Mystery and Beauty of African Beadwork – High Symbolism

elephantMask

You are happy because I love you.

For centuries, Zulus in South Africa used subtly configured patterns and colors of beads to exchange love “letters”. Beads were also symbol of social status, and extensively used in art and sacred ceremonies to appeal to the spirits.

In Togo, Ghana, and Benin when a woman wants to send her “availability” status to male candidates, she will wear highly colorful waist beads, make them well visible, and slightly touch them when engaging in social interactions and activities.

Women in couple after their period of menstruation would attach small bells to the strings of their waist beads, which was a signal to let a partner know that the woman was clean, meaning she is at the proper stage where sexual intercourse is allowed.

In Nigeria Yoruba men find women more appealing if they wear waist beads, while in Kenya, Somalia neck beads are symbol of affluence and attractiveness.

wearingwaistbeads

Nowadays, you don’t  see much of the young african generation wearing beads accessories, tough the most ancient evidences of bead production and use has been found in Africa dating back to the Stone Age (280,000 to 45,000 years ago).

Samburu-Woman-neck-beads

In this post, I’m showcasing a collection of african beadwork from  the exhibition Between the Beads: Reading African Beadwork by the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.

The bead works use african symbols for decorative function but also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment.

My intention is to inspire african designers, decorators, crafters in using those african symbols and patterns in their professional work.

#1. Beads for Desire for Children Symbols

 

 Fertility Doll

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 Woman will decorate house or garden with doll as a desire to have a child 
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 Doll (umndwana), South Africa

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 The function of Ndebele dolls has been variously interpreted in historical and personal narratives.
By some accounts, such dolls are said to have assisted in courtship rituals and to promote a woman’s ability to conceive.
This doll’s entire body is comprised of beaded rings, and it appears to wear miniature versions of the beaded aprons, isiphephetu, neckrings and bracelets, izigolwane, worn by young Ndebele women before marriage. 

 

 Beaded doll (ham pilu), Cameroon

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 Fali dolls may be made by young boys and given to girls, but more often they are presented by a young man to his fiancée.
The dolls are made of corncobs or wood, and are usually adorned with glass beads, iron rings and cowries.
The red beads embedded in the long hair recall a red-coating applied to women’s hair for religious rites.
After the fiancée receives the doll, she cares for it, carrying it on her back or hip just as she would her firstborn, to signify her commitment to her fiancé and the child they hope to have together.

 

 Doll (umdwana), South Africa

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 By the 1970s, Ndebele dolls, umdwana, were represented as more naturalistic figures than in the past.
Beadmakers began to add limbs and elaborate capes and more pronounced facial features.
Garments and accoutrements on the dolls continued to depict the dress of Ndebele women but without the beaded rings worn by unmarried women that covered the forms of earlier dolls.
By the 1980s Ndebele dolls became popular tourist items, and styles have continued to change in response to perceived market demands.

 

 Fertility figure (akua’ba), Ghana

 fertilityFigure
 Akua’ ba or “child of Akua” figures are recommended by Asante priests for women who have problems with fertility or childbearing.
The figure embodies characteristics of Asante ideal beauty and health – a large rounded forehead, even features and a ringed neck –reflecting the desire to have a healthy and beautiful child.
Some figures are further embellished by the addition of ornaments, given as gifts from the prospective mother.
The finely beaded strands on the neck and head of this figure recall the Asante use of opulent beaded ornaments as signs of a woman’s beauty, wealth and prestige.

 

 Doll (ngwana wa pelego), South Africa

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 This doll is probably a recent example of a Pedi doll, called “child of birth” or ngwana wa pelego.
The dolls represent adult women almost exclusively, with beaded adornments over their beaded sheaths, and other accoutrements signifying their age, status and gender.
A mother will give her daughter a doll for her wedding. On her wedding day, the bride brings it to her in-laws who name it, and this name is given to the first child born.
The dolls are destroyed after the birth of the child, and the beads re-distributed to deter any evil befalling the child because of its spiritual connection to the doll.

