BEADS = Precious Ornaments…

     “It is the beads that makes the buttocks to shake”

== Physical: The beads the waistband is made up of is rubbed with some local herb or made up of some healing stone that is believed to stop menstrual pains or cramps, lower abdominal problems, or womb malfunction. The usage of beads especially waist bead in W/Africa is widespread across the various nationalities that make up the nation. There are similarities and peculiarities in their usage.

However, the Yoruba  developed the most varying and peculiar uses for the waist beads, that cuts across both material and spiritual aspects of the life of the people. In addition, they have also the capacity to produce the beads for varying purposes ranging from royalty, body adornment, deification and decoration. Beads are usually small round piece of glass, wood, metal or nut, pierced for stringing. They are either used for adornment such as the waist, neck or ankle beads or as decorative ornament in art works or even for royalty purposes. The art of beading is serial in process and serrated in composition. It has a step by step or one by one approach in stringing when traded together, beads stands for unity, togetherness and solidarity. Beads of the waist is said to posses the power to attract and evoke deep emotional responses, they are a sign of success and affluence as well as spiritual well being. 

Beads have been traded and used since time immemorial. However, the earliest known African beads is traced to Libya and Sudan. A common usage of the item is for adornment especially on the waist. There is however varying purpose for which people adorn the waist beads. The common users of the waist beads are mostly the Women folk, only in exceptional theatrical perform as will a man adorn a waist bead to symbolize feminism. The waist bead is synonymous with feminism. The Africans have a belief that the waist beads possess some erotic appeal, they have the power to provoke desire or deep emotional response on the opposite sex.

Beads are a precious ornaments to the Africans, hence when adorned by a Women, accentuates her feminism or beauty. Beads also helps to portray the chastity of a maiden or Women sensuality. Parent show their love for their girl child through gifts of waist beads that are colorful and expensive. The Lagidigba or palm nut shell beads is used for fecundity purposes. The nuts signify multiple births as they are in clusters, thus one can infer the high incidence of multiple births in Yoruba land to the usage of the Lagidigba bead. Brides seduce their spouses with the beads they adorn, some Women are said to lace their beads with charm to make them irresistible to the male folks. The Yoruba’s can easily comment on a Woman moral standing in those days by interpretation of the movement of the waist bead adorned by a Women. The way she moves her buttocks can depict her morals either seductive or reserve.

** Other users of the waist beads in Yoruba land are the Orisas or devotes of water deities and other priestesses, they adorn the waist beads for protection against spiritual attacks as well as part of their dress regalia. The waist bead is also used to adorn the Ere-Ibeji figurine on the death of a twin, there is the belief that when treated well the spirit of the spirit of the dead twin will not harm the living twin and will return to the family to stay. Waist beads are also adorned and laced with charms to ward away the Abiku spirit (mermaid Spirit) from a Woman.

Apart from the Yorubas, other groups in Nigeria also have similar usages of the waist beads in their culture the Ogonis in Rivers State refer to beads as Loo, its uses range from covering the private parts of a Women to adornment as a sign of affluence. The beads is a measure of value to the Ogonis and are also worn by bride as part of her bridal rites. The Igbos called it Mgbaji, also for adornment and a sign of social status .The Hausas refer to it as Jigida. To the Kalabaris, the waist bead has the potency of transforming an ugly Woman into a beautiful maiden once it is worn. The Ibibios see it as Nkwa-Isin, they adorn it on a female baby to help give her a good waist line, as she grows, beads of her size are adorned on her.**

*** Priestesses of deities also wear the beads that are always colorful as part of their regalia. They also use the waist beads laced with charms for birth control. The maiden dances  also wear the beads doing dance to give a graceful hip movement when they dance.

Waist bead in today’s fashion is relegated, ladies have a preference for western costumes such as belts, chains, G-strings to the waist beads. The culture of waist bead is going down rapidly to extinction. Religion and other spiritual reasons have been adduced for the neglect, however it must be pointed out that waist bead usage as practiced in the past is an essential element of African body adornment that is harmless and meaningful a pride and precious item which should be encouraged today.

She is a pretty young girl with a slim graceful figure. Her elegant movement attracted the attention of passersby as she jiggled across to the other side of the road. Her waist beads were well revealed between her skimpy top and skirt. The above drama and similar ones are common scenes today in Nigerian cities as well as towns particularly where higher institutions are located, particularly in southern parts of the country. This re-emergence of beads has added a new dimension into the craze for Western oriented fashion among our ladies particularly young ones. This trend is more pronounced among female students, particularly those in higher institutions. In addition to waist adornment, ladies also use beads as necklace, for hair tie, and handbag decoration. Some also wear beads on their wrists as hand bangles, as well as using them as earrings. The popularity of beads today is enhanced by the cost of acquiring them.

“Fine, as you can see beads are in vogue now, so we are selling well . Beads make ladies look fine, beads bring out the natural beauty in Women. It is good, not just because of beauty, but a way of introducing our culture into the modern fashion.” On the moral implications of the manner in which some ladies expose the sensitive parts of their bodies to show-off beads. Unfortunate, This shows the level of moral decadence in our society.  It is a curse for anyone to link our culture to this madness. Various cultures in Nigeria used beads to dignify womanhood. No time did our culture led Women naked in the name of displaying beads. They are worn for many reasons. They are used to ward off evil spirits when used with the colors of their deity, birth control , and medicinal purposes like fighting menstrual cramps. A popular reason is to “keep” their husband, or entice the one they desire. It also depends on the wearers purpose. Hidden under clothing, own personal secret and reminder of One’s femininity.

