The use of beads in Africa can be traced back at least 12,000 years. The oldest known beads have been found in the Kalahari desert, Sudan and Libya. The earliest beads were made of eggshell, clay, twigs, stones, ivory and bone – glass beads were introduced later by traders from Europe, India and the Middle East.

Beads were used in various parts of Africa as adornment or works of art. In some African economies they also served as currency. As adornment they were important in defining and identifying someone’s status, as well as what tribe or group they belonged to.

Photo: African beaded art: power and adornment exhibition

The introduction of glass beads inspired works of art based on the new medium and this is the main focus of the African Beaded Art exhibition held earlier this year at Smith College museum of art in Massachusetts. The site also contains a lot of historican information on the use of beads in African art.

This article from Afrol News writes about African Heritage, a gallery in Kenya which has built a sucessful business selling modern day adaptations of traditional beaded jewellery designs, and also contains a museum about the history of beads.


About the author

Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.