History Tapestries

There are many history tapestries, both ancient and modern. One of the most famous is the Bayeux Tapestry, a 72-metre long account, in embroidered pictures, of the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

In recent years the Bayeux Tapestry inspired Xhosa women in South Africa to create a 126-metre long Keiskamma History Tapestry which is on permanent display in the South African Parliament Building in Cape Town.  The success that the Keiskamma History Tapestry had in telling the Xhosa story in turn inspired the Palestinian History Tapestry Project in the hope that it might be equally successful in telling Palestinian peoples’ stories.

The Keiskamma History Tapestry was created by rural embroiderers in one of the poorest parts of the country. It relates the story of the Xhosa and San people, from their origins, through British and Apartheid rule, to the release after 28 years in jail of their most famous son, Nelson Mandela. This massive work of art is a source of pride for those who created it and their communities. It has helped to educate people about South African history and has been acclaimed internationally.

How was the Keiskamma History Tapestry created?

The Keiskamma Project was established in three villages in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, where there was much poverty and ill-health and very little to help the community recover after the years of apartheid oppression. An embroidery project started in 2000 and Jan Chalmers has been involved since then. She provided embroidery training and general encouragement to local women, and by 2002 there was a network of embroiderers with established skills in textile and embroidery techniques, able to make a modest living by producing works for sale. It was within this group that the idea of a History Tapestry emerged. A period of time was spent in learning about the history of the local people, with input from academic historians and from the stories handed down by the Xhosa elders of the villages. An overall plan was designed, made up of stitched panels, each telling a particular story and hand sewn by a group of 5 to 7 women. The project supplied sewing needs and each woman was paid according to her contribution. The completed tapestry left a legacy of pride and confidence in the community. The work is considered a national treasure by many and an important account of history by all who have seen it.

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