Since ancient times, people have cherished beads and appreciated their beauty.
The use of beads is reputedly the oldest art form known to man. The history of beadwork goes back several thousand years and is frequently found on ceremonial clothing and robes in archeological sites throughout Europe. Fossils still exist that date back to Neanderthal times showing the earliest tool used were to make beads. Archeologists also studying African cultures have unearthed shells used as beads that date back over 72,000 years where beadwork can be seen on clothing and accessories for ornamentation. Beads and embellishments were perhaps humankind's first indulgent luxury, fashioned from seashells, stones, nuts, seeds, and carved wood.
Image Credit: Brittanica
Beads have served many important functions all around the world, apart from being aesthetically pleasing, they have been used as currency, in meditation and prayer and to denote social standing or power. From the period of Kings, Queens, and empires, beadwork embroidery was a royal art, a token of status for royalty, for whom designs were created out of precious gold and silver threads are drawn through luxurious fabrics. Oftentimes, the embroidery was further embellished with bright beads, peacock feathers, luminous pearls, and gemstones.
In West African culture, beads have served a myriad of functions: some were used as a form of currency for goods between tribes, whereas others adorned chiefs and their wives to indicate their wealth and status. Even today, beads hold significance as they are not only a form of artistic expression, but they represent defining life moments, such as birth, marriage, and death.
Image Credit: Met Museum
Beads play significant roles in the Nigerian people's culture, fashion, and economic and artistic expressions. Their existence date back to the Nok culture, between 900BC to 2000 AD. Some of Africa’s most spectacular beaded objects 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.
In Fashion today, beadwork can be seen in different forms, and old African beadwork techniques have been adapted to suit the current trends in fashion. Beads may be strung on fiber cord or metal wire to create bracelets and necklaces. They can be stitched to a backing of fiber, canvas, or leather. Designers also use a wide range of methods to fasten the beads to the clothes creating vibrant colors and complex designs.
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