Coptic crosses have a rich history as being popularly worn by Ethiopian Christian converts for over 1,600 years. Their designs vary widely and are indicative of the town or province from which they originate. Most crosses were crafted using the lost wax technique and tend to exhibit elaborate designs showing Latin, Greek, Egyptian and Celtic influences. Generally, the older the Coptic cross, the better its quality of silver. Coptic crosses serve well as exquisite centerpieces for beautiful beaded necklaces. For instance, you may add a Coptic cross to a strand of beautiful Ghana glass beads to produce a charming necklace to dazzle onlookers with.
Because of their rarity, yellow jacket beads are some of the most highly sought after beads by bead collectors the world over. Yellow jacket beads are distinctly characterized by the precision and detail that goes into making these exquisite layered glass trade beads by hand. Yellow jacket beads receive their name from their coat which features black beads with yellow stripes – which pretty much resembles the appearance of the yellow jacket bees. Yellow jacket beads are another type of African trade beads which were used as currency for trade during the pre-19th century period, mainly in West African countries such as Ghana.
In ancient West Africa, kings were known to bring male craftsmen to their court for purposes of creating masterpieces of adornments, beaded clothing, as well as bead embroidered regalia. These beaded objects were created in varying shapes, color schemes and also came in a variety of beaded designs.
Some of the most spectacular beaded objects in Africa came from the crowns of the Yoruba kings of Nigeria. These crowns were worn by the rulers of the Yoruba people with veils during state occasions and other public functions. The crown design was of a basket frame in a cone shape over which the craftsman stretched starched cotton. Faces were then formed from starched cotton and beaded bird figures attached. Thereafter the entire crown surface would be decorated using beads of contrasting colors. The final touch comprised of attaching a veil made from beaded strands for purposes of shrouding the king’s face.
According to the ancient traditions of the Yoruba people, strands of beads were regarded as emblems of the gods. As such, when a ruler wears a beaded crown with a veil attached, this is the most effective sign of their kingship. The faces on the crown are representative of the ancestors, one of whom is likely to be Oduduwa who legend has it was the founder of the Yoruba. Birds are represented as gathering on the crown which symbolizes the spirit world and the ability of the king to mediate between the realms of the spirits and that of humans.
Ivory Coast beads are made out of metals such as brass and may be strung bead to bead to produce beautiful jewelry pieces. Ivory Coast beads are hand-made and crafted by African metal smiths who are skilled in forging and fabricating beads and casting metal using the lost wax technique. This lost wax technique mainly used whit brass to create the beads through sculpting or molding a shape in wax which would then be covered with successive layers of clay in order to make a mould into which the melted brass would be poured. The metal would melt the wax which would then pour out and the metal allowed to set. Thereafter, the mold is broken, the bead removed, filed smooth, polished and cleaned to produce a beautiful Ivory Coast bead.
In the kingdom of Bamum located in the grass fields region of Cameroon, the rulers were known to own and adorn themselves with lavishly beaded objects of art. These included beaded clothing, sculptures, regalia and adornments. The oldest beaded sculptures from the Bamum date back as far as the beginning of the nineteenth century. This includes a royal figure which was crafted during the second half of the nineteenth century and which has now found a permanent home in the collection of the National Museum of African Art.
Bamum has a fascinating and rich history in beadwork. It is worth noting that beads were a rarity during the beginning of the nineteenth century when the Bamum kingdom was expanding from a smaller state into the largest kingdom in this grass fields region. Small seed beads known as memmi had to be imported via middlemen from Nigeria as well as the Cameroonian coast. The rulers of Bamum retained control of both the distribution and use of beads in the kingdom during this time. However, the supply of beads increased towards the turn of the century, thus leading to a proliferation of bead crafts.
The kings of Bamum were also in control of the bead workers who originated from the small kingdom of Mamegnam which the Bamum had conquered at the beginning of the 19th century. These bead makers were therefore relocated to the palace at Bamum where they were to work exclusively for the king and the palace court in creating large beaded sculptures, intricate headdresses and beaded embroidered clothing items, necklaces, bracelets and belts.
African trade beads came about as a result of the need for traders along the route between Europe and Africa for a currency to trade with the Africans. Beads fitted here as the most appropriate medium of exchange due to the affinity that African people had for various types of beads. The trade beads were therefore used for purposes of battering goods of value from the peoples of Africa such as ivory, gold, and palm oil.
The history of African trade beads dates as far back as the fifteenth century with the coming of the Portuguese. Upon arrival in West Africa, the Portuguese discovered just how important beads were to the African people. The beads they found were crafted out of various objects and materials including gold, iron, ivory, organic objects and bone. At the same time, the Portuguese discovered that the resources that the European market was desperate for were in abundance in Africa. The traders therefore decided to use glass beads as a medium in bartering for goods and raw materials with the Africans.
Glass beads were particularly singled out because glass working technology had not yet been discovered in Africa. Therefore, the African people were in awe of the exquisite beads of glass that the European traders had to offer. Because these beads were also used in bartering slaves, they were to later earn the name “slave beads” or aggry beads. Europe responded to the popularity and increased demand for African trade beads by increasing production in cities such as Venice which is today still famous for its unique and rare glass beads.