“Zulucow’s Nguni cowhides are a superior quality to any of the other hides I’ve seen. They are natural, untreated, supple and luxurious.”
Steve Doughty, Director, Studiotex, Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, London.
“Each cowhide is like a piece of art; they’re in another ball park: high quality; beautiful and glossy. They sit perfectly alongside my carefully curated Tom Dixon lighting, and Gunlocke and EBF furniture. “
Mark Bailey, ‘by Bailey’, Clerkenwell, London.
Mark Bailey, Owner, ‘by Bailey’, Clerkenwell, London
‘by Bailey’ Clerkenwell Green, Clerkenwell, London
The first time I came across Nguni cowhide rugs was on holiday in South Africa about seven years ago now. I was struck by the quality of these cowhide; their gorgeous markings and extraordinary symmetry. I’m often ask why they’re so different to other hides on the market and whether they’re hides of other animals (I’m often asked if our brindle hides are Tiger hides as they look so exotic?! (They aren’t. I only buy sustainably sourced Nguni cowhide)
1. The provenance of our Nguni cowhides
All Zulucow’s Nguni cowhide rugs, (bags, belts and cushions) are sustainably sourced from the indigenous Nguni cows of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Nguni are hardy cattle and for centuries have been bred primarily to eat (as we do in the UK) and just as we use cattle hides for leather (for bags, shoes, furniture and car seats…) the Zulus have always used their hides for ceremonial clothing; rugs, mats, shields and battle skins. Nothing goes to waste in Africa. Most of the other cowhide rugs on the market come from huge ranches in Brazil, eg. Citycows; John Lewis, or Argentina and France eg: Amara
2. Creating sustainable jobs in a country of huge unemployment.
The tanning and trimming of our Zulucow Nguni cowhides (and the hand-crafting of our other Nguni cowhide fashion and home accessories) is creating sustainable jobs and much needed income in a country suffering from crippling unemployment and few job opportunities. The official unemployment figure for South Africa is 26% but it is much higher in rural areas, (up to 65%. The statistics don’t take into account those who have given up looking for jobs.) Sadly most of the unemployed are under 25 years old.
Ma Beatrice, Ma Phillipine, Lihle and their team of talented Zulu artisans who finely craft our cowhide and natural leather items by hand.
3. The unique, multicoloured markings and colourings of Nguni hides have been carefully bred into the cattle over centuries by the Zulus, often for use in shields.
King Shaka of the Zulus (reign: 1816-1828) bred specific colour patterns into his Nguni herds in order to produce hides for the many regiments of his army and to denote rank. His elite personal guard was recognised by the pure white cowhides they wore, from the Nguni royal herd, ‘the inyonikayiphumuli’.
Whereas the more common black and white Nguni cowhides were worn by lesser Zulu warriors. This would help in battle, to identify who was in command; in the confusion of fighting. Shaka’s famously bellicose Zulus, bred symmetrical patterns into the Nguni hides especially for their shields which were vital in battles.
4. The Nguni are so gorgeous that the Zulus have developed a poetic naming practice for their hides
They have named the various Nguni cowhides and markings according to the way in which they reflect aspects of the natural world around them, inspired by the imagery of the birds, animals and plants in the natural world surrounding them. For example:
Ihunqukazi (Puffadder) is a hide with a black, red or brown brindled hide resembling a puffadder.
Imaqandakahuye – a hide which resembles the Eggs of the skylark
5. Nguni hides are steeped in the political and economic history of the Zulus
King Shaka Zulu understood the political and economic importance of the Nguni cattle, when in forming his powerful Zulu empire in 1818, he seized control of the Nguni herds of his dominions. Not only are they interwoven in the lives of the Zulus, past and present, on a political, social, economic and spiritual level. Nguni are also important for a bride’s ‘lobolo’ (dowry – the exchange of cattle for wives.) Nguni cattle are also so valued, that in traditional Zulu ‘Kraals’ (homesteads) the cattle byre is always at the centre, so the Zulus can protect their valuable stock from marauding lions and other predators.)
OVER TO YOU!
Do you have an Nguni hide or perhaps you’ve met Zulus, or seen their wonderful cowhides out in SA? Or maybe you’re South African and you know all about their fabulous quality and gorgeous colourings and patterns? Do they remind you of home or a South African holiday? I’d love to hear your stories. Please do comment below or email me.
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