 

 Seated Femail Figure (Esi mansa), Ghana

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 Fante society is matrilineal and most of Fante art focuses on motherhood.
Figures seated on a ceremonial stool are known as Esi Mansa, meaning “Esi’s third child.” Esi Mansa figures are placed on shrines where they receive offerings to ensure continuity and well-being of the lineage.
The imported glass beaded necklace and waist beads on this example were given to honor and embellish the figures, but the yellow multi-stranded waist beads on both the mother and child, indicating that both are female, remind us that Fante parents fervently hope to have a daughter to carry on the family name.
The white beaded necklace serves as a symbol of spiritual purity.

 

 Child Figure (bwana), South Africa

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 Young Tsonga women make child figures referred to as nwana and dance with them during their initiation ceremonies, or thomba.
The initiate holds the nwana in the palm of her hand, and presents it to a young man of her choice. The stout, cylindrical form covered with various polychrome beaded patterns, bears a type stiff cloth skirt that mimics those worn by mature women.
The small loops on the top represent a popular style of earrings, and the buttons indicate facial features.
The nwana, called “child” but dressed as a woman and presented to a prospective husband, is symbolic of her transition to womanhood, and becoming a wife and mother.

 

 Beaded Doll (nguana modula), Lesotho

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 The earliest accounts of South Sotho dolls claim that they are were carried by childless women, and were used to appeal to the “Spirit of Maternity” who lived in a swamp.
In hope that the doll would help her conceive, a woman named it and cared for it until the birth of her first child.
The “dolls” are neither child-like nor playthings. They are dressed in a beaded cloak that covers the conical wooden base.
The hair is made of beads and seeds, and a brass bead or flat button is attached to the head.
The figure’s adornments mimic those of mature adults, most often women, and some are dressed as brides.

 

#2. Beads for Marital Status Symbols

 

 Pair of Beaded Earflaps, Kenya

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 Married Maasai women wear beaded leather flaps attached to their ears as an important marker of family affiliation through marriage.
Earflaps may also denote the sub-ethnic group of the wearer.
Even though they are considered to be a pair, the two beaded patterns are different, reflecting the Maasai preference for asymmetry.
beadedEarflap1

 

Wedding Cape (isikoti), South African

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A new Ngwane bride appears at gala occasions wearing a cape of colored cloth, covered with fine beadwork strips.
The strips are made by the woman’s relatives who collectively construct the cape. This cloth dating from the 1960s has 16 strips that include both old and new beads, suggesting some were recycled from previous generations.
Its beadwork motifs include traditional geometric patterns as well as representations of crosses, telephone poles, automobiles, and houses.
The great variation of patterns on this cape indicates the interaction of bead workers from many regions, as well as local innovations.

 

 Married Zulu Woman’s Belt, South Africa

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 For many Zulu and other relocated peoples of southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, beaded jewelry, garments, and other accessories became important markers of identity.
Beadwork was a visual marker of social position, marital status, ethnic affiliation and location of the family’s homeland. Woven grass belts worn by Zulu women identify the wearer as a married woman with children.
Such belts were adorned in earlier times with brass studs and then later with glass and plastic beads.
This belt seems to be a cross between two types, the isibamba, a flexible belt with densely beaded strands, and an ixhama, a wider, tightly woven belt with sparser beadwork.

 

 Bridal Apron (itshogolo), South Africa

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 The itshogolo is worn by a woman for the first several months of marriage and afterwards for ceremonial occasions. Her husband prepares the goatskin, with its distinctive rounded flaps, but the woman may add beading later.
Alternatively, a woman’s mother-in-law may present her with a beaded itshogolo. The flaps have varied interpretations, and are said to represent the children desired in the marriage, or the mother and her children, or even the number of cattle paid for brideprice.
White is the traditionally preferred color for these aprons, as seen in the solid field of white beading in this example.
The small colored motif of a modern dwelling complete with electric lights, windows, doors, and pitched roof indicates the importance of home and family for the Ndebele as well as the desire for a modern lifestyle.

