The Symbolism of African Jewelry

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Symbolism of African Jewelry

African jewelry is known for its delicate beadwork, different and exclusive patterns, colorful beads and stones that make it unique and powerful. The different types of beads and stones used in African jewelry symbolize different emotions and spirituality of its people.

Origins of African Jewelry

Earlier, African jewelry was mostly used for the purpose of trade due to the precious stones and metals used as ornaments and pendants in it. The value of each accessory was determined by the amount of minerals and precious stones incorporated in it.

Materials used in African jewelry

African tribes used to make jewelry from glass, seashells, animal bones, feathers and colorful gems as well. Over the years, owing to the aesthetic appeal as well as the symbolism of African jewelry, today it has gained immense popularity among vintage as well as contemporary jewelry lovers.

Symbolic Value of Gold

Just like Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cultures, gold is an important part of the African culture as well. Earlier, gold was considered as a symbol of wealth and power and was used for trade as well as in pendants and rings in African jewelry. It was mostly worn by royalties of Africa and was believed to bring good luck and protection against any negative energy and evil spirits around.

The symbolism of African jewelry and tribal fashion is also inspiring contemporary designers of today to incorporate tribal themes into their designs. You can notice the influence of African tribal fashion in the designs of local as well as international designers and retail brands.

Beads And The Symbolism Behind Them

The beads used in African jewelry are made from seashells, animal bones, fossils, precious metals and seeds. The beads used in African articles represent the different values of each tribal group. For instance, women wear different types of beads to represent their tribe, age, marital as well as their social status.

The Maasai and Turkana tribes made beads’ jewelry extremely popular throughout the continent of Africa. The Africans used to wear beaded chokers, head accessories, wrist bands, heavy metal rings and earrings. Newly wedded African women would wear heavy wedding chokers which had strands of beads hanging down that would signify their marital status. Beaded and metal jewelry was worn by both African men and women.

Symbolic Representation through Leather Jewelry

Beads were not the only gems used to create the African tribal ornaments. Some tribal men had jewelry made exclusively for warriors. African huntsmen and warriors used to wear different types of leather and metal accessories to symbolize their courage and bravery.

What Each Color Symbolizes

Each color bead in African jewelry has a unique significance among different tribes in Africa. For example, blue beads usually represent strength and energy as it is also the color of the ocean and the sky. Also, the color green symbolizes land and greenery that provide crops and fresh produce to animals and humans. Furthermore, red colored beads and stones in African jewelry symbolize various things such as danger, courage, power, hardships, and solidarity.

Just like red beads and stones, black beads in African culture are also associated with hardships, unity, empathy and goodwill. While white color symbolizes health, cleanliness and peace, the color orange reflects kindness, warmth, love, gratitude, hospitality and appreciation of friendship and generosity. The color yellow is usually associated with hope, fertility, freshness, and growth.

Religious Significance of African Ornaments

African jewelry plays an important part in African weddings and other religious ceremonies. It is also worn by tribal children and young adults when they reach puberty or when they are getting married.

Traditional African jewelry worn in religious events is usually made from natural materials such as animal bone, fur, teeth, fruit and vegetable seeds, nut shells, elephant husks, seashells, ostrich eggshells, ostrich bones and wood shavings.

How Jewelry Symbolizes Womanhood

Jewelry made from cowrie shells represents womanhood and fertility in African culture. Other types of beads made from iron and coral are also a significant part of traditional African jewelry and accessories.

Carved beads made from glass as well as ceramic were also used as ornaments in African necklaces and bracelets. Metallic beads and small discs were also worn with different types of beads and stones. Copper and other metals were mostly used to prepare lockets and large pendants.
Presently, African artisans incorporate a variety of gems and precious stones in African jewelry. Some stones, on the one hand, are believed to have healing properties and, therefore, African jewelry embellished with precious gems and stones are considered to be highly valuable and are in great demand in the market.

Diamonds, on the other hand, are not as popular as other semi-precious stones and gems in African culture. The most popular types of stones used in African jewelry primarily include turquoise, emeralds, topaz, moonstone, ruby, and amethyst.

Final Thought

Beads play a vital part in the tribal culture of Africa. Researchers are more and more eager to learn about African culture and history; especially the jewelry and accessories worn by them. If you ever get a chance to visit Africa, you may notice the use of beads in different types of jewelry and other ornaments and souvenirs sold in the markets of tribal areas.

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