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Costume for a Female Diviner (Igqirakazi) (work of art)

Artwork Info

Xhosa artists
Artist Details
South African (Xhosa peoples and Thembu subgroup)
20th century-
before 1966
(various dimensions)


Xhosa diviners communicate directly with ancestors and other spirits—through trance, dream, divination, and sacred dance—divining the causes of illness and other misfortunes. They conduct ceremonies and rites of appeasement and are skilled in herbal medicine. Three times a year—marking the new year, spring planting, and harvest time—diviners and acolytes perform dances to ensure success and good fortune. Dances are also held to mark the stages of training for acolytes, which last five years.

This rare costume not only show famed Xhosa artistry in beadwork; each part of the elaborate assemblage has symbolic and ritual meaning. For example white beads represent purity, while green and yellow symbolize fertility. The swinging veil (amageza, “beads of madness”) helps induce trance, and the beaded calabash (iselwa lembambo) is filled with powdered medicine.

tags: ceremony, community, seasons, symbolism, women, movement


  • Xhosa artists Costume for a Female Diviner (Igqirakazi) before 1966

    Costume for a Female Diviner (Igqirakazi) by Xhosa artists

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Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, by exchange