Black-Also a very powerful color that also portrays one of class elegance and wealth ; combined with other colors can have a very strong statement.

White-  Often associated with being pure, clean, fresh and good; usually associated with being heavenly.

Orange- A bright and warm color representing fire, the sun, fun, warmth. Considered a fun light color, which also increases oxygen supply to the brain and stimulates mental activity.

Green-  The color of nature and health. It represents growth, nature, money, fertility and safety. Darker shades represent military, finance, and banking . However it can also be associated with being new or inexperienced as being green or a “green horn”

Blue- a cool calming color that shows creativity and intelligence.  It is a color of loyalty, strength, wisdom and trust. Also known for having a calming effect on the psyche.

ILEKE IDI = Waist Beads… is an ornament that comprises some small round sometimes spherical or flat shaped piece of glass, rubber, metal, nut or wood, pierced in the middle for stringing and aligned on a thin rope or thread to make a beautiful long piece of ornament which can be connected at both ends to form a circular Ileke hanging around the waist and hips. It comes in varying designs and radiant colors. It is normally worn around the waist beneath clothes mostly by Yoruba Women. It is worn across West African countries too.

Ileke-Idi is the Yoruba word for glass beads worn around the waist. According to Yoruba folklore, these beads have the power to lure and entice the opposite sex. They are traditionally worn under clothes and are not for show. It is also believed that the beads protect the wearer from evil spirits. It is worn often for adornment but there are however other reasons Yoruba Women wear it, sometimes for religious rites, to increase dancing prowess, spiritual healing, status or more commonly, for erotic appeal to their husbands or to attract new suitors and in this case, the Ileke Idi would be made visible to the targeted persons. During the past generations, Ileke Idi was the vogue and one of the most cherished gifts a woman could receive, parents were known to adorn their daughters with colorful and expensive ones.

Ileke Idi now slowly becoming obsolete as contemporary Yoruba Women, supposedly the educated ones consider it as uncivilized, uneducated and uncouth. Some Yoruba men have insisted they cannot be with a woman that wears Ileke Idi as they purport it reveals spirituality that does not tally with theirs. They are worn in ancient times as a source of local healing method which could be spiritual or physical.

Spiritual: Some believe it protects them from obsessive spirits or some phantom spirit husbands, and around the necks on boys against spirit wives, or other evil spirits.

Physical: The beads the waist band is made up of is rubbed with some local herb or made up of some healing stone that is believed to stop menstrual pains or cramps, lower abdominal problems, or womb malfunction. Diabolically, some wear it to “keep” their mate or to attract the mate of their choice. For married women, it is used to signify to the husband that they are “ready” as in the end of their “period”. For some it’s an ancient way to maintain a beautiful shape and waist. For the modern girls it’s just an extra way to beautify their bodies, as in wearing necklaces, earrings, bangles etc…

The tradition has then expanded to the western Africa. According to some researchers, waist beads dated back to the Ancient Egypt as dancers wearing the beads were depicted on tomb walls. Since then, they’ve spread around the African continent. Waist beads range from being very simple to very elaborate. According to different tribes, they come in different sizes and materials. These materials can be glass, clay, pearls, sandalwood, and amber. For smoother-textured beads, ceramic and bamboo materials are used. Sometimes sweet smelling fragrances are rubbed on them for an aromatic touch, natural oils can also be rubbed on them so it can sink into the skin.

Generally in Africa, waist beads are said to be worn by wives to entice their husbands. They symbolize love and passion. However, waist beads are also given to girls who have experienced their first menstrual period symbolizing a welcome to womanhood and sometimes given to babies as a gift when they are born. Each tribe, each African country posses their own symbol of waist beads.

Fascinated by the tradition of African beads and their purpose. The western world have since adopted them fashionably, hence its worldwide popularity. They come in different shapes and sizes. However, they are not necessarily made of beads, they can come in elaborate chains or trinkets.

Reference Sources: Google Search/Photo = Wikipedia =

5 thoughts on “BEADS = Precious Ornaments…”

  1. Thank you Baba Awo!!! Your presentations are always culturally engaging N scholarly well tuned. I continue to pass them on to the children who need to know n those who care. Adupue Ashe Oluwa Ayibobo.

  2. I am grateful to find this article about the beads that have always attracted my attention and love since an early age when my brother brought me some from Morocco. About twenty-five years ago I was taking hand drumming class from a man from Ghana here in Oregon, USA. He told me that his family dug the type of beads I was wearing from the ground, that God made them. I told them that they were millefiori made by men but he didn’t believe me. I was fascinated by the strength of his belief. This piece of writing gave me insight to the importance of beads beyond how nice they look around my neck. Thank you for sharing your truth.

  3. Wow, I really love this article. Now ii know more than enough about ‘our BEADS’. Thank you very much sir.

  4. Wow,i really love this article.It is so educative and inspiring.I am a lover of beads but never knew the indepth of it’s uses and benefits interwoven with culture in different part of the world.Great one

  5. Thank Baba Yao, This was very informative some of the photos were interesting and had me wondering if they were from other places, like Kenya! I am so thankful for this inspiration and will share with my community! Asante Sana

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