It’s been 29 years since a highly-prized 3000-piece hand-stitched bead collection from the tribal nations of abaThembu, amaMpondo, amaMpondomise, amaXhosa amaBomvana and amaXesibe in the Eastern Cape was handed over to WSU for preservation.
Approximately two-thirds of the Broster Bead collection is made up of Xhosa beaded objects of adornment for the head, neck, body, arms and legs. In addition are other ornaments of solid metal, metal wire as well as bangles of plastic rubber seals from the lids of bottles.
“The collection we keep here is a very important part of the Eastern Cape tribes’ history. These artifacts tell a story of these different tribes, from traditional clothing to the accessories for different genders and ages,” said curator of the collection, Zukisa Madyibi.
The collection was purchased from Joan Broster in 1992 by Prof Russell Kaschula, who was a Research Associate at the Bureau for African Research and Documentation, together with the Vice – Chancellor of the University of Transkei (UNITRA), Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu, who was favorably disposed to raising the funds to acquire the collection.
These pieces were collected mainly from the Qebe community of Engcobo between 1952 and 1966.
The artifacts were officially listed as a “Specifically Declared Collection” in terms of the Gazette Notice signed by Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa in 2015 and are currently preserved in the Mthatha Campus’ NMD Site.
“Specifically declared heritage objects are objects that are considered to be unique and very special like the Broster Beadwork Collection and the Freedom Charter for example. According to the Act, (s58(f)), all objects or collections previously Gazetted under National Monument Council Act of 1969 which are considered to be cultural treasures in terms of section 5(c) are heritage objects,” said Madyibi.
The center has been in recent communication with the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council (ECPACC) with regards to documenting and sharing knowledge with communities about the collection.
Madyibi said: “What we are trying to do, together with the ECPACC, is to bring back the skill of hand-stitching traditional beads and garments. As a result, as group of 20 people has been selected in the Qebe village produce replicas of these artifacts.”
In recent years, one of the champions of research into traditional beadwork, anthropologist professor Masilo Lamla, added his study collection to the center. A number of pieces are set aside and on display in dedication to the Professor’s invaluable research which was centered around attires and accessories ofamaGqirha (Traditional healers).
“Just like Prof Lamla did, I think it is important for the WSU community to take interest in these artifacts. There is much opportunity for research as each piece carries its own significance and tells its own story,” said Madyibi.
He added and said that the university needs to gather as much information as we can around these pieces and keep it for generations to come.