This unique beadwork costume, made for a lady of status, is a modern (and more modest) form of the traditional dress of a baTonga married woman, which usually consists of only two garments - a short rear apron beaded in red, blue and white chevrons and a small rectangular cache exe in the same colours . I am sure this was made for the wife of a baTonka VIP – chief, businessman or politician -who was modern enough to wear western clothes almost all the time, but needed a tribal costume for ceremonial and state occasions. This situation arises often in modern Africa.
Here the traditional two pieces of beaded cloth have been expanded to seven. The costume comprises:
The basic and all important rear apron in the typical beaded chevron design. This apron is unusual for its size – the wearer was obviously a stout lady, and for the fact that the white beads in the design have been substituted with very light blue, possibly a fashion statement since this matches the beaded border of the shawl or shoulder wrap. Back apron: 50 x 80/ 19 ¾ x 31 ½, with 48 individual beaded chevrons.
The shawl or shoulder wrap is a touch of modern modesty since the breasts were not traditionally covered (see enlargement #4 for Barbara Tyrell’s drawing of the traditional costume this one is based upon). The shawl is black and ample and has a row of beaded chevrons at eithir end eactly matching the back apron. Size 150 x 65 cm / 59 x 25 ½ inches.
The belt, with a wide and impressive fringe in rectangles of red, white and blue . This belt would have been worn to emphasise the sway of the hips. These are quite rare and could obviously only be afforded by women of status – I have only see one other. Size72 x 17
The cache sexe apron, a strip beaded at both ends and worn folded so that only the beaded parts are visible. Length overall, 41 x 31.5 cm / 16 x 12 ¼ inches. size of beaded area when folded 70 x 31.5 cm / 27 ½ x 12 14 inches . Note the pattern on these and all smaller pieces is the traditional Tonga solid small triangle pattern.
A neckband and two wrist bands which attach with press studs. The neckband beaded area is 55 x 3 cm/ 21 ½ x ¾ inch, the wrist band beaded areas are each 30 x 6.5 cm / 11 ¾ x 2 ½ inches.
Please email me for photographs of the individual pieces if you are considering the purchase of this complete costume.