In this blog we are going to focus on beads and their role in Africa over the ages.

Beads have played a prominent role for jewelry, socially, and religiously over the continent of Africa. From the North, in Sudan, down to Southern and South Africa beads are used in a variant of way according to the local culture and throughout the ages. 

They have been found beside cave paintings in Africa from the earliest known times. In 2004 beads made from drilled ostrich shells were found that date back at least 45,000 years. No one knows where the culture of beads arrived from, there is no physical evidence, but for thousands of years beads have been used as currency, in ceremonies and for jewelry as we do today.  In the past, beads were made from fish bones, ivory, ceramic, and wood.  Glass started arriving from Italy as far back as the 17th century! Wealth was symbolized by large and colorful beads and showed social status in many African communities. African kings wore special beads to show their royalty.

Maybe the most recognized beaders in Africa are the Maasai women. The beads and their color represent their culture, including their love of cattle. For example on the wedding collar, that a woman receives from her mother, there are little beads hanging on it denoting the amount of cattle received in the dowry.   Colors are also meaningful; red signifies bravery and green benefits the health of their cattle (just a couple of examples).  Among Pacific Bead guests, color relates more to their personalities, but also is an important part of choosing to express who you are.

An ancient Egyptian cat beautified with beads and jewelry

In Egypt long ago, nobles adorned their pets with beads. Today, many people adorn their dogs with jewelry and pet clothing. We still have that age old basic human emotion that loves to adorn with jewelry, whether on ourselves or on those we love.

A Zulu woman wearing beads that only she and her husband would understand the meaning.

The Zulus in South Africa weave intricate beads as “Love letters” the darker the color the deeper the love.

Certain beads indicate profession, for example a traditional healer. Amulets are worn for physical and spiritual protection. If the amulet includes a stone, it has a stronger healing power.  Traditional healers also use beads to throw down on a mat together with bones, stones, and pieces of wood to determine one’s fortune!

Young women wear strings of beads around their waist for a sexy appearance and to entice a suitor. They also believe that certain beads worn around the body help fertility. In many African cultures the beads around a young woman’s waist is a sign of purity and can only be removed by her husband.

In Pacific Beads you can try out our seed beads with your very own design. Thread love and color into your designs for a spectacular result.

Beads and Cowry shell beads were used as currency for thousands of years on the continent of Africa. This currency was used as our dollars today to buy their cattle, pay for dowries, and remunerate debts.

Pacific Beads has a varied and wide selection of beads. Select beads that speak to your culture or personality. Select beads just for the love of Beads.

An African bride wearing waist beads


A traditional healer in Africa wearing beads that indicate his profession