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.
Sand cast beads are also referred to as powdered glass beads and feature glass beads crafted by hand. These beads were popularly used as currency during trade in West African countries such as Ghana. Sand cast beads are made in a process which has bead makers grinding up bottles or other scrap glass to produce recycled beads. These are then fired in clay molds at a relatively low temperature in order to give the beads texture. Sand cast beads are available in beautiful colors such as blue and may be strung bead to bead to produce beautiful strands on raffia.
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.