Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Every visitor to Africa encounters African beads at one time or another. They’re everywhere, in markets, jewellry stores and souvenir shops. What many people don’t realise is that these beads, made from anything from simple seeds to precious stones, play a major part in most African cultures. For thousands of years they’ve been used for adornment but also to communicate everyday and complex ideas about religion, identity, social status, culture and more.

All beads lead to Africa

In fact, the most wide-ranging evidence of bead production anywhere in the world can be traced back to Africa. The oldest African beads date back more than 75 000 years and were probably made from ostrich eggshells. The earliest African cave paintings prove that long, long ago African beads were used for adornment, domestic, religious and other purposes. From that perspective, little has changed. They’re an important part of African culture still today.

Woven love letters

Some bead works show highly complex and sophisticated ideas through carefully considered, delicate colours and patterns. Among the Zulu people, beadwork was used for centuries to express messages to lovers as a kind of marriage negotiation. By the late 1800s it had practically become a sophisticated beaded panel art form with elaborate geometric shapes, nowadays referred to as “love letters”. Sadly, these beautiful beaded tokens of love gave way to the written format.

What your beads mean

Ever wondered what your African beaded jewellery means? For example locals and visitors to South African shores popularly purchase Zulu beads. Did you know that Zulu beads have a kind of bead code relating to size and colour. Generally speaking, large and colorful beads indicate wealth and social status. Red beads are often seen at important ceremonies such as funerals and harvest festivals. Black is often associated with age and wisdom. Blue beads are thought to help with fertility, gold implies a long life and yellow illustrates someone of high rank.

When you invest in African beads

But to relegate the interpretation of beads to mere colour symbology would be to take away from the subtle cultural and social nuances associated between and within African cultures. The next time you purchase something with an African bead in it, even if it’s purpose is to beautify, chances are you’re acquiring something that carries at least a smidgen of thousands of years of cultural significance and value.


1 comment :

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    Munmun Nishi :)

    African Glass Beads"


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