While European glass beads in the form of trade goods entered southeastern Africa as early as the sixteenth century, they were so scarce and expensive that they were frequently reserved for leaders and other elite. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, though, increased trade brought much larger numbers of glass beads, resulting in an unprecedented development of new jewelry forms and styles. This ulimi (“tongue” in the Zulu language), like much beadwork in the area, depends on regularly shaped beads that can be strung together to make fabric-like pieces of beadwork. It was most likely made by a young woman—beadwork is traditionally a female craft—but could have been worn by either a woman or a man.
Northern Nguni, probably Zulu, peoples, South Africa
Late 19th or early 20th century
L. 18 ¼ in. (46.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 71.78.1