 

 Dance Staff (ithelefonu), South Africa

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 Brides carry scepter-like staffs in wedding ceremonies, as do initiates, raising them in the air as they dance.
In the past the staffs were covered with purely white beads, but this one includes the dark patterns preferred in the mid-20th century.
Telephone pole motifs for staffs were popular in the 1960s to signify the bride’s aspiration for a modern lifestyle, as well as the status and wealth associated with acquiring modern luxury goods.

 

 Dance Staff (amandondolo), South Africa

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 This ceremonial dance staff, covered with beads in dark geometric designs, reflects an Ndebele style of the 1960s.
In the past, the sphere on the top would have been made of wood, but since the mid-20th century, tennis balls have been used.
The beaded rings below the sphere recall the heavy beaded rings (isigolwane) worn on the necks, arms and legs of unmarried women which are removed and replaced with multiple thin brass rings after marriage.

 

 Man’s Wedding Apron (ibeshu), South Africa

 mansWeddingApron
 Although western dress is the normal attire of Zulu men, for special occasions some choose to wear “traditional” elaborately decorated calfskin leather garments.
This beaded apron or ibeshu is a reflection of a blending of traditional and contemporary Zulu life in that it is made of leather that was recycled from an old bus seat and the colorful beaded adornments on the edges and flap reflects the modern style of beadworking called isimodeni.
Isimodeni is not based on the older color sequencing that formed a coded language, but it may convey personal meanings derived from the older sequences.

 

 Beaded Panel (isebebe), South Africa

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 This beaded panel necklace is the third one made during Zandile Ma Ndlovu Dube’s engagement.
It bears the text “abantu izoni” and translates as “people are wicked” and is a reaction to those spreading malicious gossip about the couple.
The five strand plaited neckband, isibohph reiterates the old color code, using white (mhlophe) to signify purity of heart, and red, referring to blood and love (bomvu).
By wearing this necklace, the man is essentially saying that he is ignoring those who would dissuade him and restating his commitment to marrying the woman.

 

 Beaded panel (ithemba), South Africa

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 This brilliant orange panel with white text, the second of a series of anathemba produced by Kangezile MaMajoli Ndlovu for her fiancé, includes the exclamation, “Sikhuza usuthu,” translated as “Hurray, I like you.”
Called out after a celebratory dance, the phrase is used in the context of the couple’s life to express joy at the birth of their child.
The knots at the juncture of the cord, which symbolize clasped hands, are added to enhance the message.

 

 Beaded Panel Necklace (ithemba), South Africa

 beadedPanel5
 This beaded panel, or isibebe, given to a woman by her fiancé, is a symbolic declaration of his love.
The white field (mhlophe) indicates his purity of heart and dedication, the shield (ihawu) his desire to protect their relationship.
Yellow beads in the center of the shield and in its cord refer to the color of pumpkins, that are symbolic of plenty and wealth, and express great love.
The use of red associates the color of blood with love.
The truncated chevron motif flanking the shield, and the addition of deep blue beads (isiqwabe), both strengthen the protection offered by the shield.

 

 Beaded Panel (isibebe), South Africa

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 This beaded panel necklace (isibebe) is the first in a series made by a Zulu woman, Zandile Ma Ndlovu Dube, during her engagement period in 1969.
It bears the message “jabula wethu” which translates literally as “be happy our.” It is a shortened version of a sentence reading “You are happy because I love you.”
The colors refer to an older color sequence of white-red-black and dark blue that was known as the idiomatic phrase, “My heart is pure and I love you, but the future is full of problems, I have informed my neighbor that things are not going well.”
Such a declaration on the part of the man means his proposal is accepted by the woman and that the long process of marital negotiations between him and the woman’s family have officially begun.

