Culture & Language, Peace Corps, South Africa
Comment 1

Say Yes to Traditional Dress


Traditional Tsonga dress is joyful and unique. While seemingly the average Tsonga man has completely adopted Western style, village women young and old proudly dress up in traditional clothing for any special event.

The most iconic part of Tsonga dress is the xibelani: eighteen yards of fabric pleated into a heavy skirt that accentuates a woman’s hips as she dances the eponymous xibelani. A band of plush embroidered cloth or thick loop of beads serves as a sort of accentuating belt. Above that comes a loose embroidered blouse or tight t-shirt in a solid color. Shoes are equally simple: canvas sneakers or bare feet.

Women then tie a large square or two of patterned fabric over their shoulders, so that it crisscrosses their body. This is an nceka (plural: minceka). While the xibelani is reserved for special occasions, minceka are everyday wear for most village woman above a certain age. A colorful headscarf is also daily wear for many women.

The outfit is completed with plenty of jewelry. Many women wear dozens of metal bangle bracelets and small gold earrings. Most wear beaded jewelry in bright colors and patterns: headbands, bracelets, armbands, necklaces, and especially circlets that perch atop the head.

My favorite feature of Tsonga dress is the bright colors. It is not rare to see neon green, fuchsia, candy-apple red, and royal blue… all together in one outfit. I am a big fan of the whole aesthetic, which is so bold and different from anything you see in the states.

Women dancing at the primary school's graduation.

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