If you know me or have seen me around, you know that I’m a jewelry fiend. If I don’t have at least a watch on, I feel naked. Watches, bracelets, necklaces, rings, I love alldat. They put the finishing touches on a dope outfit.
One of my biggest obsessions is beaded jewelry. A lot of my beaded bracelets and necklaces are handmade/homemade and/or straight from the Mothaland. For me, it’s what makes my style unique to me. Thrifted fits and beaded jewelry is the lane you can find me in.
But what some of us may not know is that there are specific and distinct reasons why some people wear beads, especially around the waist. Although it has been gaining popularity in the U.S. and becoming “trendy,” waist beads are an age-old tradition in parts of Africa with distinct meanings, symbols, and history attached to them.
Waist beads can be visible as a symbol of femininity, celebration, or aristocracy, or hidden as a way of self-care or confidence or intimate appeal. There are many reasons why waist beads were, and still are, an intricate aspect of African (and now American) culture.
1. A Symbol of Femininity and Sensuality
Some like to call them “colorful strands of femininity.” They’re handmade strands, usually made by women for women of any and all body types and sizes. Traditional Ghanaian culture wears waist beads to specifically signify femininity (as well as wealth and practical usage such as an anchor for a menstrual cloth).
For some women they would wear their beads under their clothes – which only allowed their lover to see them as a meaning of sanctity and purity between the two. For some, the beads are a means of seduction to provoke desire. Sometimes, wives would use the rattling of the beads to communicate their fertility.
2. Rites of Passage & Symbols of Growth
Waist beads were a rite of passage for some cultures. Mothers would ornament their daughters with beads during their first menstruation as a ceremonial rite of passage into womanhood.
Each time new waist beads were inherited, it symbolized a healthy life, growth, and maturity.
3. Measurements and Body Shaping
Both traditionally and in modern times, women will wear waist beads to get/keep their bodies intact. It is said that the beads shape your body and keep the waist small and hips accentuated. It was (and still is) used as a measurement tool. The beads do not stretch, so if/when the waist beads start to feel a little tight, it’s a sign that there was some weight gain, and vice versa.
4. The Formation of The Beads
In a traditional sense, the person making your waist beads is usually a highly spiritual person. The beads, shells, stones, and other things that may go on your waist are picked and placed with the intention of something or somethings very specific. The beads a woman wears for her husband will be vastly different from the ones a young girl wears into her transition into womanhood. The trend of waist beads has become very modernized and ornamental, but traditionally, the potency and power of a woman’s beads as it relates to spirituality and development were very specific and intentional.
5. Colors and Meaning
Speaking of intention, the colors of the beads also have very specific significations. These meanings may vary from tribe to tribe, culture to culture, and they’re open to interpretation, but traditionally:
Blue: knowledge, healing, peace, truth, harmony — a cooling color symbolizing faith, devotion, deep insight.
Green: prosperity, hope, harmony, healing and ripening, generous, humble.
Red: self-confidence, vitality, sexual energy, passion, courage.
Yellow: wisdom, knowledge, clarity, increasing awareness, and calming nerves.
So now that you have all of this information, you’re probably wondering where you can get some waist beads. Well, I got you!
Ashiki Shop has a wonderful selection of waist beads. There are custom sets available, or you can decide what intention you want to set for yourself and order your own custom design.