SHWESHWE COTTON FABRIC – Dr Dawn Gould

This well known blue fabric, pronounced SHOESHOE is thought to have been brought to South Africa by German missionaries in the 1800’s. The blue colour (indigo) had only become possible after the sailing ships began returning to Europe with this particular dye.  This resulted in the attractive blueprint (Blaudruck) material  being worn as everyday clothes by the country folk of Europe.  Locally it did not take long for the converts at the Moravian mission at Genadendal and those of the Lutheran’s mission station in the Eastern Cape to give preference to this material for clothing

It is said that sometime in the 1840’s the Paris Evangelical Mission gave some of this cloth to the Basuto King Moshoeshoe.  A gift that was approved and certainly helped to spread the material.  In Namibia, especially in tourist advertisements, there will often be pictures of Herero women dressed in almost Victorian styled dresses made of colourful Shweshwe cotton.  In a sense this material created an interesting cultural exchange between parts of Europe and southern Africa.  During the 1970’s and the 1980’s politics entered the field of shweshwe  when some white women to show unity with those citizens fighting the apartheid government, began wearing clothes made of the shweshwe material.

Today the fabric has become available in other colours, orange, pink, green.