[ The Splendor of the Beads ]


Beads were probably the first durable ornaments humans possessed, and the intimate relationship they had to their owners is reflected in the fact that they are among the most common items unearthed from ancient graves. The earliest beads were made from grooved animal teeth and bones and were worn as pendants. The early beads reflected the people’s ability to develop symbols which increased their capacity to cope with a dangerous environment. By wearing beads made from parts of the animal’s body, the wearer gained a measure of control over its spirit. From the 16th century, Venetian glassmakers dominated the world market. There were more than 100,000 varieties of bead types and designs produced in Venice. Particularly important types for commercial trade were glass seed, mosaic (millefiore) and chevron beads. Beads are central to the lives of all Africans. The men and women wear beads as an essential part of everyday and ceremonial dress that indicates their ethnic affiliation, age, marital status, and wealth.