Mdantsane is a unique, vibrating, eclectic, African place. Follow us on a pilgrimage to Mdantsane to discover the street culture, fashion, food, people, music, homes, taverns, humor, businesses, history and what's hot in the second biggest township in South-Africa, located close to the city of East London in the Province of the Eastern Cape. Join us on this journey while we capture the spirit of this amazing place for you in the here and in the now. We are going to introduce you to many individuals, artists, musicians, groups and associations.
They are the HEROES OF DAILY LIFE. They are the people who create, innovate and improve their life and their stories deserve to be told. This is a place for only good and positive stories of humanity, that will send out a message of courage, endurance and strength to the world through their pictures and words.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Inkciyo - The Magic Of Old Xhosa Bead Work - And Its Value On The African Arts Market Today

I want to seize the moment to thank our readers for the appreciation and interest they have shown in our article "The Significance of Beads and Bead work in the Xhosa Culture".
When preparing and writing this article, I was not aware, that it would fall into and fill a niche of interest on the Internet and that it would bring us hundreds of new readers. We thank you for all your emails and again we can only say, you are the ones, who inspire us and make us come up with new ideas for the Mdantsane Way Magazine.

Because of my passion for old African Trade beads, African Art and Jewelry I have been ordained to continue writing on this topic and I thoroughly enjoy doing so, but we will get a little bit philosophical today.

The Province of the Eastern Cape is home to many ethnic groups, and although it is the poorest  province in South Africa, it has an incredibly rich culture and African heritage. 

Genuine old Xhosa bead work pieces, coming from the villages and the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, that have been used in traditional ceremonies are extremely hard to find and are seldom sold to foreigners or even locals. Their symbolic value is priceless. The fact, that a piece has been used continuously in rituals and initiation ceremonies makes it "holy" in a way.

The Tradition Is Alive

The tradition of beading is alive throughout the Eastern Cape and beaded jewelry and adornments have taken on modern shapes and designs. Bead work can be bought everywhere, on the street markets, in shops, airports, hotel boutiques and even in shopping centers. 
Many designs are exact copies of the bead work pieces created from the 1930's onwards in the Eastern Cape, when glass beads became a definite part of the traditional way of dressing in the Xhosa culture.
But it is rare to find old Xhosa bead work pieces for sale on the market, that are 50 to 70 years old.
The genuine old pieces are treated as heirlooms and they are treasured by their owners and kept in the families.

Old Xhosa bead work radiates some sort of magic, that is hard to grasp. Holding them in your hands, you can feel the pulse of the culture and the heritage they embody. They have transcended the lives of the many people who have worn them at very important, life changing stages in their lives. 
Am I romantic, or even a poet? Yes sure I am - but I believe, that this is true. The feeling a person has, when wearing a piece of jewelry, a special piece of jewelry made for a specific occasion, descends into the piece of jewelry.
Today we are dedicating time to a very special type of bead work item worn traditionally since centuries by the young girls of the Xhosa and Thembu clans - the Inkciyo.  The Thembu speak the Xhosa language but they belong to an independent kingdom.

An old Inkciyo exhibited in the King Williams Town Museum in the Eastern Cape Of South Africa

The Inkciyo is a sort of apron, specifically made for the young girls who have reached the stage of becoming a woman. 

Amongst the Thembu and Xhosa people, when a young girl gets her first period, she withdraws for a whole month from the members of her community. She goes into seclusion. 
She becomes a Ntonjane. Ntonjane is a term, that could best be described as the life stage of evolution from an insect pupa into a butterfly.
It is the transition phase where a girl matures to a woman. During this important time, the girl is instructed in the tasks, accepted behavior, costumes and responsibilities, that a Xhosa woman has to comply with in her culture. 

Usually, a woman from her father's family, for instance the sister of her father guides her during the period of seclusion and teaches her everything she needs to know for her life as a woman. Her first task is to bead her Inkciyo or "cache sexe" (the french expression for a pubis apron), which is the only garment she is permitted to wear, except for a blanket.

A Thembu Girl Wearing The Inkciyo

During the one month long period seclusion the girl wears nothing but the Inkciyo. Her breasts are bare and she stays in her natural beauty. 

The period of Ntonjane seclusion ends with a celebration and a feast welcoming the girl into womanhood.

After the seclusion, has ended the apron is not worn by the girl anymore. Most of the time it is kept and passed on to the next girl, who has reached the stage of becoming initiated.  After all girls of the family have matured and there is no girl left to inherit the apron, it stays in the family as a heirloom.

