iQhiya is a Xhosa word for a headscarf or ‘doek’.
It sits like a crown for a queen, which makes it a potent symbol of unshakeable strength and togetherness.
This symbol can be looked at as a metaphor for Africans to unite, since it is a symbolic item of clothing across many African cultures but for this particular photo story, my intention was to document how South African youth, particularly those of Xhosa lineage are embracing an aspect of their heritage and culture in their style and fashion to mark their identity in today’s society.
According to some credible sources, such as my mom, a Xhosa woman who has been married for more than twenty years, iQhiya is a headdress that is worn by women in the early stages of wedlock. It is seen and regarded as a symbol of respect towards her in laws. During the process of marriage, once a woman’s head is covered with iQhiya she will be recognized as a married woman. A title that, in older traditions automatically raised her social status to one that is of slightly higher dignity and level of respectability.
However, it is important to note that in some regions within the Xhosa culture iQhiya can be worn by unmarried and married women during specific cultural ceremonies.
The tradition of wearing iQhiya and its association with marriage symbolizing prestige in older traditions shows the disparities between the evolving modern Xhosa woman and the history of patriarchy within Xhosa culture. Many modern young and older women no longer view marriage as a way to gain dignity and a level of respectability as older societies did; today women view those qualities as attainable with or without the structure of marriage.
Thus the historical and present existence of iQhiya within Xhosa culture and many other African cultures shows the necessary balance between appreciating ancient cultural symbols and embracing the evolution of our modern identities.