Port Elisabeth - Museum

One of the oldest Museums in South Africa .. now part of Bayworld .. was the only place we found that properly represented South Africa's beading heritage with some interesting displays.

Early 1900's Cape Nguni beadwork

The text on the display below reads:
The Cape Nguni tribes are each associated with distinct preferences for beads of certain colours. Quite apart from the social preferences of certain groups for specific colours, colour preferences also reflect the history of the early bead trade and the commercial availability of certain colours to particular tribes. What tends to be the important principle within this wide cultural variation of colour choice, is the overall tendency to make use of contrasting colours.

A large display panel outlined the historical facts about early bead trading in Southern Africa

Key to the above texts:
1 The first glass beads were brought to the East coast of Africa by Arab slave traders. Then in larger quantities by the Portuguese and later still by the Dutch and the English.
2 A portrait of Table Bay in 1663 .. a port of entry for trade goods.
3 Historical sources refer to glass beads being used by travellers, traders, explorers and missionaries in exchange for cattle, ivory, pelts, copper, tobacco, cannabis and tortoise shell.
4 A print of ivory for sale in an early market
5 Once European traders started trading with the Cape Nguni, beads became more available and cheaper, resulting in the development of an extensive indigenous beadcraft. This brought the decorative talents of the Xhosa-speaking peoples to the fore. When glass beads became more plentiful, buyers were more fastidious about the exact colours and quantities they required. The quality of glass beads was tested by biting them. Any beads not meeting their requirements were rejected. Beads became such an integral part of the Cape Nguni culture that their use is nowadays accepted as traditional.

The text from the top down reads:
After European contact, most of the glass beads imported into Southern Africa were probably manufactured in Holland, Germany and Italy
or in Italian-controlled factories in France and Bohemia ( now The Czech Republic ).

An 1890's Baker, Baker and Co.
sample card
Pound Beads
from King William's Town.

Before the introduction of gut, waxed cotton or nylon .. beadwork was threaded on sinew obtained from the hides of cattle and goats.

Outside we passed a working steam engine in beautiful condition ...

... and a market stall with an array of wood and soapstone carvings.