The wandering Nguni is a wonderful thing! Descended from livestock brought into southern Africa by cattle farmers of several centuries back, the animals were essentially itinerant in nature, knowing no bounds, and certainly not subject, until the 1940’s, when the first efforts were made to legitimate the breed, to the feeding and breeding pressures of conventional livestock. Today, the Nguni with their distinguishing trade mark brown and black spots and their varying hides, have attained almost mystical status. Their arresting forms routinely captured through the lenses of many a photographer as well as on the canvases of several local artists.
It is thought that Nguni cattle were originally brought by the Xhosa, Zulu, and Swazi people, during their migration to southern Africa between 600 and 1400 AD. Although reports argue that the cattle were probably introduced much earlier by the Khoisan-speaking people. Early Portuguese explorers’ journals detail how the Khoikhoi rode their cattle into battle like war-horses! (http://zulucattle.com/history_of_nguni_cattle.htm). Over time these glorious creatures have played an important social and economic role in the development of tribal societies, and are often used in bridal dowries.
And so it was through my dear friend Ryan Enslin of MyLimeboots fame, that I was lent the two gorgeous handmade Nguni hide bags from South African luxury bag manufacturer Via La Moda to accompany me on my cruise in the Mediterranean this past July.
One was an exquisite travel or “carpet” bag and the second a more compact messenger bag, which can comfortably carry an iPad. Both are from Via La Moda’s Untamed Range. How appropriate, I thought, that I should take Nguni hide bags on my own wanderings. The distinctive travel bag, in particular, created quite a stir, with many an envious eye, admiring the beautiful leather and craftsmanship. I felt proud to be in possession of them both and synonymously stylish with our sleek and sophisticated ocean liner – the Oceania Sirena.
Via La Moda was founded by Austrian immigrants to South Africa Hans-Peter Winklmayr, a Master Leather Craftsman and Walter Hauser, a Master of Cabinetry and Design, in 1989.
It is Winklmayr who is responsible for the artistic direction and creation of the company’s bespoke leather goods. The business is a hidden gem of the finest of European craftsmanship improbably situated in Johannesburg’s Industria, and it is here that the business, which invests heavily in skills training and development of its people, monthly produces between 400 to 500 luxury leather handbags. Via La Moda is also known for its bags from more exotic leathers – ostrich, python, crocodile and game.
The latter, such as zebra and giraffe, are obtained from ‘fallen’ animals – those that have died from natural causes. Hence the natural flaws and irregularities in the hides. Much of the cost of the more rarified leather handbags is attributed to the complex tanning process, which can be undertaken by only a handful of tanneries in the world. It is little wonder then that luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Hermés have their own in house tanneries.
I had such fun with Ryan sending digital “postcards”, which documented the “Wandering Nguni” bags’ journey through the special ports of call during the cruise with my schoolfriend Ella.
Postcards marking the Wandering Nguni’s progress through the Mediterranean.
The messenger Nguni bag proved a godsend – I took it everywhere. It was compact and light enough to carry around, as well as secure with a zip at its top end. It was also big enough to carry my trusty iPhone for pics, my purse, sunglasses, a bottle of water, my specs and a map – all the requisites necessary for a day’s excursion while at port. It also complemented virtually everything in my wardrobe – another win! The travel bag with its exquisite punched leather design is ideally suited and sized for a weekend away and for those who travel light. I don’t unfortunately, and so found it a little heavy to carry around. That said, it hugely compensated my desire to have beautiful things around me, and I am deeply grateful to Via La Moda for the privilege.