African Beaded Necklaces

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African Beaded Necklace

The continent of Africa has perhaps been famous for its handmade beautiful and unique beadwork. These beads made in Africa were used by African craftsmen to create beautiful and unique beadwork with almost all sorts of jewelry ornaments which were very unlikely to corrode. The beads made there often called trade beads in light of the fact that their beaded jewelry was historically used to barter and trade with and also in exchange for goods or as currency. Since then, selling and producing beads and then jewelry became a major source of income for many people in Africa.

If you have ever visited Africa and left without seeing or buying their magnificent beaded jewelry, you’ve literally missed out on something big! In this blog, I’ll try to fill you in on what you’ve missed or what you can look forward to next time you visit Africa.

Jewelry in Africa were made using various types of natural materials such as bones, wood, shells, stones, ivory, metals etc. These various materials were beautifully fashioned into different forms of waist chains, necklaces, ankle chains, bracelets and other body adornments. For now, we’ll just focus on the different tribal beaded necklaces and their history.


These necklaces were originated from the Nupe tribe in northern Nigeria and were incredibly rare and precious. They are some of Africa’s oldest beaded necklaces around 60 – 80 years old. They have multiple strings of antique beads twisted together and finished off with brass coils, knotted details and a beaded edge. It is often quoted that the smaller the size of the beads, the older and more valuable the necklace is.


Another kind of African beaded necklaces are made of these bone beads that were made in Kenya. In contrast with other African beads, bone-beads are lightweight yet strong – craftsmen are able to carve and polish them into various shapes and sizes, often combining wooden elements in their bead-making. Their decorative patterns are formed through a wax relief method called batik.


    Throughout time, shells have been a desirable source of decoration in Africa. Historically, Cowrie and Conus shells were used as barter currency and for embellishment. Later the West African shells were individually collected and threaded together, creating striking necklaces.


    These terracotta beads came straight from Malian earth. Artisans dug up clay deposits and carefully formed and impressed beads with parallel grooves and patterns before they were fired. Afterward, these beads were utilized to make beautiful necklaces.


    Antique powder glass beads were made by the Ashanti and Krobo tribes during the nineteenth century. Found glass was finely ground into a fine sand-like powder, different colors were then layered in vertical moulds and heated together in clay kilns to create colorfully patterned beads. These beads were then used to create necklaces.


    Baule beads come from the Ivory Coast and were historically used as weights to measure gold. Tribes use the lost-wax method where molten metal is poured into a mould created from wax to cast a desired bead shape or pattern. Flat cast brass beads are decorated with detailed parallel grooves that run throughout each bead.

The Final Word

African beaded jewelry is not just a piece of adornment. It’s so much more than that. So next time you visit Africa, don’t forget to grab these beauties when you visit a local market. Once you buy one of the above-mentioned beaded necklaces you’ll be well equipped to share the history behind it and impress your friends when you wear these beautiful works of art that are skilfully fashioned by these nomadic tribes.

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