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Waist Beads: More than a trend

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

Wearing beads or jewellery around one’s waist has over the last couple of years become one of the hottest fashion trends. Just take Rihanna's 2019 Savage x Fenty fashion show as an example. If Rihanna claims it, you know the trend will gain traction. However, reducing waist beads to simply a trendy accessory undermines decades or even centuries of rich African culture and traditions.

Today, beads are seen by many as an adornment and fashion accessory. However, some say the tradition of waist beads dates back to the 15th century, whilst others claim it originated in the ancient Kemet, today’s Egypt. Disregarding the uncertainty of its exact origin, waist beads have been worn by African people for various purposes for decades, with the tradition carrying on through today whilst it remains a piece of accessory with cultural significance, some wearing it as fashion statements, others for spiritual purposes. It is your own body, and how you wear your beads and for what purpose you wear them is between you and your beads.

As we in Afryea have started making and selling waist beads, we think it is essential to understand, know, and appreciate the origin and significance of the waist bead. And use the opportunity to showcase another feature of the rich African culture.

So what even are waist beads, you wonder?

The use of waist beads is widespread throughout the African continent and its diaspora. As the three founders of Afryea Collective all have roots in Ghana, our examples of its use have been derived from there. Our examples do not serve as an exclusive list as waist beads can be found in many other cultures as well. The tradition has been said to have been popularised in West Africa by the Yoruba tribes. In Ghana, it has been particularly so by the tribes of the Ewes, Ashantis, Ga-Adangbes and Krobos.

As mentioned, beads in general have been worn by Ghanaians for centuries on several occasions, serving different purposes. One of the most common ways to wear beads as an accessory is the waistbands worn around the hip or waist. They usually consist of traditional glass beads. For example, among the Krobo tribe in the eastern part of Ghana, beads are used during the ‘Dipo ceremony’, a purity rite, specifically when a girl child is transitioning from childhood to a youthful age.

Ghana, 1999 - Photo taken with consent
Ghana, 1999 - Photo by Hilde Opoku, taken with consent.

What is the purpose of waist beads?

But this is not the only purpose of waist beads, and our provided list is not an exclusive one.

Waist Beads can be used for:

● Shaping and sculpting of the waist

● Femininity - Women traditionally used waist beads to secure traditional menstrual clots during their periods

● Weight control and measurement; bring awareness to your weight as it fluctuates. The beads work as an easy instrument to monitor weight gain or weight loss.

● Coming of age; rights of passage into womanhood; the bead is sacred between her and herself; keep it discreet under her clothes.

● Fertility; trying to conceive; used to affirm and intentionally manifest.

● Connection to and pride of African heritage -

● Spirituality; manifestation; protection from evil spirits and negative energy

● In some cultures, its design indicates a woman’s age, tribe, and marital status.

● Some tribes have unique beads for pregnant women to protect both child and mother.

So How do you wear your waist beads?

Firstly, you can wear as many waistbands as you want. With each band, you can have a different intention or different purpose of wearing them. Some choose to wear them so that they are visible, whilst in other cultures, they are worn underneath the clothes and are private, only for the eyes of the wearer and their potential partner. As the tradition evolves, this has become more of an aspect of ‘each to their own, although some argue that if you use a waist bead to manifest an intention, it should be kept private not to draw negative energy to it. You can get your waist bead on a stretchy thread or as a tie-on. The tie-on is meant to be left on the body and is designed so that you will have to cut it loose to remove it.

Moreover, some cultures place significance on the meaning of the colour of the beads. Although the meaning varies between cultures and tribes, in many communities, the significance of the colours is considered to be both powerful and essential. Here is one interpretation of the meaning of colours.

● Brown – Earth and stability

● Gold – Good health, power and wealth

● Green – Abundance, fertility, nature and prosperity, prosperity, hope, harmony, healing and ripening, generous, humble.

● Red – Confidence and vitality, self-confidence vitality, sexual energy, passion, courage.

● Turquoise – Communication and self-awareness

● White – Light, truth and purity

● Yellow – Energy, joy and happiness, wisdom, knowledge, clarity, increasing awareness, and calming nerves.

● Black – Power and protection

● Blue – Loyalty and truth, knowledge, healing, peace, truth, harmony — a cooling colour symbolising faith, devotion, deep insight.

● Orange – Courage, self-confidence and vitality

● Pink – Care, beauty, love and kindness

● Purple – Royalty, spirituality and wisdom.

Why we decided to start selling beads

"Reclaiming the beads means reclaiming the chance to walk in their ancestors’ footsteps."

In the West, the use of waist beads among the African diaspora has become a tradition in and of itself. For many black people in the diaspora, knowledge of their West African heritage is limited. The use of waist beads can serve as a reminder of and as a connection to that heritage. With the beads around your waist, you are never far away from that heritage. As published by Healthline, for some, reclaiming the beads means reclaiming the chance to walk in their ancestors’ footsteps.

We started selling waistbands to stay connected to our culture and heritage with something we think of as a beautiful tradition. We recognise that waist beads have become a popular fashion accessory and that its use and purpose are growing.

Although we are part of evolving the tradition of using waist beads, we see the importance of acknowledging its origins and purpose to keep those parts of the culture alive and make sure it does not lose its value.

How are waistbeads used in your culture? Leave us a comment below




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