But often the Inkciyo is taken apart and the beads are re-used for beading a new Inkciyo for another girl when her time comes to be initiated.
I have also heard the saying, that some Thembu women wear them under their full skirts. 

The Ritual Is Important

Understanding the tradition of handing down an item from one person to the next in a family for a certain ritual, makes it also clear why heirlooms are more than symbolic objects and why they have spiritual, emotional and mystical qualities as well. This does not only apply to African societies.
Just think of the engagement ring your husband gave you and that your granddaughter is now wearing. Or the wedding dress made of old ivory colored, lace that hangs neatly packed away and untouched in a cupboard in your basement or in a store room. And nobody is allowed to touch it without your permission.

Think of pressed flowers, that a woman has kept for many years between the pages of a book. The flowers do not only serve as a memory to her. When she is looking at them, her hair already grey, they seem to carry the words, that once accompanied them, when they were given to her by the one she loved.

I believe that whatever you do in great passion, deep sincerity and with a strong belief transcends the object, that you use while doing it. That is the essence of a ritual. Through your own inner conviction and determination the ritual gets the strength and power, which in turn flows into the objects, that are used to fulfill the ritual. The ritual itself gets reinforced through the spiritual power of the whole community believing in it.
Still many people use lucky charms in 2013.

It is understandable now, why people, who think this way are willing to spend enormous amounts of money on old genuine bead work, African artifacts, masks etc.of different origins.
Not only the object is acquired but with it comes the power, the tradition of a foreign place and  the strength of it.  

The International African Art Market

Looking at the dynamics of the international trade of African artifacts, including trade beads and beaded jewelry, it is easy to see, that many people in this world believe in the soul of an object.

On the international online market place E-bay many traders deal with items coming from Africa since years and some have acquired great expert reputation by now. Xhosa bead work jewelry pieces and adornments range among the most desirable and fetch prices of several hundred dollars per piece.

Africa Direct is a trader operating on E-bay since 1997, specialising in African Trade Beads, African Art and African Jewelry. With a feedback of 43367 and 99,8% positive rating they are counted amongst the power sellers on E-Bay.
They have been honored with E-Bay;s hall of fame awards and by E-bay giving works through which they have raised more than 86.000$ for charity. Africa Direct is owned by two American women Elizabeth Bennett and Sarah Luther.
It all began after a year of wandering through Southern Africa in their van with their multi-racial family, they say!

A delightful apron made out of cotton thread fringes decorated with glass beads with strip of yellow beads. The strap of yellow beads has ritual purpose. The yellow color is said to induce fertility ( see Marie-Louise Labelle, Beads of Life, p. 121).

Here is what they have to say about their passion: "African art, trade beads and ethnic jewelry are both business and passion for Sara and me. We started buying African art twenty years ago as gifts for our children, four of whom are adopted and are African-American. We had been active in anti-apartheid politics for some time. In 1994, when Mandela was elected, we took the three still-at-home kids out of school and moved to southern Africa for eight months. We bought a used food panel van, converted it into a camper and traveled fifteen thousand miles through South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Swaziland. We weren't consciously beginning a business...but we noticed we were buying more than we could keep, give away, or sell at garage sales. In the beginning, we did shows and held open houses. Now, most of our sales are online".

Xhosa beaded pubis apron Inkciyo by E-bay seller Africa Direct

"We go on six-week buying trips to Africa every few years, and bring back containers. We also have African traders in our driveway almost daily. We buy from more than one hundred traders (including two women!) who come from both coasts, fly in from France and send shipments from Africa. We care about supporting living artists, and buy from co-ops in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland and other places."

Some of the most beautiful old beaded Xhosa adornments and jewelry pieces have certainly found their way into homes in foreign countries.

Glass beads, Cotton threads, buttons made of mother-of-pearls

Beaded detail of an Inkciyo sold by Africa Direct on E-Bay


Saturday, May 25, 2013

School Education Going Industrial In South Africa?

Today's article was written by a 2nd year journalism student of the Walter Sisulu University. Nobesuthu Beya investigates a new clocking system for teachers which has been proposed by the Department of Education. 

Despite government’s good intention, there has been mixed emotions when it comes to the proposed finger clocking system for teachers.
R480 million is to be invested in a proposed biometric clocking system for schools, aimed at curbing teacher absenteeism and bettering the education system in our country. This was announced earlier this year by Education Minister Angie Motshekga at a media briefing.
A recent survey showed that South Africa has the highest teacher absenteeism rate in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), according to the South African Government News Agency.  
SADTU Deputy General Secretary Nkosana Dolophi said he did not reject the proposed system
but questioned whether it is a priority given the current state of the education system.

