The Ndebeles are an African ethnic group living in South Africa and Zimbabwe known for their artistic talent, especially with regard to their painted houses and colorful beadwork.
The Ndzundza Ndebele people of South Africa created their own tradition and style of house painting: according to a few sources, the Ndebeles suffered a horrible defeat in a war against the Dutch-speaking settlers – the Boers, just before the start of the twentieth century. Forced into an oppressive life, the Ndebele people started using expressive symbols to secretly communicate with each other. These paintings became an expression of both cultural resistance and continuity. The Boer farmers did not understand the meaning and viewed this cultural art as decorative and harmless and thus allowed it to continue.
Prior to the French introduction of acrylic pigments into South Africa in the 1940s, only natural pigments were used. Monochrome ochres, browns, black, and limestone whitewash were the initial hues. The walls had to be resurfaced seasonally, after the summer rains washed away the natural pigments.
The vibrant symbols and expressions portray communications of personal prayers, self-identification, values, emotions, and marriage. The rituals and religions have never been a part of the Ndebele’s house paintings. The tradition and style of house painting is passed down in the families from generation to generation by the mothers. A well-painted home indicates the female of the household is a good wife and mother. She is responsible for the painting of the outside gates, front walls, side walls, and usually the interior of her home. As every generation passes it down little changes begin to exist. This is their way of communication and expression through their home.