The earliest bone needle, estimated at 61,000 years old, was found in a South African cave, not far from Durban. I know this because I've been trying to find anything about the history of sewing in the country. Why? I came across this photo of young women and girls in Elim, Limpopo, a place we passed through each time we went north from Johannesburg to visit Risenga's family. The sadness of this photo hit me. I had to know more.
It was 1896 and the days of colonialism, European so-called values and so on. You know the story. I barely know South Africa but I remember being struck by the skill of women there when it comes to making. Crochet, bead work, embroidery, hand-sewing, anything....In fact, one of my proudest moments may be when an elderly woman asked me where I'd bought a small beaded bag I was carrying. I told her I'd made it - out of the leg of a pair of Mrisi's trousers, embellished with beads I'd taken with me in case I was bored.
There are goddesses of sewing the world over, but I want to read the history of sewing from that early needle discovered in the Sidubu settlement (where, incidentally, archaeologists reckon they've found the first beds). Here are some of the people who can truly lay claim to the art of sewing, living in the country where the first garments were stitched together. Let's wonder again, at who writes history and who's left out.