 

 Beaded panel (isibebe), South Africa

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 The geometric motifs on this beaded “love letter” would be legible to Zulus who knew the old color sequences and patterns.
The central chevron motif with red, turquoise, blue and yellow and flanking a similar sequence in the diamond-shaped shields are affirmations of love and protection.
Specifically the chevron may be read as “heart in my heart,” or simply “in my heart.” The white field and intertwined red and white cord show love, purity of heart and devotion.

 

 Beaded Panel (isibebe), South Africa

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 The message of this isibebe, the final beaded panel made during Zandile Ma Ndlovu Dube’s marriage negotiations, says “jabula mngani,” literally “happy friend.”
It was interpreted as “be happy my friend [we are going to get married]” and was the joyful fiancé’s announcement to his friends that any problems arising during the long negotiation process are resolved, and that he can now start planning the wedding.

 

 Man’s back tie (ulimi, uthaye, isishunka), South Africa

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 Young Zulu men and women wear long beaded panels, ulimi, meaning tongue, or uthayi (derived from tie) on the chest or back.
The color sequence, called isishunka, which includes dark green, black, pink, light blue, red, white and pale yellow, is the oldest and most complex of the color sequences of the Msinga style.
The two main colors, black and green are the most essential. Black is symbolic of soot used to blacken oxhide skirts (isidwaba) worn by married women, and thus conveys readiness to marry, whereas green denotes sickness and pining.
Other colors are said to be enhancements only, although they too have associated meanings.
This ulimi was worn by a man on the back, probably for a ceremony such as a wedding or a coming of age ceremony, but ulimi may also be worn in rituals honoring ancestors.

 

 Beaded Panel Necklace with Female Figure (opa umvoti), South Africa

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 This beaded panel, or isibebe, features an abstract rendering of a female figure flanked by chevrons.
The sequence of colors, black, green, blue and white may be interpreted as a strong statement of love for a fiancée. White is recognized as a sign of purity of feeling, the blue as the color of the Indian ocean implies the distance one would go for love, and pink is associated with poverty, but also the color of the eland, a sacred and beautiful animal, among many other metaphoric images, and its meaning here is inconclusive.
The combination of blue and green chevrons is a conventional motif, cwe, that accentuates the emotional import of the other symbols.
The circles of beads around the base of the cord, called sliding knots or opa-umvoti, are compared to clasped hands, another way of accentuating the meaning expressed in the panel.

#3. Beads for Power and Prestige Symbols

 

 Male Royal Ancestor Mask (Mbwoom), Democratic Republic of Congo

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 Kuba masquerade groups who perform in the presence of royalty include a triad representing the mythical founders of Kuba culture.
The triad includes a male figure, Bwoom, who has an enlarged forehead and is sometimes identified as a member of a neighboring group.
The elaborate beading on the mask, with imported cowries and glass beads, signifies wealth and prestige befitting a royal personage.
The intricate and extensive patterning seen in the beaded portions are considered to be a sign of civilized individuals.
The coral and blue beaded knot pattern on the back of the head is used frequently to mark royal status, and is also rendered in textiles and architecture.

 

 Kuba Belt, Democratic Republic of Congo

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 Royal and prestige belt of Kuba people. 
Elaborately beaded belts are graded according to length and the number of intricate beaded panels.
This one with three panels is considered modest compared to those with five.
The interlace design on the red, blue and white glass beaded panel is called imbol, and it is the most prominent of all Kuba designs.
Variations of imbol are found on textiles, architecture and sculptures for nobles and royals. Tukula, or tool, is a precious red pigment rubbed into the cowries.
The belt is worn loosely knotted in the front, accentuating the interplay of the beadwork patterns with those on the voluminous raffia skirts.

 

 Sash with Triangular Pendant (nkody mupaap), Democratic Republic of Congo

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 Kuba belts with heavily beaded triangular pendants are worn only by noble men, but may be worn by all members of the royal family. The pendant is worn on the left hip.
Each pendant may bear a different design, but typically it has a large cowrie surrounded by glass beadwork patterns.
The interlace motif on the bottom is called mameny or “stones” and is similar to another pattern that appears frequently on mats, textiles and sculptures.

