When I think of beads I think of Africa – Nigerian to be exact. There is nothing the Nigerians can’t make with beads. They sit in Lagos, Ibadan,Enugu, Kano and other cities, next to the street’s sidewalk, and the work their miracles with beads: Long beads, thin beads, round beads, small beads, and large beads – Beads of every shape or size. Some beads go into the making of placemats, table mats, doormats or pot covers. Most beads, though, go into the making of Jewelry, and most go into the making of bead earrings.
The Western world also has a history with beads. Neanderthal man is the earliest we find in bead history. These were discovered in France and dated back as far as 38 000 BCE. They were pendants and earrings made from grooved teeth and bones. Other findings include prayer beads dated back to the Middle Ages which are still in use in the Roman Catholic Church today. Also, the “eye bead” was used to meet the age-old need for “protection against evil” – Which is where the saying “evil eye” comes from. The “eye beads” served as protective amulets as it looks like there are eyes on the beads that can see in every direction. They encourage those who look at them to look away from the person who is wearing it and keep him/her safe. In archaeological findings, beads are one of the most common items found in ancient graves, showing that beads have always been popular.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Venetian and Bohemian factories traded glass in Africa through middle men. Here they were worked by Africans into jewelry and sold again, being exported back to the Western World. Europeans exchanged glass beads for almost anything, from beaver pelts in North America, to spices in Indonesia, and then for gold, ivory and slaves in Africa. In Africa, beads are an important part of a communication. In all African societies, adornment, mostly with beads, communicate cultural values. These values are portrayed as a type of symbolic language that shows rank, religion, politics and artistic outlook on life.
In India, the history of jewelry goes back over 5000 years to the prehistoric past. In different regions of India there are styles that are unique to each region. Some work mainly in silver, some use the delicate art of enameling, the temple jewelry concentrate on the setting of semi-precious or precious stones in gold and they are now world famous. The wide variety of silver beads found all over India are also well known.
In India jewelry is made for practically every part of the body in a great variety of ornaments. This ensured that the jewelers and craftspeople of India became very skillful in designing and making Jewelry. Indian jewelry consist of nose rings, earrings, bracelets, tiaras, rings, anklets, amulets and necklaces, in any metal and styles. In some regions designs are inspired by nature. In other regions, gold is used to craft long funnel shaped beads which are used with shells, animal claws and teeth and precious and semi-precious stones. Jewelry is crafted not only for humans but also for the Gods, which is why Indian jewelry is so excellent. In the Western world we take the Bead for granted, but when we truly think of their use they become part of a story in our history that reflects the past and present, and also our future.
Today you find beads wherever you go. In Africa, you find them in every marketplace. In New Zealand, there is an online wholesale bead shop called “Bead Gallery.” You only need to do an online search to find beads in your area.
Now that you know the history of the bead, wear your fashion bead earrings knowing they come from a rich history.