The Language of Beads – Zulu Culture

Zulu Beads

How Zulu Bead Jewellery is Used For Communication Between Men and Women
Handmade Zulu bead work is a craft practiced by the women of the tribe. Usually older sisters pass down the tradition to their younger sisters. Men are not involved in the making of bead jewelry but they do wear bead work. Zulu bead work almost always involves communication between the sexes in regards to relationships. The design and colors of the bead work together convey a message. For example a particular beaded necklace worn by a women may inform men that she is unmarried. Communicating relationship status and sexual intentions in this subtle manner helps the Zulu people avoid awkward social situations such as an unmarried man approaching a married women.

Zulu Bead Jewellery – Designs and colors

The only shape used by the Zulu in their bead jewellery is the triangle. How the triangles are positioned within a particular bead work signify different meanings. For example a triangle facing downwards signifies an unmarried women, a triangle facing upwards signifies an unmarried man. There are numerous variations of triangle positions and positions to other triangles each with a different meaning. The colors of the beads used also influenced the meaning of the message conveyed by the bead work. Unlike the shapes used in the bead work, which have set and constant meanings, the colors used can have positive or negative meanings. The seven main colors used by the Zulu craftswomen are green, blue, red, black, white, yellow, and pink. Each of these colors has a positive meaning, however the meaning can be altered by the context in which the beads are used within the jewelry piece. Below is a list of these seven colors along with the positive meanings associated with each followed by a list of each colors negative meaning.

Zulu Bead Jewelry Positive Meanings of Colors:

green – contentment, bliss
blue – faithfulness
red – strong emotion
black – marriage
white – love
yellow – wealth
pink – adds emphasis to a promise
Zulu Bead Jewelry Negative Meanings of Colors
green – illness
blue – hostility, ill feelings
red – anger, impatience
black – death, sorrow, despair
white – has no negative meaning
yellow – badness
pink – poverty