Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards.
~Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
It’s June and wedding bells are ringing today on Museum Quick Bites. Join me as we take a walk down the aisle with traditional Mpondo wedding attire. Tricked out in layers upon layers of colorful beads, this bride and groom’s multi-piece wedding ensemble is a stylish accompaniment to a festive occasion. Let’s take a head-to-toe tour.
Mpondo Bride & Groom’s Ensemble (1950s), Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Photo by cjverb (2018)
Starting at the top, note the bride’s (right) beaded head roll, light-blue headband and decorative chin strap. The groom’s outfit also includes a beaded headband with a jaunty feather jutting from the top.
Close-Up of Mpondo Bride & Groom’s Headdresses (1950s), DIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Moving down, note the countless layers of beaded chokers and necklaces. Some strands are so long they hang down to the couples’ knees, while others are wrapped around small containers that may be medicine jars. According to Tiernay (2005), a Mpondo bride’s beads are a status symbol and signify her ancestors’ position in society. More beads indicate a higher status.
Close-Up of Mpondo Bride (right) & Groom’s (left) Beads (1950s), DIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Beneath the layers of beads, both bride and groom are dressed in a stiff white, embroidered cotton. The groom’s outfit also includes a beaded staff and a plaid kilt-like garment that is secured with a sturdy red belt. In all, the groom’s attire includes 54 pieces, while the bride wears 51. The entire ensemble is a stunning and colorful display.
Close-Up of Mpondo Bride & Groom’s Dress (1950s), DIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Fun Godly Fact: June is traditionally a popular month for weddings because it was named after Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, fertility, and childbirth.
Juno (early 2nd century CE), Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Photo by Carole Raddato, Wikimedia Commons
Mpondo Background: The Mpondo (also known as Amampondo and Pondo) come from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, between the Mtata and Mtamvuna Rivers. For decades, Mpondo lands were one of the largest territories in Transkei, a republic established in 1959 under South Africa’s apartheid policies for Xhosa-speaking people.
Left: King Faku (c1780-1867) of the Mpondo by Xhanti Mpakama, photo by Vincebonya, Wikimedia Commons
Right: King Faku’s son demonstrating a Mpondo hairstyle (c1820s) by Andrew G. Bain, Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally, Mpondo women were responsible for cultivating crops, while the men raised cattle, a major source of their wealth. It was also the custom for men to choose wives from outside their communities. Prospective husbands paid the lobola (bride-price) in cattle, to the bride’s family.
Left: Sketch of Mpondo Girl (1908) by Norman H. Hardy, Wikimedia Commons
Right: Mpondo Woman (2005) Wikimedia Commons
The art of the Mpondo’s stunning, handcrafted beadwork has for centuries been passed down among women artisans and continues today. Check out this Mpondo Beading and Traditional Dress link, courtesy of FaceBook for lovely examples of their work.
Left: Mpondo Beaded Choker, photo courtesy of ClipKulture
Center: Mpondo Dress and Ornaments, Photo by Nkansah Rexford, Wikimedia Commons
Right: Mpondo Medicine Bottle (date unknown), The British Museum
If you’d like to see a modern version of a traditional Mpondo wedding, click on this Mpondo wedding link, courtesy of YouTube. And finally, if you’d like to dig deeper and learn more about the Mpondo people, click on this Pondoland link, courtesy of South African History Online, as well as this Transkei link, courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.
That wraps up our look at Mpondo wedding dress. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, stay safe, be kind, and take care 🙂
Cover photo by Chris Rosepapa, courtesy of Pixabay.