The Allure of African Waist Beads

History of African Waist Beads

African waist beads have a long history in Africa dating back to antiquity. In ancient Egypt, women wore them as a status/wealth symbol, for femininity, as well as a way to "train" their waists. Over time, waist beads found its way to other parts of Africa. The Yoruba ethnic group in Nigeria were one of the first groups to popularize wearing waist beads after the Egyptians. They wore them for the same reasons the Egyptian wore them, as well as to indicate rites of passage into womanhood, as a means of intimacy, sexuality, fertility, healing, spirituality, for body shaping of the waist, as a gauge for weight management, and simply as a beautiful accessory.

In West Africa, they are known by many names, including Jel-Jelli, Jigida, Giri-Giri, Djalay Djalay or Yomba, Ibebe-idi, Ileke-idi. They can be very simple or incredibly elaborate. They can be of any size and made of any material, including glass, stone, clay, and sandalwood. In some parts of West Africa, waist beads would be worn with bells on them, causing a slight jingling sound as the woman walked by.  Today, waist beads have filtered into other cultures. Belly dancers in Eastern cultures have embraced the beads, as have women of Islamic cultures and those in Western cultures. 

Traditional African waist beads are worn all throughout life; babies, teens, middle-aged women, and grandmothers and great-mothers. In most West African cultures, once you get into adulthood, your waist beads are considered “private” and not always meant for show. They are typically worn under clothing, such that only your partner would know you have them on. This is different to Westernized modern-day usage of waist beads. Women of all sizes and shapes can wear waist beads; they are not meant only for those with flat stomachs. They are a colorful and beautiful adornment to you body—no matter if you have a flat belly, a six-pack, a muffin top, or somewhere in between. Wearing waist beads instantly invokes an awareness of your body, bringing out your femininity, sexiness, and a deep consciousness of being a woman. It almost changes the way you walk; there is an increased confidence and self-confidence in how you carry yourself. There is a sense of empowerment that comes with wearing them, especially in an area of the female body that many of us are often uncomfortable with and try to hide.

My waist beads can be easily adjusted to your waist size by removing excess beads and trimming the thread down to your desired size. Typically, you would wear the beads along your panty line so as to accommodate minor weight fluctuations, but you can also wear them along your natural waist. Just make sure it’s comfortable for you at your natural waist when you are sitting. 

African waist beads from Funke's Trybal Marks             

All my waist beads are one-of-a-kind designs. No two are the same. You can adjust them to be smaller by simply removing some of the beads. It is advisable that you order a size a few inches larger than your waist size or the size of the specific area of your body that you want the waist beads to sit at. The waist beads will typically wrap around the waist only once.

Funke's Trybal Marks Waist Beads

I only use glass seed beads. “Seed” bead is just the generic term for very small beads. They usually range in size from 15/0 (the smallest), 12/0, 11/0, 10/0, 9/0, 8/0, and 6/0. For example, an 11/0 seed bead measures approximately 2.1mm, or abut 0.083. Size 6/0 is the largest seed bead size. I usually use between size 12/0 - 6/0 for my waist beads, which gives great comfort when wearing, and because of their small size/footprint, are virtually undetectable under clothing. Most of my glass trade seed beads are purchased wholesale from African bead suppliers, such as Happy Mango Beads.  African trade beads were used in the past as a form of currency (circa 16th - 20th century). The colors in African waist beads are open to interpretation, as different cultures equate certain qualities to various hues. 

About the Thread:

I use 100% bonded extra-strong nylon thread. This is a thin, but durable thread that is a perfect fit for the tiny holes in the seed beads. Imported from Europe, it is a bonded 3-ply nylon thread that is abrasion, mildew, and UV resistant. I usually use it in white, natural, or black colors.

About the Charms:

Since my waist beads are meant to be tied on for long-term wear, I do not add other materials that may give you discomfort when worn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This means nothing that would dig into your skin, set off metal detectors, or that would rust or otherwise be affected with constant exposure to water from showering everyday with it on. However, the glass beads may dull after time from showering; if that happens just polish them with a cloth.

Of course, you are free to add your own charms or other accouterments to it upon receipt; just use a jump ring, lobster clasp, or any other appropriate jewelry finding to add your charms. I have charms available separately for sale on the website; just do a keyword search for "charms."

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