The meanings of the colours depend as much on their combination as individual symbolism. This is a rough glossary:
The status of a Zulu woman is readily identified through her ornament – her marriage status, the status of her sisters and her home region.
According to the grammar of ornament, the triangle represents father, mother and child. The meaning of the triangle changes with orientation.
|Inverted, apex downward||Unmarried man|
|Apex downward||Unmarried woman|
|Two joined as diamond||Married woman|
|Joined with apexes meeting||Married man|
For a woman to express her love for a man, she would place a white triangle with apex down enclosing a red triangle with apex up.
Today, Zulu love letters can be obtained in tourist shops as a cheap gift. But in the context of contemporary jewellery, it does suggest particular possibilities of ornament as a communication device. While different coloured ribbons represent alternative good causes, the possibility of colour combinations has yet to be realised.
It could be objected that the meaning of any such system depends on its widespread use – something that jewellery today cannot attain. However, ornament is often the prompt for the dialogue between individuals. Translation of meaning is at least one kind of enunciation.
Really? You don’t say.
For more information, see Beadwork in the ZULU cultural tradition.