Spend minimum £50 and get 20% off code: 20OFF or more than £75 and get 25% code: 25OFF

African Culture and Beads: What Do They Represent? (5 min.)

African Culture and Beads: What Do They Represent?

The art of beading has been practised by many different cultures throughout human history. People have used beads to express their spiritual beliefs, communicate through social norms, develop trade relationships, and even indicate rank or status within their respective societies. One culture that is especially known for its use of beads is the African tribe. Throughout Africa, there are hundreds upon hundreds of tribes each with its own unique traditions, histories, and way of life. And among these vast cultural differences, there are some similarities in the ways that certain types of beadwork were used by Africans across the continent.

Uses of Beads in African culture

Beads hold an important part of many Africans' lives. They are used in ceremonies and rituals, to make jewellery and decorate homes, and for trade with other tribes. The beads themselves vary depending on which tribe is creating them: some use seeds, some use clay, some use gemstones like turquoise or aquamarine, and others even use bone and ivory.

Beads are often made by the women of a tribe to be given as gifts during special occasions, such as birthdays or weddings. The men sometimes wear necklaces comprised of many strands of different colours to indicate their social rank within their society. Other times, people will wear several strings of beads around their necks just for decoration purpos occasions when dancers perform, they wear long strands of beads around their necks to accentuate their costumes.

Everyday use

Beads are also an important part of many African tribes' lives because they are used in everyday items such as baskets, baby carriers, fly-swatters, and fishing nets. Many beaded necklaces are made with seed beads that have been dyed various shades of blue or green to resemble the colour of water. One tribe is known for making beaded bracelets called cuffs that feature one million tiny glass seeds sewn together. These can take months to make depending on how intricate the pattern is, but some women consider these bracelets worth all of the time and effort put into themes. On special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, Africans wear many strands of beads around their necks and sometimes over their arms.

Beads and trade

When two tribes meet for the first time, they often use beads to set up a trading relationship with one another. Some tribes will each bring some of their own beads while others will bring nothing at all, but both sides usually come prepared to trade. This ensures that on future visits, the two groups know what goods the other is interested in trading for.

Traditional ceremonies using beads in Africa

A final way that beadwork has been used by African tribes is during traditional ceremonies or rituals. One example of this would be when warrior returns home having just completed his initiation. Another example would be when a young woman goes through her puberty ceremony before she is able to start having children. During these ceremonies, some tribes have special beadwork outfits that are worn by the participants so they look more striking and dramatic for all of the people watching.

Lastly, many of these tribes also make bead jewellery to be worn at special dances and gatherings. Some of this jewellery is ornamental while others are meant to protect the wearer against evil spirits or bad luck.

During these ceremonies or rituals, some tribes have special beadwork outfits that are worn by the participants so they look more striking and dramatic for all of the people watching. Lastly, many of these tribes also make bead jewellery to be worn at special dances and gatherings. Some of this jewellery is ornamental while others are meant to protect the wearer against evil spirits or bad luck.

 

Zulu tribe and how they use the beads

The Zulu tribe in South Africa is one of many that uses beads to decorate themselves and their homes. They usually make necklaces with red or black glass beads called 'amashoba' that were traded by European settlers, but will also string together seeds, wood, shells, and other materials when trade goods are scarce. During traditional dances, men wear a headdress called an isicoco decorated with ostrich feathers. The feathers serve as a display of social status; the more feathers there are on your headdress, the higher your rank within society has been determined to be. Other than using them for decoration during rituals and ceremonies, many common household items such as baskets and fly-swatters are often beaded as well.

Today, Zulu beadwork is still very popular and high quality work can sell for hundreds of dollars in many African cities. The popularity of African beadwork has even spilled over into other countries where people enjoy jewellery, accessories, wall hangings, and various other items made with the same techniques used by these tribes several centuries ago. These traditions have provided a sense of cultural identity to all Africans no matter what part of the continent they live on.

For these reasons, it's clear that beads have been an important part of African culture for hundreds if not thousands of years. Whether they were being traded or used for ceremonies or everyday household items, beads have always acted as symbols that unite or distinguish people.

Africans have long held the belief that these colourful decorations hold special powers to protect, heal, or simply beautify.

Today, Zulu beadwork is still very popular and high quality work can sell for hundreds of dollars in many African cities. The popularity of African beadwork has even spilled over into other countries where people enjoy jewellery, accessories, wall hangings, and various other items made with the same techniques used by these tribes several centuries ago. These traditions have provided a sense of cultural identity to all Africans no matter what part of the continent they live on.

Find some beautiful bead jewellery here -> click

 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

x