Xhosa diviners communicate directly with ancestors and other spirits—through trance, dream, divination, and sacred dance—divining the causes of illness and other misfortunes. They conduct ceremonies and rites of appeasement and are skilled in herbal medicine. Three times a year—marking the new year, spring planting, and harvest time—diviners and acolytes perform dances to ensure success and good fortune. Dances are also held to mark the stages of training for acolytes, which last five years.
These rare costumes not only show famed Xhosa artistry in beadwork; each part of the elaborate assemblage has symbolic and ritual meaning. For example white beads represent purity, while green and yellow symbolize fertility. The swinging veil (amageza, “beads of madness”) helps induce trance, and the beaded calabash (iselwa lembambo) is filled with powdered medicine.