Category Archives: Clay Beads

About African Clay Beads

Clay beads date as far back as 1000 BC in various regions across the world. In Africa, clay beads were used as trade beads in countries such as Ghana and Mali. Clay beads were mainly adorned by the poor due to their affordability. In contrast to the rare precious stones and metals that the rich could wear, clay was available in abundance. Clay beads were traditionally used in prayer strands as well as in amulets as jewelry. The beads were typically designed with large holes that could accommodate leather thongs as strands. Today, some nations prize their clay bead heritage so much that they prohibit their export.

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About Bauxite Clay Beads

Bauxite clay beads were originally made in West Africa in countries such as Ghana. These beads played a role in traditional rites and ceremonies such as circumcision, coming of age, marriage, burial, as well as other traditional festivals. These beads were mainly worn as pendants and bracelets, and formed a visual language that spoke of the beliefs, status, family, life experiences and accomplishments of the bead wearer. Bauxite clay beads were formed with care to produce a final ornament that would tell the story of the wearer. As such, these beads served as a biography of the community, village and the individuals that adorned themselves with the bauxite clay beads.

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Origin of African Trade Beads

African trade beads came about as a result of the need for traders along the route between Europe and Africa for a currency to trade with the Africans. Beads fitted here as the most appropriate medium of exchange due to the affinity that African people had for various types of beads. The trade beads were therefore used for purposes of battering goods of value from the peoples of Africa such as ivory, gold, and palm oil.

The history of African trade beads dates as far back as the fifteenth century with the coming of the Portuguese. Upon arrival in West Africa, the Portuguese discovered just how important beads were to the African people. The beads they found were crafted out of various objects and materials including gold, iron, ivory, organic objects and bone. At the same time, the Portuguese discovered that the resources that the European market was desperate for were in abundance in Africa. The traders therefore decided to use glass beads as a medium in bartering for goods and raw materials with the Africans.

Glass beads were particularly singled out because glass working technology had not yet been discovered in Africa. Therefore, the African people were in awe of the exquisite beads of glass that the European traders had to offer. Because these beads were also used in bartering slaves, they were to later earn the name “slave beads” or aggry beads. Europe responded to the popularity and increased demand for African trade beads by increasing production in cities such as Venice which is today still famous for its unique and rare glass beads.

Caring for your African Beads

To clean most African beads use a small amount of Mineral Oil (found at your local grocers) on a clean cloth and rub. Not recommended for old or Antique beads as their dirt is well earned and adds to their history.

Cleaning agents such as soap are not advised.