Nguni tribal dress primarily denotes the gender, age, social status and geographical location of the wearer. These red, flat topped, flaring head dresses are the symbol of married Zulu status and were traditionally worn with the black pleated leather skirt of marriage. They have an interesting history. In the19th century, the headdress was an actual hair style, with the with the wearer’s own hair built up in a vertical cylinder up to a yard (one metre) tall in the case of older women who had been married for a long time, but starting with a modest top knot on a shaved head when a young girl first married. Since the beehive shaped Zulu huts, with their low doorways, were entered at a crouch, the hairstyle was not a problem – everyone entered head first. Post contact, as the Zulu became more westernised, the hair became more problematic and the towering hair style was replaced with a removable headdress, usually considerably lower, so the wearer could enter western trade stores, trains and busses in the Zulu homelands and in surrounding towns without ducking or dmagign their hair styles . As the removable headdresses became commonplace, the fashion began of spreading them out into wide, flat crowns at the top.
This example, probably 1960s, is made in the traditional fashion – built up on a woven basketry shape covered in red fabric and then a red string net with the traditional “tail” at the back. This example has a band of beadwork around the bottom and a Vee of upholstery tacks above it in the front. The upholstery tacks were a very popular addition, and additional beadwork was often tacked onto the hats for special occasions such as weddings. Diameter: 43 cm, 17 inches.