Tomato beads are a type of seed bead that was commonly used during the African slave trade in past centuries. Originating from Venice where they were manufactured, tomato beads are large and slightly translucent. They have an irregular rounded shape and may appear in brilliant shades of red and yellow. Largely traded in Ethiopia, tomato beads get their name from their tomato-like shape and served as one of the earliest forms of trade currency in this region. A high intrinsic value was placed on tomato beads as the people of this region, just as everywhere else in Africa, truly valued decorative items such as beads.
Some wearers of lapis lazuli beads wear them in the belief that the beads will protect them from evil, keep the father in the household safe, as well as attract good fortune. These beads are also believed to bring inner piece, tranquility and happiness, while heightening clarity, concentration and instincts of the wearer. Even if you are not a believer yourself, you may nevertheless enjoy the beauty of lapis lazuli beads which make great looking jewelry items. The beads are available in various attractive sizes and shapes including the top drilled skinny beads, round beads, small chip beads and tear drops which are great for making earrings.
Aja beads were historically made in Venice in the early 20th century, from drawn glass tubes which were cooled and cut into small slices. Once cut, the slices of drawn cane were thereafter exposed to heat until the glass softened or slumped. This caused the beads to flatten and their hard cut edges to soften and become rounded. Experts speculate that the process of slumping was in actual fact carried out in Africa as there is no evidence of the slumped slices ever being sold in Venice. Aja beads range in size, color and canes with the most spectacular being crafted from Rosetta or chevron cane. These beautiful and somewhat unusual beads are today used to craft exquisite jewelry pieces such as those featuring 4-layer “yellow jacket” slices.
Tuareg beads originate from the nomadic Tuareg people of North Africa. Tuareg beads are created by skilled Tuareg bead makers who pass the knowledge on to future generations, just as their forefathers have been doing for over a thousand years. These beads are unique and high quality and used to create exquisite jewelry items. Some common items crafted include crosses made using the ancient lost wax technique of bead making. Here, softened wax is shaped and applied in a clay mold which is then fired using a goat skin bellows. The basic Tuareg bead cross can then be shaped, engraved and thereafter polished to create an awe-inspiring jewelry item.
Snake beads were popularly worn by members of traditional African society as a form of protection from evil charms and ill fate. The modern woman, although not in the least bit superstitious, may also adorn herself in attractive snake beads by simply slipping a strand over her head. Alternatively, one may get a little creative and use a strand to accent a unique piece to wear or to give away as a gift. An exquisite modern design of African snake beads features long 22 – 28 inch strands of handmade glass beads which are interlocked in a design resembling snake vertebra and strung on raffia.
Heishi beads have a fascinating origin which is linked to the ancient history of the Santo Domingo and San Felipe Pueblo Indians who were most proficient in the crafting of these beads. Experts regard Heishi beads as the oldest form of jewelry in New Mexico and North America, as they pre-date to the period before the introduction of metals. The “heishi” in heishi beads literally means “shell”, with particular reference to the pieces of shell which are drilled and ground into the beads and then strung into necklaces. Today, however, heishi has come to refer to tiny beads made by hand out of any naturally occurring material.
Bembe Cote beads are a type of African trade beads popular amongst the Bembe people of Congo. These decorative glass beads were popularly used for trading purposes in Africa during the pre-20th century period, mainly as currency for the exchange of goods, services and slaves. The success of Bembe Cote beads as a form of currency is largely attributed to the high intrinsic value that the people of Africa placed on decorative items. Bembe Cote beads are today available in attractive colors such as deep maroon with each individual bead measuring approximately ½ inches in diameter.
Watermelon beads are a type of glass beads that was commonly used for trading purposes in West Africa, especially during the centuries preceding the ban on slavery. These beautiful African trade beads were a form of currency and were molded in layers ranging from 2 to 6. Watermelon beads were thin and handmade, thus giving each bead a unique characteristic. The top layer of the beads was green and shaped like a watermelon, thus denoting the watermelon in their name. However, watermelon beads are today also available in striped colors. These beads were of great value in African traditional culture as they were an indicator of rank, age, wealth and social status and today, they are becoming increasingly valuable as well.
Prayer beads are commonly used by members of major world religions such as Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, in order to count the repetitions of prayers, devotions and chants. These may similarly be used for relaxation, during meditation, as well as when seeking protection from negative energy. For each religion, the number of beads tends to vary, as well as the number of prayer counts. Prayer beads are said to have certain psychological, physical and metaphysical effects on those who use them, aside from enabling them to effortlessly keep count of the number of said prayers. When able to keep track of prayers using prayer beads, devotees are likewise better able to focus more attention on the actual prayer itself.
The rich history of Ghanaian beads dates back to ancient times when they were first used as the King’s currency for the exchange of slaves, textiles and alcohol. Later on, they became popular in the ancient coming of age rituals for girls. Today, they are valuable as foreign exchange earners, as well as tourist attractions. The modern day woman – both African and non-African, is rediscovering the beauty of these Ghana beads which are today growing in popularity.
The colors of Ghana beads have meaning. For instance, in certain parts of Ghana, white colored beads evoke fertility; blue colored ones are associated with purity; while golden ones are a symbol of wealth. Bodom beads are yellow with a diamond shape design of a darker color such as blue and were traditionally produced to be worn exclusively by African chiefs. Once you know what the colors of your beads symbolize, wearing them becomes a much more personal experience.