Beadwork is an essential part of the Zulu culture and is still used today in certain ceremonies and rituals.

The art of beading was passed down from generation to generation. Beads were treasured as decoration as well as a medium of exchange. Beadwork became a means to communicate especially since the Zulus had not yet had the opportunity to learn how to read & write. This is how beadwork became an ideal way to express themselves in a non-verbal manner.

Colours and patterns of beadwork also take on more personally expressive meanings as well, as in the case of Zulu "love letters." Zulu Love letters symbolically express ideas of affection and attachment, i.e. whether a young maiden is courting or still single.

Love messages were secretly conveyed through beadwork. Traditional Zulu women always respect their husbands and believe that if they want anything they pass the message through beads.

Here are some clues to understanding the meaning of the colours used in the various messages:

  • White - the colours for purity, vision & love itself
  • Black - I have turned pitch black as the rafters of the hut because I miss you so
  • Blue - If I were a dove i would fly to your home and pick up food at your door
  • Yellow - I shall never eat if we marry because you own no beast you can slaughter
  • Pink - You should work harder to get lobola not waste your money
  • Green - I have become thin like the sweet cane in a damp field and green as first shoots of trees because of my love for you
  • Red - my heart bleeds and is full of love

Beadwork can be divided into 2 main categories; i.e. ethnic & fashion/contemporary.

  • Traditional: These were the brightly coloured red, white, blue, green and black. These beads have a matte appearance.
  • Fashion: Consists of beads that have a glittery/glossy appearance.