Nozihle Mbokomba, a teacher at Dumisa LP School in Mdanstane, said: “My only wish is that if this system comes to pass it will be implemented at both provincial and national level and that senior officials will also clock in using the same method.”

Learners are often found outside their classrooms during school hours. The proposed new clocking system for teachers might result in less teachers being absent and more learners attending classes.  

According to the World Economic Forum South Africa is among the lowest ranked countries when it comes to the standard of education, due to staff shortages, poor teacher training, lack of educational resources and lack of support for pupils both at home and at school.

Sinovuyo Makhenkane, a former pupil at Msobomvu High School in Chalumna, said: “Surely an investment of R480 million towards skills development would benefit the country better. In grade 11 we did not have an accounting teacher for three months and when he finally arrived most of us failed the subject.”
“The money could be channelled towards scholar transport too, as it is a major problem,” said Nozihle Mbokomba.

Currently teachers clock in by signing a book to record their attendance. But the system has proved to be a failure as it can easily be bypassed, as teachers simply ask their colleagues to sign in for them when they are absent. The biometric clocking system will enable the Department of

Education to collect real-time data.Nkosazana Jamelani (72), a grandmother of six said: “I send my children to school so they can be educated and become leaders one day but if there’s no one teaching them at schools, they won’t get anywhere in life. This system might help in assuring that my kids are guaranteed to get education when they go to school.”Even though this system is still in the pipeline it has been under a lot of scrutiny in the media as many people feel it is a waste of money and it would be attempting to treat only the symptoms and not the core issues that face the education system in our country.
Article and Image by Nobesuthu Beya/Walter Sisulu Univesity

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mdantsane Coach Aya's Dream Is Basketball Without Borders

One Man's Idea, One Man's Dream And One Man's Power

The township of Mdantsane is since a couple of years the home of the second biggest shopping mall in the Eastern Cape "Mdantsane City". Only Greenacres in Port Elizabeth is bigger.
The mall has been surely a great addition to the township amenities and has made life so much easier for many residents, by enabling them to shop where they live without having to travel 20 km to the City Center of East London.

But Mdantsane City serves more than one purpose, as we have found out recently.  

Mdantsane Basketball Coach Aya Making His Dream Come True!

The most energetic "Coach Aya" who lives in NU 9 in Mdantsane has made his passion almost his profession. Every second week of each month Coach Aya trains youngsters in the art of basketball playing on the large parking space of the Mdantsane City Mall. And he is really good at it. 
The tournaments he organises have started to attract large crowds.

Girls are training under Coach Aya's Eye On The Parking Space Of  The Mdantsne City Mall

Girls and boys alike of different age groups train under Coach Aya and he is determined to help the really talented ones to reach professional levels.

On the 17th of November we had the chance to see Coach Aya and his teams in action during a tournament organized by him, held on the cement floor of the outside parking area of Mdantsane City.  
Coach Aya giving tips to the young players

There is no greater power than sport and many have recognized sport as a force to overcome ethnic and tribal rivalries in Africa and to drive Africa out of poverty and dependance. For a nation to be powerful it has to be united. Union is not always easy to achieve when one country is home to dozens of different cultures, beliefs, religions, political convictions and traditions.
Diversity is a beautiful thing, but to live in diverse union and to celebrate diversity everyday is something, that has to be learned. 
However, the learning process can be a long one, because it is all about opening your soul and mind to others, the ones you normally call strangers, and to things, that are entirely and completely different from what you know and what you are. 
The key to this is you have to start at a very young age. And somebody has to guide you a little along the way. It helps if somebody shows you a vision and walks a little with you.

Sport Gives You The Power To Free Yourself And Become Happy At Least For A While

Sport is the means to overcome stress, worries and the emotional burden, that poverty brings to one's life - at least for a while. Sport is a peacemaker and can give new direction to the lives of people who are without orientation. Sport, no matter what discipline, has proven to be one of the most powerful weapons to fight crime and reunite people. Sport gives a sense self worth. 

Basketball Without Borders - Coach Aya's Brand

Mdantsane has already the reputation to be a "boxer's township". So may be in a while we will see it become a "basketballer's township" as well. With a dedicated, energetic man like Aya it is possible.

 A Basketball Tournament Is Played On The Parking Space Of Mdantsane City Mall And Not Only The Players Enjoy It

To help Africa's youth through the establishment of proper sports clubs and organizations, that are coached by the right people is a vision many Africans would like to see become a reality. It's a powerful vision and it concerns the whole continent.

Everything great has started small with one man's idea

But it starts small. It starts with one man's idea and one man's will and determination to do something about something.

