Royal Commonwealth Society : Xosa motherhood, Grahamstown

Royal Commonwealth Society

<p>Barbara Eleanor Harcourt Tyrrell was born in 1912 in Durban and grew up in Zululand. Her father was an assistant magistrate and later interpreter in the Department of Native Affairs. Tyrrell trained as an artist at the University of Natal during the 1930s and worked for a time in London on fashion drawing. She returned to South Africa and settled in Richmond. Her interest in the rich and diverse dress and adornments worn by the peoples of southern Africa inspired her to document them at a time of increasing modernisation and westernisation. Tyrrell embarked upon her first field trip in 1934, and by the 1960s had recorded the costume and customs of virtually all of southern Africa's peoples. Today, a large body of Tyrrell's work forms part of the Campbell Collections at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. </p> <p>The watercolour is one of sixty original watercolours by Barbara Tyrrell which were presented to the Royal Empire Society by Dr Killie Campbell and Mrs Gladys Hepburn in 1950. The watercolours each measure 280 x 380 mm and are accompanied by detailed captions by the artist, which we have faithfully reproduced.</p> <p>The sign of recent marriage amongst women of Xosa tribes, is the black head swathing or “eiya” worn low over the eyes. </p> <p> Until the child is weaned its face is decorated with white, the mother’s face, shoulders and upper arms being treated in similar fashion. The wide bead collar is a common Xosa form of adornment, the necklace of large wooden beads being a health charm for the child. </p> <p> These health charm necklaces assume many forms and are worn from Port St. John to Port Elizabeth by all conscientious mothers. </p> <p>See Janus record <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='https://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0115%2FRCMS%20211'>here</a></p>


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