Beaded Leather Skirt
A young woman’s initiation skirt from the Iraqw peoples of Tanzania. This is a ritual transition garment marking the changes in life after coming of age.
The Iraqw are farmers and cattle herders and have a cultural and economic commonality to the Massai who are also cattle herders and cross paths in the same territories. Since these groups do not have a great tradition in weaving they have added decorative bead work to their dress and jewelry. The more traditional local inhabitants often wear thin ochre dyed leather skirts and capes for warmth and comfort. Decorating the leather with sewn glass beads is a fairly recent invention which started in the late 19th century and is attributed to the missionaries encouraging them to decorate the leather with beads. Beads in Africa have been used as a monetary exchange for trading and cultural identity so the practice was easily accepted.
The skirt is decorated in red, white and yellow beads. The borders of the skirt are decorated in zig zag, scallop and lazy bead stitch which does not puncture the leather. The rank, worth, or coded messages can be deciphered by the color of the glass beads and their arrangement which serve as a symbol of affluence and status.
Circa: Early 20th Century
Origin: Tanzania, East Africa
Material: Leather and glass beads
Dimensions: 28" Top Width , 40" Bottom Width X 35" L
Inventory number: WR3893