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, 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. Today, waist beads have filtered into other cultures.  Traditional African waist beads, however, are always worn under clothes. 

All my waist beads are one-of-a-kind designs where 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.

I only use glass seed beads. “Seed” bead is 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.

Although no two are exactly alike, if there’s a color scheme you like that isn’t listed in the size you want, let me know and I’ll make it with the beads I have in stock at the time. Read more about waist beads on my blog post titled, "The Allure of African Waist Beads."

Photo Credit: Kalamu ya Salaam

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