The basketball project " Basketball Without Borders" is one man's idea, one man's dream and one man's power. Coach Aya did not stop at dreaming, he went a step further. 
Choosing the Mdantsane City Mall as a training ground was a brilliant idea. South Africa is not a country where a lot of basketball is played.

Already Becoming Professional......

And we still have to ask Coach Aya where his passion for this sport comes from in a country where Rugby and Soccer rules.

Concentration And Speed Is Needed To Play Basketball

Coach Aya Firing On His Teams

More people will be attracted to this sport while shopping at the mall and more youngsters will be attracted to his training.

A New Way Of Becoming Fit And Exercising Team Spirit For The Mdantsane Youth

Sport has motivated people where everything else has failed and what Coach Aya needs now is more supports in any form and proper training facilities.

Moving Away From A Couch, TV And Video Culture

Thanks to our young 20 year old free lance anchor and German volunteer Jonas Krombach, living in Mdantsane since 9 months, who attended the tournament, we can show you these beautiful images today.

Let the images speak for themselves!

 A View Of The Township In The Distance

Coach Aya always supportive

All Age Groups And All Skill Levels

Our Very Young Free Lance Anchors Theresa Ekpa And Jonas Krombach With Coach Aya

Theresa, The Coach And Jonas

The Right Feeling For The Ball

A New Generation Of Young South African Women Has Been Born, They Want To Be Slim, Fit And Free

Mdantsane Basket Ball Girls In Action

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dumper In The Bush - Photography By Rob Mellin

Dumper In The Bush - Photography By Rob Mellin

Three years ago, when we started this magazine, we decided, that we would honor the work of other great photographers of the past and the present, who have dedicated their time to capture the spirit of the Eastern Cape, by including their images in our magazine.

So far we have shown images by Alice Mertens and Rob Mellin. Today's picture was taken by Rob Mellin in Kwelera in the 1970's.

But really, if you look at it without knowing the date it has been taken - it could have been taken yesterday.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Significance Of Beads And Beadwork In The Xhosa Culture

In the African context beads play a very important role. In African societies all over the continent beads have become a proud expression of cultural values over the centuries since they were first introduced by foreign traders and today they are much more than an adornment for clothes. 
We know, that glass beads were introduced by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century to Sub-Saharan Africa and they were used as a barter product in as exchange for desirable goods from the African motherland.  

Handbeaded anklets originating from the Eastern Cape - an modern expression of old tradition

But only at a much later stage in the 1930's beads became a very distinct means of cultural expression among the Xhosa speaking people in the Eastern Cape. Bead work became a craft form, practiced and perfected by skilled African artisans in the Eastern cape. This is true for many other African regions as well but we are interested in the specific meaning of beads in the Xhosa culture. Beads were used to decorate clothes and valuable traditional costumes and they were simply worn as jewelry.
Beaded jewelry pieces originating from the Eastern Cape are true masterpieces.

A Beaded Green Choker Or Necklace In Green With A Yellow Border

Detail Of A Beaded Xhosa Necklace

Today's beaded jewelry pieces, that you can find in the Eastern Cape make use of all color combinations. Traditionally only certain color combination were allowed. Jewelry pieces, that are created for traditional ceremonies are still made in white and turquoise. Before the arrival of the  beads in Africa the Xhosa people created beads and ornaments from organic, natural material, like grasses, insect cocoons, shell pieces etc. that could be found in the Eastern Cape

Handwoven organic bangles from the Eastern Cape, an old Xhosa tradition, that has endured the test of time 
(We have another interesting story for you just click on the link)

The first naturally hand made African beads we know of are probably the beads, that the San people made from the shells of ostrich eggs. 

Ostrich shell beads strung on sinew were traditionally made by the San people, they took a long time to make and were highly sought after by the Xhosa people. The image was taken at the East London Museum

In the Eastern Cape we have seen similar beads made from sea shells. Traditionally the Xhosa people, who lived close to the coast crafted these flat and square shaped looking beads.

Women In The Coastal Village Of Haga Haga Selling Handcrafted Jewelry Made from Sea Shell Beads

The Women Sell Handcrafted Jewelry Pieces To The Tourists, That Come To The Haga Haga Hotel

Like the ostrich shell beads the sea shell beads were carefully chipped, grounded and shaped to a similar size. Holes were drilled into them manually which took a long time. 
However ostrich egg beads traded higher in price than sea shell beads due to the scarcity of their natural occurrence and the fact that the shell of an ostrich egg was much harder to work with, than that of a sea shell. Ostrich egg shells were high in demand amongst the Xhosa people, who obtained them from the San people in exchange for cannabis sativa (hemp).

