Historians note the African tradition of waist beads as originating among the Yoruba tribes, now mainly in Nigeria. Waist beads are also seen in West Africa, particularly Ghana, where beads signify wealth and nobility, as well as femininity. Beads were highly valuable in traditional African societies and remain so today. Beads are used for different purposes. Many African societies use beads for artwork; beads are also used for beautification. In addition to fashion, some older African cultures used various types of beads, notably glass beads, as currencies for exchange of goods and services.
Beads can serve as a means of identity. In some African communities for example, men of high status wear special kinds of beads to indicate their positions in the society. Beads can also be worn to indicate tribes or families. Beads believed to be more than 12,000 years old were discovered in Kenya, Sudan, and Libya. These beads made from (ostrich?) eggshells were used by the Turkana people as currencies that were given to women before their actual marriage as part of their dowry.
Waist beads are also found in other cultures around the world. While African and Islamic women commonly wear them under fabric, women such as belly dancers in Eastern cultures, display waist beads over clothing or against bare midsections. Some cultures believe that waist beads aid in pregnancy and encompass Earth energies. Other women, including us at Essensuals, believe that waist beads are conveyors of positive energy and healing.
Traditional West African waist beads are typically tied onto the body and worn at all times, even while bathing or sleeping. The traditional waist beads are made from various materials, including glass, wood, and metal. Traditional waist beads symbolize sensuality, fertility, and rites of passage passed down from mother to daughter. Some women wear waist beads strictly for fashion; jewels around the softest, most vulnerable part of the body can be viewed as sexy, titillating, or even kinky. And still others choose to wear waist beads for the very practical use of weight control — when your beads are getting a little tight, it’s time to rethink your food choices and make informed nutritional decisions.
Tell us why you wear waist beads.