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 Welcome to the world of Beads!

They may be one of your passions as they are mine, they may be in the jewellery that you wear, in special items you possess or used in decorating something. You join many others who enjoy beads. Beads are some of the most stunningly attractive and varied items of  jewellery and thus have been the most popular components of personal adornment.

They have been used throughout the world in countless ways: as talismans in prehistoric and contemporary societies; as status symbols in the ancient world and in present day Africa; as religious artifacts in the Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic faiths; and as a standard medium of barter throughout the world. Each bead is therefore a capsule of cultural information, containing a fascinating tale of the origins of its materials, its manufacture, its multifold uses, perhaps its travels, and certainly its potent symbolism.1.

Most of the beads that I use in producing the unique and fascinating jewellery that we sell at AbeadC Designs are from Ghana and are commonly referred to in the literature, on the Web and by craftspeople as Powder-glass Beads. The name reflects the method used in producing them (See The Bead Making Process). I thought some of you may be interested in a very brief and by no means complete history of the beads from Ghana.

An enormous range of beads and raw materials for beads have been available to Africans for centuries and therefore have an ancient history in Africa. They have been used as modes of artistic expression, as status symbols, and for religious purposes. The date for the advent of  Powder-glass bead making techniques in Africa is not certain, although it is thought that they began appearing in the sixteenth century. Since then, glass bead making in sub-Saharan Africa has been concentrated in todays Niger, Nigeria and Ghana. This tradition remains intact, and today the Bida of Nigeria and the Krobo of Ghana are two of the most important African glass manufacturers.(The pictures of the bead-making process are taken in one of the villages in the Krobo region. See The Bead Making Process.) Beads from imported glass scrap continue to be made using two basic techniques: traditional winding and drawing, and using ground powder glass. Powder-glass bead making is almost unique to Africa, where it has become a sophisticated art form.

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Some of the Ghanaian beads came from elsewhere originally and became incorporated with the Powder-glass beads that the Africans made. Those beads have been referred to as African Trading Beads because they were originally brought over by Europeans and others, to various parts of Africa, including Ghana, and used in trading for goods or services. Peoples on the West African coast began to trade with Europe in the late fifteenth century. The Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, Belgians and Germans brought millions of Venetian, Dutch and Bohemian glass beads to Africa.

I also include Ghanaian beads made from various metals. Metal beads have also been made for centuries. The ones I use are newer but still made today in the same way. The history of  the older and original metal beads in Africa is more obscure.  It is known that most African societies have tended to make the beads using indigenous materials, including locally available metals. Africans have used iron for tools and weapons since at least 300 B.C., but for adornment much later. This process uses a lost-wax casting method and has been  known in West Africa since the ninth century. It is thought to have been introduced from the north via trans-Saharan traders.

As my  friend, Diana who is from Ghana, pointed out : Bead making has been a flourishing industry in West Africa since the sixteenth century and beads are made today in much the same way as they were then by artisans in small villages who learnt the technique from their ancestors. Whole villages are involved in the production of the beads: fashioning the forms and furnaces used for making the beads out of mud, sticks and stones; grinding the glass (recycled from bottles, jars and broken beads) to a fine powder; washing and stringing the finished beads onto raffia strips for the journey to the market.2.

As a result, no two beads are exactly the same and when strung together have a strong aesthetic presence. I hope you enjoy wearing these beads as much as I do!

Wanda

References:

1. Dubin, Lois Sherr. 1987. The history of beads, from 30,000B.C. to the present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

2. Knol, Diana. Toronto, Canada

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Wanda
ABeadC Designs
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(416) 256-7527

Wanda@ABeadC.com

www.ABeadC.com