Friday, 19 December 2014 05:04

Shweshwe

A 'table-talker' for an annual multinational mining company Anglo American's Heritage Day event, celebrating and promoting cultural diversity. I was responsible for research and writing. 

 

"Sishweshwe"

Vibrant traditions and patterns

The best traditions are kept alive because they work and are useful, and that is the story of sishweshwe.

Colloquially known as "shweshwe", its vibrant patterns were originally printed on indigo cloth brought to Africa about 2000 years ago by Arab and Indian merchants. Its popularity in South Africa grew in the 18th century when synthetic indigo was manufactured in, and exported from, Europe. Since 1948 Da Gama Textiles in the Eastern Cape has been manufacturing authentic shweshwe.   

Some say the name "shweshwe" describes the soft rustling sound of the fabric, others that it was named after King Moshoeshoe I of the Basotho when French missionaries gifted some of the cloth to him in the 1840s.

And so this vibrant tradition lives on in the rural villages of the Eastern Cape and Lesotho, it brightens South Africa’s urban streets and transports South African heritage to the Paris catwalks. 

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Robert Colman

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