At a later stage colorants were used to change their appearance and today we find them replaced in many areas by Chinese plastic beads.

Earrings Made From Shell Pieces treated with a pink colorant
Bead work communicates the wearer's social status and his wealth. Certain colors and sizes of beads are directly linked to certain groups in society. Professions, like the one of a healer or diviner can be identified through the bead work its practitioners are wearing.

A White Hand Beaded Choker Ordered And Made For A European White Wedding

The social life of the Xhosa people is seen and organised as a series of distinct stages, each one invariably linked to a special ritual performance through which every person passes from the beginning of his life to the end of it. 
Passing from one stage of life to another is a complex concept firmly entrenched in many cultures.

"The passing" can be one of most important moments in some body's life because the person emerges cleaned and as a changed person. With that comes a new status and position in life, greater social responsibility as well as greater respect and acceptance in the community. Clearly defined responsibilities, obligations and privileges are linked to each life stage, thereby creating a sense of stability in the community and the social structure, the community has adopted.

Passing from one life stage to another is a complex concept firmly entrenched in the Xhosa culture
Often "passing" it is a symbolic act (for example the moment when a person receives for the first time the holy communion in the catholic religion) and in the case of the Xhosa culture passing from one stage to the next goes hand in hand with a change in dress, behaviour and bead work. We learned from Thembeka from Iza Crafts that this is the reason why the colors of beads used in traditional ceremonies and passing ceremonies can not be changed, because by doing so the ritual performance or the tradition would be broken. It can not be broken because it is like the holy gate through which the person has to walk.     

Designs have become bolder, brighter and larger but the beading technique stayed the same
In the past everything was very clearly organized in the Xhosa society and rules were laid down, that were not contradicted or opposed by the members of the society.

In the "old" Xhosa society a clear organisation and hierarchy laid down the rules, that were respected by all
Bead work, worn by traditional healers is distinctive and immediately identifies the wearer as a healer. The healer wears the signs of his profession. Novice healers wear single white strings of white beads around their heads, wrists, elbows and ankles, while experienced older healers have the right and privilege to wear much more opulent and elaborate bead work. They are also allowed to wear other colors. 
The color blue plays a very important in the symbolism of Xhosa bead work. The color blue is associated with the color of water and when a  healer wears beads of blue color it indicates, that he was immersed in a river or the sea.

The Cleansing - Xhosa Women At The Wild Coast In Quolora By The Sea
The Water Of A River Of The Sea Has The Power To Purify You

Without Purity No Healing Is Possible

The Color Blue Is Associated With The Color Of Water- And Blue Beads Are An Expression Of The Fact That the Healer Was Immersed in A River Or  The Sea
White is like in many other societies as well a symbol of purity and power. Amandla, the word that the whole world came to know through the struggle for freedom in South Africa - is the Xhosa word for power - a power, that comes from the ancestors and from god. Both purity and power are qualities a great healer has to possess. To perform the century old traditional rituals (Amasiko) the healer has to be pure and he has to be powerful to speak to the ancestors and to make the rituals effective.

White Is A Symbol Of Purity- A Traditional Healer From King Williams Town Wearing Elaborate White Bead Work
A Traditional Healer from King Williams Town - Bead Work Is more Than Symbolic. Beads Are Intrinsic To Healing
Many healers believe, that beads are not only symbolic but that are contributing to the healing process because they imbue the personal power of the healer.

The term Bantu speaking people comprises a great variety of ethnic groups residing in the Eastern Cape like the Mfengu, Nguni, Thembu, Xesibe, Bomvana, Bhaca etc. Each of these groups although belonging to a larger group have very different cultures, languages and also politically different views. Bead work also allowed for a clear distinction between these groups.

Beadwork was used to differente between different ethnic groups and different political convictions

Although glass beads were introduced as a trade commodity to Africa from European traders they form today an integral part of the Xhosa Culture. They are seen as "African" and they are. We have often talked about the fact that the value added to a product over the years turns this product into something else. Bead work is seen today as something traditional.  In every family you will find family heirlooms that have been handed down from the older generations to the younger ones and they are worn with pride.

Bead work jewelry has great commercial value today because of the new designs and the many ways it has been modernised.

 Beaded Hair band - widely available throughout the Eastern Cape

Large beaded colorful earrings

Multicolored necklace
Hand Ring of black and silver -  A modern take on the traditional way

For further insight into this topic we invite you to watch our short movie with 80 year old Thembeka Metele "The Traditional way Of Dressing In The Xhosa Culture" .


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