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Beads: For barter, for beauty

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

There is a famous Chinese proverb that says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for the rest of his lifetime” Some bead makers of Krobo Odumase are taking the saying very seriously. They have adopted a new strategy of helping the youth to earn a living in a sustainable way by producing powder glass beads.

With human development came an interest in the use of beads. In  some parts of Ghana, especially in the Eastern Region, beads are used for historical and economic purposes.

The rich history of Ghanaian beads dates back to ancient times when they were used as the King’s currency for the exchange of slaves, textiles and alcohol. Later on, they became popular in the coming of age rituals for girls.

Today, beads earn us foreign exchange and as such are very valuable and also attracts tourists. The modern-day woman – both African and non-African, is rediscovering the beauty of these Ghanaian beads, which is growing in popularity.

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Ghana is the largest bead market in West Africa Beads of all shapes and colours trace their roots from Ghana. The production of beads in Ghana was first documented over 200 years ago.

Due to the interest along the West Coast, merchants used it to purchase goods and was also used  to purchase slaves during the slave trade era.

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Beads later evolved into a wide variety . Its use can be traced on the  trade routes from the West Coast to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Colours

The colours of  beads have meanings. For instance, in certain parts of Ghana, white beads evoke fertility; blue  ones are associated with purity; while golden ones are a symbol of wealth.

Bodom beads are yellow with a diamond shape design of a darker colour such as blue, and are traditionally produced to be worn exclusively by African chiefs. Once you know what the colours of your beads symbolise, wearing them becomes a much more personal experience.

Uses Of Beads

Beads continue to play an important role in traditional Krobo culture where they are used for many different ceremonies such as birth, marriage, death, and coming of age rituals such as ‘Dipo’ where girls use a large number of beads and perform special dances. Beads are also used as a symbol of status and are worn by community leaders and chiefs.

Interestingly, there has been a revival in the use of beads in Ghana so much so that young people are wearing them as an expression of pride in the African tradition.

Method Of Production

Krobo powder glass beads are made in vertical moulds and fashioned out of a special, locally dug clay. Most moulds have a number of depressions, designed to hold one bead each, and each of these depressions in turn has a small central perforation to hold the stem of a cassava leaf. The mould is filled with finely ground glass that can be built up in layers in order to form sequences and patterns of different shapes and colours. When the cassava leaf stems are used, they are burnt during the firing  process which leaves the bead perforated.

Distinct Beads

There are distinct styles of modern Krobo powder glass beads: these range from Krobo writing, Akoso, Meteyi, Afeyun, Keta Awuazi and the Kiffa beads among others.

Speaking on the significance of beads in all spheres of life, Mama Rose Agormenya, a popular bead seller at the Agormenya market, near Krobo Odumase in the Eastern Region, said “ beads have been worn especially around the waist by girls and women in courtship to attract the opposite sex and this culture  persists in many societies in Ghana”.

Nene Obo, a sub chief of Agormenya, said  bead making was no more a pastime but a lucrative business that could fetch the country more money if its image and culture were projected abroad.

He said if government needed to support traditional bead makers to acquire modern equipment to help them to expand the trade.

“Expanding our businesses with the necessary working tools, will also lure the youth to venture into bead making as a full-time job,” he stated.

By Gabriel Ahiabor / Daily Graphic / Ghana