This is the second column in a series inspired by the Black Panther movie. The costume design plays a huge role in making this movie such a success. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter and movie director Ryan Coogler went to great lengths to ensure that the tribal references in the movie are as authentic as possible. In the series I‘m looking at the tribes referenced in the film, focusing in this article on the Zulu Kingdom in South Africa.
The Black Panther tribe, rulers of the fictional country Wakanda, is led by T’Challa the newly inaugurated king. The son of T’Chaka is supported by his stepsister Shuri and stepmom, 3rd wife of T’Chaka, Ramonda, the Queen Mother. Ramonda’s impressive regal headdress and royal attire is inspired by the traditional headdress worn by married Zulu women, known as Isicholo.
The Zulu Kingdom
A monarchy in Southern Africa that extended along the coast of the Indian Ocean between the Tugela and Pongola rivers in an area that is today the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa. The Zulu tribe raise to prominence under the fierce leader Shaka (1787-1828) who was later succeeded by his half-brother Dingane. At the height of their reign and after dominating several other tribes they came into conflict with the British Empire during the Anglo-Zulu war of the 1870’s. After initial victories, the Zulus were defeated by the British and incorporated into the Colony of Natal which later became part of the Union of South Africa. Although part of South Africa today it is still a cultural monarchy ruled by King Goodwill Zwelithini, the custodian of Zulu tradition and customs.
Traditional Zulu Clothing
Women in different stages of their lives wear different attire. The older they get the more they cover their bodies.
Single women wear short skirts made of grass or beaded cotton strings and nothing on top. Zulus attach no sexual meaning to naked breasts but rather to the back of the upper thigh. They decorate themselves with beads and wear their hair short. Engaged women let their hair grow and cover their breasts with a decorative cloth.
Married women cover their bodies completely. She wears a heavy knee-length cow-hide skirt with a decorated cloth over. They also cover their breasts with a decorated cloth. While pregnant a woman also wears an isibamba, a thick belt made from dried grass covered with beads to support her growing belly.
Married women wear hats known as isicholo, traditionally made of grass and intertwined with reed or white cotton thread. The size and shape differ from clan to clan. Traditionally the headdress was woven into the hair, making it impossible to remove. The grass would deteriorate over time and rot or fall off. The whole process would then be repeated. This custom is not practiced anymore, and the headdress is only worn on special occasions.
Ansie is a textile writer and editor currently based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She is a regular contributor to several international art and textile publications. Her textile blog, The Fabric Thread, will soon be relaunched as a textile travel blog. Her motto is: Talking Textiles - Crafting Community - Stitching Stories.