Xhosa Swallowtail-Shaped Undergarment - South Africa

Amongst the rarest and most desirable items of beadwork from southern Africa, the swallowtail-shaped Inkciyo was designed to adorn a woman's pubic area, with some descriptions suggesting that it was worn under an apron or skirt. The two lower 'prongs' of the Inkciyo are believed to symbolise the vulva, while the use of white beads, vividly contrasted by an alternating use of black, is intended to suggest purity. Of the few swallowtail Inkciyo held in museums and private collections, this is the only known example with loops of copper rings, shells, and beads strung on hide at the tips of the prongs. An example in the British Museum (Museum number Af1954,+23.170) has similar small copper rings, albeit on the apron string.

Mid-19th century
Glass beads, sinew, hide, copper rings
H: 14 in W: 5 1/2 in

David Lewin, London

Exhibition History:

Southern Africa by Design, Clayarch Gimhae Museum, Korea, April 2007–September 2007. Illustrated in exhibition catalog, p 83.

Item Number:
Click To Enlarge

Keep In Touch

Stay up to date on new acquisitions, collections, updates, and more.
Thank you, we'll be in touch.
Apologies—something went wrong. Please try again.