 

 Hat (mpaan), Democratic Republic of Congo

 mpaan
 Flat topped hats, mpaan, are worn for ceremonies that display family wealth and unity, as well as funerals for high-ranking individuals and other important community events.
Only women in the king’s entourage may be authorized to wear the mpaan.
The mpaan serves as a base for the more elaborately beaded conical hat, the kupash.
The black and white triangular beaded pattern on the sides is called lakwoon, meaning “crochet.” The cowry shell accentuated by rings of glass beads in the center of the cap echoes the large white conus shell adornment on royal headdresses.

 

 Belt (mukody mu-ikup lakiing), Democratic Republic of Congo

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 Narrow belts with beaded knots are usually worn by women.
The laborious process of making the bead-covered knot is a challenge to the beadworker’s skill.
It is adorned with rows of cowries, which formerly served as currency, as a sign of both wealth and beauty.
The glass beads, imported from Europe, were also favorite embellishments that call attention to the wearer’s wealth and prestige.

 

 Man’s Prestige Hat (ashetu), Cameroon

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Finely knitted hats are the prerogative of titled individuals of the Grassland Kingdoms of southwestern Cameroon.
This elaborate example has woven burls on either side that mimic a hairstyle once popular throughout the region.
The cowrie shells, coins, and blue beads on the cap – all imported and used as currency – point to the prosperity of the wearer and his advantageous position within a system of social and political advancement through acquisition of wealth.
The tubular blue beads, a product of Venice, are considered one of the most prestigious types of beads, and are applied extensively to royal regalia and display objects.

 

 Beaded Coronet (orikogbofo), Nigeria

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 Headpieces of this type, termed orikogbofo, are worn by ranking individuals among the Yoruba or by sacred chiefs.
While the floral motifs are derived from European influences, the overall resemblance to a Fez and the interlocking motifs can be attributed to early Muslim presence in Yoruba lands.
On the rising peak of the hat, inverted heart shapes may represent leaves used for medicinal purposes.
The chief would have worn this type of hat during meetings with Muslim groups.

 

 Beaded Coronet (orikogbofo), Nigeria

 beadedCoronet2
 Use of beads for royal regalia in Nigeria dates to around 1000 CE, at the beginning of the Yoruba kingdom.
By the late 19th century, with the importation of glass seed beads from Europe, Yoruba artists began experimenting with new forms and motifs, blending European and local styles to produce an array of crowns, coronets and other beaded garments.
A Christian bishop’s miter may have inspired this coronet that would have been worn in the presence of a Christian group.
Its shape and floral motifs are similar to those produced for the king Oba Alake Ademola II (reigned 1920-1962).

 

 Beaded Coronet (orikogbofo), Nigeria

 beadedCoronet3
 Crowns and coronets are not mere decoration but empower the king or chief as they are packed with spiritual medicines.
Motifs and colors offer symbolic protection and identify the attributes of the ruler.
This coronet, with predominantly yellow beads, associates the power of the king with that of the deities who have the attributes of calm and rationality, Oduduwa the creator, and Orunmila, who controls fate.
The faces are those of the rulers’ divine ancestors.

 

 Beaded Crown (adenla), Nigeria

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The crown (ade) of the Yoruba king (oba) symbolizes both his divine authority and his life force (ase).
The adenla, or great crown with beaded veil (iboju) protects his spiritual power, and also protects his subjects from the force of his gaze.
The egret on the very top of the crown, okin, symbolizes the king’s role as peacemaker and protects the medicines stored in the crown, whereas those below it are symbolic of women’s powers.
The overall blue and white color scheme evokes the Yoruba concept of coolness associated with deities whose attributes are rationality and calm.
The strong zigzag pattern suggests the intensity of the king’s ase, or alternatively, the lightning bolts of the fiery god, Shango.

