Because the Zulu people had no written language, communication took the form of beadwork, especially beaded `love letters’. Tradition dictated that one’s status must be readily determined, so Zulu beadwork was culturally regulated, with the colours and patterns having great symbolism. However, today, very few traditional pieces are now produced and much of the beading art has been lost amongst the younger generation.
The work produced today uses the skills handed down but is of a contemporary nature and looks towards a more commercial use than for traditional Zulu use. There is something of resurgence with one traditional item among Zulu girls – the virginity apron. This is a fringe style apron made from brightly coloured beads, which hangs down and covers the pubic area. One possible reason for its recent popularity could be the fact that AIDS is being recognized as a peril by the villagers and is encouraging a return to traditional values.
The Bedford range is a fine example of modern African beaded jewellery with traditional beading skills used to create very beautiful necklaces. This creates a fusion of elegant design elements applied to produce pieces that assume a character far beyond the sum total of their components. The beadwork is of a very high standard these, beaded necklaces are exceptional, some of which are quite dramatic.