African Waist Beads:Ornaments or Charms

Growing up in a christian family waist beads were never and I mean never a part of any conversation. As  I grew up I tried to dig and find out the significance, importance and use of the waist beads.

Known as “chuma” in shona, the waist bead bears different names in different tribes. In Nigeria, the northern part of the country calls it jigida while the Yorubas (the people of Southwestern Nigeria) call it bebedi. In Igbo, it is called mgbájị́.

Historians claim that the existance of African waist beads dates back to the 15th century. In fact, many scholars are of the opinion that the history of the waist beads began in ancient Egypt  where they were adorned by beautiful women as a status symbol. They were simply called ‘girdles’ at the time.

I have learnt that waist beads  symbolise quite a number of things though most people have grown to just think that one way or the other the wearing of these beads is somehow a sexual thing.

In Zimbabwe, Tshangani and Tonga women are popularly known for the use of waist beads in their daily lives. Some of these beads which are believed to be charmed are said to possess powers to lure men . This then explains the negativity that is associated with waist beads.

Some say waist beads help define a woman’s waist and also leave a lot to the imagination during intimacy. However there are other reasons waist beads are worn so as to signify different things.

Women in West Africa, have held a long fascination with waist beads over the years as symbolic and  cultural ornaments of womanhood. They can also be worn as a symbol of femininity and sensuality, only the partner a woman chooses would have the honor of seeing them fully.

Back in the day it was waist beads which held the menstrual cloth together , doubt this still happens though. Some believe that upon addition of precious stones, waist beads take on healing or rejuvenation qualities.This depends on ailment or what needs to be enhanced (i.e. love, physic powers, balancing), various semi-precious stones can be included in the design of your waist beads.

These days, only a few people maintain the culture of adorning these beads on a daily basis, but a vast majority are likely to put them on during special occasions. Most of the significance of the tradition is also now mostly redundant.

However do not let whatever you once heard the myths and the fables make you judge some of these feminine characters you see with waists decorated with beads.Some are simply wearing them to beautify their waists though still with many cultures they still hold a cultural value and them being seen by anyone else is a taboo.

Though the meaning of the colour of a waist bead varies from culture to culture, tribe to tribe, its significance is considered very important and powerful in many African communities. Choosing the right colour of beads remains as important as its design, weight,length and flexibility.

Here are some colours of waist beads and their resemblance.

Brown – Earth and stability
Gold – Good health, power and wealth
Green – Abundance, fertility, nature and prosperity
Red – Confidence and vitality
Turquoise – Communication and self-awareness

White – Light, truth and purity
Yellow – Energy, joy and happiness
Black – Power and protection
Blue – Loyalty and truth
Orange – Courage, self-confidence and vitality
Pink – Care, beauty, love and kindness
Purple – Royalty, spirituality and wisdom




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