The Story of Monkeybiz

THE STORY  Traditionally beads through the ages were used not only to adorn the body, but as
a measure of value in ritual and economic exchange between locals and foreigners. In traditional African rituals, a fine bead necklace or beaded piece is treasured because it is thought to impart spiritual energy.

Colours are invested with meaning - Pink denotes poverty and the use
of pink beads could mean: "you are wasting your money and have no cows to pay for my lobola (bride price, traditionally settled with heads of cattle). You do not love me!" Messages are encoded on a huge range of artefacts including bags, belts, collars and headdresses.

Beading is also central to Sangoma (traditional healers) training reflecting the various phases of initiation and rites of passage.

With Society taking up a more modern way of life and moving into the cities many of these traditions have fallen away, together with the old beading techniques and culture.

NOW the time for renewal has arrived. Monkeybiz is leading the revival of this venerable tradition by bringing to it a fresh, modern aesthetic.

Barbara Jackson

HISTORY It started simply with a beaded doll. Back in 1999, Barbara Jackson and Shirley Fintz both, South African ceramicists and African art collectors had a “light bulb” moment. Showing a small beaded doll to a part-time student, Mathapelo Ngaka, who then took it to her mother, Makatiso, a skilled bead artist with the brief “can you do a doll that looks unique?” and Monkeybiz was born.

Word of mouth spread of this wonderful supportive and empowering project and the register grew to over 450 beaders.

Against all odds, it has maintained
a sustainable business and is a benchmark for non-profit organisations – 
Monkeybiz is defined by the fact that it has retained its creative heart.

International acclaim has followed. Known as folk art Monkeybiz pieces were snatched up by Sotherbys Contemporary Decorative arts for
a sell-out exhibition in 2002. The vibrant dolls, animals and beaded pictures have enthralled shoppers and collectors in Conran Design.

Stores in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Donna Karan, has sold Monkeybiz craft art in her New York store DKNY. You’ll also find these iconic pieces at ABC carpet more...

Monkeybiz Bead Artists

ARTISTS  Even Though the first dolls were simple in design
and execution, the potential of the beaders was self-evident. Four People - Mathapelo, Makatiso, Beauty and Phumla - have played and continue to play, a critical role in this upliftment process. 

Mathapelo, the projects community co-ordinator and communications kingpin is a vital link between the Monkeybiz studio and the artists in the townships. Makatiso has taught many of the existing Monkeybiz artists how to bead; her house in Macassar, Khayelitsha, was the starting point for many a beader.

Beauty and Phumla, both facilitators, help to manage and organise 2 of the 3 main groups of beaders. They collect the work, bring it to a once a month Market day, return with the orders, beads and meal parcels to distribute amongst the artists, and they are on call for the beaders if anyone should need guidance or help. "The women bead at home and can look after their children while getting on with their other duties" says Mathapelo "they have no transport or raw material costs as we bring the beads and cotton to them. 

Beading lifts their spirits; they share in a sense of achievement.  more...

Our Community Involvement

COMMUNITY  “No one likes to be poor. No one likes to depend on hand-outs, or the
charity of others. A project such as Monkeybiz addresses a very deep human need, in that it helps people to help themselves” - Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church of South Africa

The majority of Monkeybiz artists have known poverty, neglect and deprivation for most of their lives. Against this background, Monkeybiz has achieved tremendous impact by providing a basic income to many families who would otherwise have been left destitute.

Monkeybiz pays the women immediately as the work is delivered on a market day.

Every artist has a bank account, encouraging money management and helping with cash security.

Monkeybiz pays the beaders according to the quality of their work, encouraging improvement, inspiring higher standards.

In the African culture the funeral and burial fund will be one of the most important savings they make. Monkeybiz has set up a Funeral
and Burial fund for every beader on the register, where each beader’s contribution to this fund is more...