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Beads have long been an integral part of African history, tradition, and culture. Beads of all shapes and various materials have been used to adorn the body, to enhance artwork, for cultural practices, and as a form of currency. Special, unique, or rare beads would hold high value, thus the owner or wearer would be considered wealthy and/or of royal or respected lineage. Beads worn on the body would often be a determinant of who you were, what family or tribe you were a part of, where you lived, your age, your personal status and/or abilities, your accomplishments, rite of passage, or milestones.
Waist beads worn by women and girls is one popular custom believed to have originated in the Old Kongo Empire in the central region of Africa. They are worn by all ages & sizes, from birth to transition, as a symbol of femininity and beauty throughout the continent. They can be adorned with special beads made of clay, glass, wood, crystals, gemstones, and colors thought to have healing powers, and serve as symbolic protection of the womb area and the entire body. Special beads were often gifted to young girls at the age of puberty, and when they reached their cycle, marking their transition into womanhood. This milestone is just one of many women would reach, embrace, and grow from. Continued milestones, personal/life journeys, change, unions, celebrations, and growth are examples of rites of passages that would be marked by additional beads adorned on the waist and body, eventually telling the woman’s story. Waist beads are sacred to the body and wearer, tied on for permanent wear, and intentionally worn under one’s clothing to promote modesty. Today, waist beads are becoming more popular than ever as women across the globe continue to embrace uplifting African social and traditional cultures. Waist beads further empower women as they grow to celebrate, love and adorn their bodies regardless of shape or size, grow through trauma/challenge/pain, celebrate the journey that has brought them forward to today, and embrace what the future holds in their search for a greater self, and thus a greater community.
Waist Beads are meant to be worn low to the waist line, comfortably below the navel, or across your belly, or in your natural grooves, and under clothing daily. Your fit will be determined by your natural curves and profile, so where they lay on you may be different for someone else. They can be tied permanently on the body with beading string, or clasped for easy removal. You can perform regular daily activity with most waist beads on including bathing, swimming, and exercising. After bathing, make sure to pat your beads dry with a towel and moisturize your skin. Keeping your skin moisturized will prevent skin irritation especially for those with sensitive skin. If you wear spanks or body shapers, place them over your beads for a smoother look when wearing fitted clothing. If your beads include sterling silver, pewter, gold-filled, or copper charms, know that they can patina/ tarnish when exposed to some natural and/or artificial ingredients in your lotions, oils, soaps, or when left exposed while unworn and uncovered. However charms/beads can be revitalized with a jewelry polishing cloth, or using toothpaste without tartar control or whitening agents. If using toothpaste, rub gently with a dry cloth, use a toothbrush to get into small grooves, then rinse with water. Sterling Silver and gold-filled beads have the longest life of brilliance, so they can always be revitalized if they fade or discolor. Since waist beads are typically worn low to the waist, beads can easily camouflage in your natural crease line while wearing dresses, pants, skirts, or long shirts. *Be mindful of your beads when going to the bathroom – feel for your beads first before you pull down to protect from breakage.