 

 Royal Slippers (bata ileke), Nigeria

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Beaded slippers were part of the regalia worn by the Yoruba king (oba) when he appeared in public ceremonies.
Beaded shoes became popular in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries when European fashion became the model for prestige wear and Yoruba leaders began to move freely outside of the palace.
Rulers created laws prohibiting commoners from wearing shoes and other items associated with royalty.
When the king is greeted in Yoruba society, people say, “May the crown rest long on your head, may shoes remain long on your feet.”

 

 Elephant Mask and Tunic, Cameroon

 elephantMask
The Bamileke elephant mask and costume wrapper belong to the kuosi society, once a warrior association, now an organization comprising of wealthy and accomplished men.
Today, elephant masks are performed at state ceremonies and funerary festivals of kuosi members, title-holders, and the king.
The elaborate beaded embroidery repeats the isosceles triangle, symbolizing the leopard.
Together, the elephant and leopard imagery link this mask to the powers and abilities of the king.
The masks are complemented by elaborate headdresses surmounted by beaded sculptures of elephants or leopards, or flared bunches of bright red parrot feathers.

#4. Beads for Growing Up Symbols

 

 Married Woman’s Apron, Isephepehtu, South Africa

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 Symbol of wealth, prosperity, household happiness

 

 Beaded Apron, Cameroon

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By the early 20th century, unmarried Mundang women wore apron-like imported glass beaded panels during dances.
Beaded designs include an endless variety of geometric shapes, most often rows of lozenges or zigzags, although abstractions of animals are also featured.
It has been suggested that the patterns were appropriate to the age group and social status of the woman.

 

 Child’s Apron, Namibia

 childsApron
The hunter-gatherers, known generically as San peoples have endured for millennia in South Africa and Namibia, although their existence is now threatened.
They continue to produce ostrich egg-shell beads that resemble the oldest known beads on the continent, but in the last century have also used imported glass beads.
Early San beadwork had minimal patterning, but more recent beadwork has become increasingly complex, utilizing a number of geometric motifs.
Some suggested interpretations of motifs are that they are abstractions or mappings of the environment, such as animal tracks or human dwellings, to shamanistic visions.
The spiral motif on this bag is called “owl.”

 

 Face Mask (deangle), Liberia

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Deangle, a masquerade performed by Dan and Mano men, appears in ceremonies for male initiation societies in which it plays the role of a nurturing and joyful maternal figure.
With its slanted eyes covered by a white band of pigment, softly modeled features, tattooed forehead, and chiseled teeth, it incorporates the characteristics of ideal feminine beauty.
The crown, adorned with cowries and plastic beads, recalls the beading that enhances the coiffures and bodies of women.
The colors red and white relate to the powers of the spirit, or gle, embodied by the mask.

 

 Bride’s Apron (pepetu), South Africa

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Promise of a happy family and household for a bride

 

 Girl’s Initiation Apron (cache sexe), Botswana, Letsotho and South Africa

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Baroka mothers make beaded aprons (thito) for their eldest daughter’s initiation.
Since the early 20th century, the aprons have been made of colored cloth imported from India and England which is embroidered with hundreds of beads.
Designs on the aprons are usually composed of triangles and straight lines rendered in a variety of colors.
The cloth in this example was originally red cloth from India called salempore.
After the eldest daughter’s initiation, the cloth is washed and then given to the next eldest daughter for her initiation.
In a family with many girls, the cloth is washed as many times and becomes faded to pink.

 #5. Beads for Dialogue with the Spirit World

 

Small Bag, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana

 smallBag

 The hunter-gatherers, known generically as San peoples have endured for millennia in South Africa and Namibia, although their existence is now threatened.
They continue to produce ostrich egg-shell beads that resemble the oldest known beads on the continent, but in the last century have also used imported glass beads.
Early San beadwork had minimal patterning, but more recent beadwork has become increasingly complex, utilizing a number of geometric motifs.
Some suggested interpretations of motifs are that they are abstractions or mappings of the environment, such as animal tracks or human dwellings, to shamanistic visions.
The spiral motif on this bag is called “owl.”

