa traditions! My favorite part is when your mother helped you learn the beading technique! I look forward to reading the other parts of this series. xo, Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Nancy, yeah I’m definitely now interested in learning more about beading. Beaded jewellery is such a big part of my cultures


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