by Amanda

Jewellery from Africa

Jewellery in Africa has an long history. Snail shell beads that date back 75 000 years have been found in the Blombos caves in South Africa, and in Kenya there are ostrich egg shell beads that date back 40 000 years.

African jewellery is often made from natural materials like bone, wood, stone, teeth, amber and ivory. These accessories have been worn by both men and women for hundreds of years. Jewellery indicates which tribe one is a part of and, like many cultures around the world, it indicates wealth and social status. It also plays a significant role in religious rituals like burial ceremonies and weddings, as well as currency. Jewellery can be used to adorn the entire body from the head to the feet and beads are often sewn onto clothes and worn in hair.

There is a tremendous amount of symbolism in African jewellery. Beaded jewellery worn around the waist shows the coming of age for young Egyptian girls, while wearing an elephant bracelet in South Africa shows your respect for the gods. In Ghana, the groom gives his bride a beaded belt on the day that they are getting married, and in West Africa, a mother of twins wears a talisman to represent their power and magic.

The most recognised African jewellery is beads. These were referred to as ''trade beads'' for hundreds of years because they were used as currency. In particular, cowrie shell beads were strung together and traded for cattle and goods. It was believed that they had magical powers and they were initially preferred to gold coins. In West Africa, they were still used as legal tender until the middle of the 19th century.

The Ancient Egyptians were producing beautiful glass beads as early as 2200 BC, while they also had a particular penchant for fine gold jewellery decorated with coloured gemstones.

African jewellery has a distinctive look and a rich history and it is sought after throughout the world. The pieces are unique to an area and often even to the tribe that made it.


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Beads | African
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