This is a rare find indeed. A 1960s Ndebele woman’s ceremonial blanket with heavy beadwork decoration. These blankets, derived from the traditional beaded goatskin capes of the 19th century, are called ngurara. These are true status symbols to be worn by married women only. The traditional striped red, yellow, green and blue trade blankets are called Middleburg Blankets because the colours and pattern were popular in the Middleburg area, a fairly isolated Ndebele rural tribal area. Blankets that are not beaded are simply called ikombesi from the Afrikaans kombers = blanket).
To convert an ikombesi into an ngurara requires great skill and a large quantity of expensive glass beads, and the beading may be added to over many years. The top of the blanket is first folded and sewn into place as a collar for the cape , and this fold as well as a wide bottom hem are beaded as you see in the photographs. Size 32 x 56 inches (81 x 142 cm).
This is an old an used piece of tribal costume and the beadwork has suffered in a few places where small sections of beadwork are missing or torn – a sure indication of the age and authenticity of the piece. Easily reparable by a keen bead worker, but why do that when the wear is part of the patina of this artwork? There is also a very small tear in the fabric of the blanket. If you are a serious prospective buyer, please email me for additional jpegs and close ups. Note: this blanket weighs around 12 lb (5kg)
References : There are many examples of the traditional striped ikombesi blankets in Margaret Courtney Clarkes magnificent “Ndebele”, (Rizzoli , 1986), including the front cover and pages 66 and 97. There are also photographs of beaded ngurara made from these blankets on pages 85 and 101.