 

 Female Twin Figure (ere ibeji), Nigeria

 femaleTwin

 Images of twins, ere ibeji, represent deceased twins.
The figure is lovingly cared for as if it were a living infant, to placate the deceased twin, and to keep it from luring its living twin into the spirit world.
The figures are fed, clothed, washed, and rubbed with cosmetics. Some are adorned with beaded necklaces, anklets and waist beads.
The black beads on this figure recall a woman’s waist beads which emphasize her sensuality, but they are also protection against the power of its twin in the spirit world.

 

 Divination Tapper (iroke if a), Nigeria

 divinationTapper

 Divination tappers, or iroke ifa, are used by Ifa priests during divination.
The pointed end is tapped against the divination tray to greet Orunmila, the god of fate, also known as Ifa.
Generally, iroke ifa are made of wood, but this exceptionally opulent example has been carved of ivory and adorned with elaborate beadwork on the handle and the sheath.
Beadwork is the prerogative of royalty but is also extended to priests and diviners.
The sheath bears images of a chameleon – a primordial creature known for its wise, cautious behavior – and the face is that of a deity who guides the divination process.

 

 Lid for Beer Pot, South Africa

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 In Zulu society beer made from sorghum is an important ritual offering for the ancestors and it is also a refreshing, nutritious beverage.
Women and men create coil-woven pot lids, imbenge, that serve either as a stand for a ceramic vessel, ukhamba, or a gourd drinking bowl.
The act of offering beer, and serving beer to family and honored guests afterward, is a means of acknowledging the presence of the ancestral spirits and the importance of their wisdom in guiding the lives of their descendants.
Bead colors and patterns are specific to various Zulu groups.
The blue, pink and green beaded imbenge, for example, is a color combination identified with the Zulu of Msinga, called isishunka.

 

 Diviner’s Bag (apo Ifa), Nigeria

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 Bags such as this would be used to carry a diviner’s paraphernalia, such as palm nuts, diving chain and tapper.
Beaded objects are generally the prerogative of royalty, and the importance of diviners as negotiators between the world of the living and the realm of the supernatural is underscored by their possession of beaded accoutrements.
Certain colors and designs on beaded items reference Yoruba cosmology. The face is a symbol of the ancestors and recalls their sacred authority.
The interlace pattern is a royal symbol that alludes to the role of Ifa.
Triangles or zigzags reference the thunderbolts of the god Shango in red, and his wife Oya, in yellow.
Blue and white are related to Orunmila, the god of wisdom, who is associated with divination.

 

 Diviner’s Headdress, South Africa

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 Both male and female Zulu diviners, inzangoma, are identifiable by their elaborate headdresses of beaded hair extensions or wigs.
A diviner’s coiffure may be further enhanced with a cluster of dried inflated bladders from goats sacrificed to the ancestors to show her linkage to their supernatural powers.
This beaded wig has twisted threads in the place of natural hair which are attached to a knitted wool cap.
Most diviners’ headdresses are adorned with white beads, although recent versions include both glass and plastic colored beads as well as other materials.

 

Koranic Amulet, Somalia

 koranicAmulet

 Married Somali women collected lavish jewelry to demonstrate personal wealth and economic independence.
In addition to its opulence, this elaborate necklace provides the wearer with protection from disease and the evil eye, both from the amber beads and the koranic script inserted into the tubular pendant (porte Koran), known as a xirsi, or “protection.” Amber has an ancient reputation as a medicinal and spiritually protective substance, perhaps because rubbing amber produces an electrical charge.
Amber, copal and other yellow or red stones, such as red agate and carnelian, are seen as having similar prophylactic and healing properties.

 

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About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of SiliconAfrica.com, Founder of Goodbuzz.net, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at mk@linkcrafter.com.

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