Shylet’s umqhele (headband)
“The object is popularly known as a headband for men. The native name is umqhele. It is well known as a crown for the Ndebele and Zulu warriors; they used to wear it when they were going to war. In the modern-day, the umqhele is worn by both females and males. The umqhele is part of an outfit or a set; when attending the amachichi, we used to dress nicely. The costume consisted of a colourful skirt, colourful vest, white vest top, leg beads, hand beads, head beads, and black or white tennis shoes called tommy.”
“I brought along the object because of amachichi memories. Amachichi is a name given to an event for monitoring the virginity of young ladies in my tribe. In the past years’ virginity was an essential thing in my culture. The amachichi was commonly practised at a community hall in my area. The event was held by the old ladies/grannies in our community each Saturday of the week.
The grannies used to go around different areas in my town to check all the young girls and young ladies. I was part of the young girls. I started attending amachichi when I was fourteen years. The age groups which were involved in amachichi were eight years to twenty-one years. It was compulsory to participate in the event. Refusal of attendance was proof that someone was no longer a virgin. There was a tendency that other girls would pay the grannies to tell their parents that they were virgins, but on the main national ceremonial day, it wasn’t able to cheat.
It is an important headband which is made up of the cattle tail, it can be any type, it doesn’t have to be particularly of a certain age or gender, it can be a heifer, cow or calf. I bought it for myself with my own savings/pocket money when I was in Zimbabwe.
The object has a significant cultural value. I brought the item to Ireland because I intended to wear it on Africa Day. The umqhele was won on amachichi days and Heritage day; we were not allowed to wear it any other day. I enjoy attending Africa day, and cultural day here in Ireland because I can showcase my complete cultural outfit, including umqhele.
I am proud that I was successful in all the amachichi events; today, it guides me to be a better child in the community here in Ireland. My umqhele has a cultural value. I respect and love my culture very well. The event made me proud and shone in front of my friends and the elderly in my community. The objects remind me of several things, it brings back all the memories, for example, the lifestyle I used to live, the standards of living, my lovely friends and all the fun I used to have when I was young, mainly my teenage age.
The event was more cultural; I love the fun we had because we used to sing our cultural songs and dance on that day. We used to have a major amachichi national celebratory ceremony once a year, where all the young ladies from across the cities would get together. Parents who were interested in attending the main event were welcome. People would respect you when you come out as a virgin back then, after amachichi, but these days’ people will make funny out of you; things have changed, the culture is deteriorating due to modern world changes. Currently, amachichi is no longer practised a lot due to the human rights aspect.
I hang my headband on top of my headboard so that l can see it every day and put it on whenever I feel like doing so. I wish to give it to my young sister, who was born in Ireland and is currently a few months old. I will tell her about the history and stories behind the umqhele. I wish that she will also tell her children one day and keep on spreading my cultural information.”