Abathembu Beadworks declared national heritage antiquities

BY SUPPLIED - JULY 20, 2015

Stunning beadworks embodying, symbolising and celebrating Xhosa heritage have gained significant national prominence after being recently declared national heritage antiquities.

The South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) recently specifically declared WSU’s Joan Broster Beadwork Collection in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act.

“We have identified the Broster Beadwork Collection as having qualities so exceptional that it is of special national significance and warrants the most stringent heritage protection afforded by the National Heritage Resource Act,” says SAHRA Acting CEO Mamakomoreng Nkhasi.   

The collection was largely produced in Qebe in Engcobo by the AbaThembu tribe and dates as far back as the early 1900s. It was later collected by then Transkei trader Joan Broster from 1952 to 1966.

It was several decades later in 1995 that WSU, recognising the importance of the pieces to the Xhosa heritage, would buy the collection from Broster.    

The assortment contains 3 000 objects depicting the cultural history and beadwork tradition of the Qebe community. It’s made up of pieces which were used for ritualistic and symbolic significance and personal adornment.

“This collection is very important in furthering the knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritage of Southern Nguni peoples in the Eastern Cape. As much of the traditional material culture has left the province, and there are few similar collections left, even in museums, it’s important, wherever possible, to preserve what is held by other institutions, for future generations to research and enjoy,” says WSU Africana and Special Collections Library head Vuyiswa Lusu.

Following the collection’s elevated status, WSU has quickly resolved to find new premises devoted solely to the safe and secure storage and maintenance of these national treasures.

“The University is presently upgrading a venue for purposes of storing this collection. This has been an on-going project and many phases have already been successfully achieved, including public participation drives involving relevant stakeholders, most notably the Qebe community,” says WSU Acting Spokesman Thando Cezula.

Cezula says WSU is proud to be the custodian of the significant, rare Joan Broster Beadwork Collection.

“As a university which embraces indigenous knowledge systems, and focuses its research on this theme, it is fitting that WSU should ensure the preservation of this cultural gem," he concludes.

The milestone is momentous because it will bring an important piece of history to the fore, ensuring its preservation for current and future generations to enjoy.