This blog is dedicated to African Beads – about them, where they come from, how they are made, and the regions they come from.
This blog is an expansion of our web-store, Rex’s African Bead Shop (rexbeads.com). If you are interested in purchasing any of the products mentioned here, please visit our store.
Thank You, and enjoy your stay.
Tomato beads are a type of seed bead that was commonly used during the African slave trade in past centuries. Originating from Venice where they were manufactured, tomato beads are large and slightly translucent. They have an irregular rounded shape and may appear in brilliant shades of red and yellow. Largely traded in Ethiopia, tomato beads get their name from their tomato-like shape and served as one of the earliest forms of trade currency in this region. A high intrinsic value was placed on tomato beads as the people of this region, just as everywhere else in Africa, truly valued decorative items such as beads.
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Some wearers of lapis lazuli beads wear them in the belief that the beads will protect them from evil, keep the father in the household safe, as well as attract good fortune. These beads are also believed to bring inner piece, tranquility and happiness, while heightening clarity, concentration and instincts of the wearer. Even if you are not a believer yourself, you may nevertheless enjoy the beauty of lapis lazuli beads which make great looking jewelry items. The beads are available in various attractive sizes and shapes including the top drilled skinny beads, round beads, small chip beads and tear drops which are great for making earrings.
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Aja beads were historically made in Venice in the early 20th century, from drawn glass tubes which were cooled and cut into small slices. Once cut, the slices of drawn cane were thereafter exposed to heat until the glass softened or slumped. This caused the beads to flatten and their hard cut edges to soften and become rounded. Experts speculate that the process of slumping was in actual fact carried out in Africa as there is no evidence of the slumped slices ever being sold in Venice. Aja beads range in size, color and canes with the most spectacular being crafted from Rosetta or chevron cane. These beautiful and somewhat unusual beads are today used to craft exquisite jewelry pieces such as those featuring 4-layer “yellow jacket” slices.
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Skunk beads are beautiful wound and decorated African trade beads which create great strands of jewelry items. Originally made in Venice, these beads were commonly used for trading purposes in Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Skunk beads are a must have for every collector worth their salt and today grace many private collections around the world. Because of the increasing popularity of skunk beads amongst bead lovers today, African bead traders now have to go deeper into Africa to find more of these skunk beads which are becoming rarer with each passing decade – which of course makes them even more collectable.
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Heishi beads have a fascinating origin which is linked to the ancient history of the Santo Domingo and San Felipe Pueblo Indians who were most proficient in the crafting of these beads. Experts regard Heishi beads as the oldest form of jewelry in New Mexico and North America, as they pre-date to the period before the introduction of metals. The “heishi” in heishi beads literally means “shell”, with particular reference to the pieces of shell which are drilled and ground into the beads and then strung into necklaces. Today, however, heishi has come to refer to tiny beads made by hand out of any naturally occurring material.
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Padre beads are glass beads whose origin is traced back to ancient China. In the late 18th century, these beads spread rapidly in use in Southwest and Northwest America, following the trading patterns of Russian and Spanish traders. Padre beads were available in 3 sizes: jumbo Dogons measuring 5/8’s to ¾ inches in diameter; mid-sized Crow beads measuring 3/8’s inches in diameter and the small Pony beads measuring 3/16’s inches in diameter. Padre beads were available in a variety of colors, with blue and white being most valuable historically and the only ones acceptable for trade amongst the Indians.
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Originally made using salts from the Dead Sea, Hebron beads date back to earlier than the mid-19th century. Hebron beads – also referred to as “Kano beads”, are commonly found in a dull yellow color, although they also appear in various shades of green and blue, although rare. These beads are a favorite amongst antique bead collectors who cherish them for their rich history which saw them travel from Egypt, along the Nile, into the Sudan and even as far as Ghana to adorn the bodies of West African royalty. Their craftsmanship involves their being wound straight in furnace to produce a shining glass bead. The larger of the Hebron beads are referred to as Mongur, while the smaller ones go by the name Harish.
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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.
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King beads are old Venetian wound and marvered bicone beads. There is a legend behind the naming of these beads which holds that these beads were worn by African Kings and tribal chiefs during the mass importation of African trade beads in the early 1970s. The earliest versions of King beads are dated to the mid 19th century, with their representations having been made on bead sample cards donated by Moses Lewin Levin to the British Museum in 1865. King beads still hold a place of importance in modern African society where they are prominently featured in Dipo Initiation ceremonies held in Ghana, with the yellow King beads being used to symbolize maturity and prosperity. King beads are today available in a wide range of attractive colors, sizes and designs – but always in the bicone shape.
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