Earlier this week (April 2019), I visited a bead fabrication shop in Accra, Ghana. It was a informative experience.
Trade beads have a long history in the West African. Ghanaian beads, for example, were once a form of national currency and were used to purchase many different kinds of goods including gold, alcohol, slaves, and even textiles. The production of beads in Ghana was first documented over 200 years ago. However, evidence of bead production extends back over two thousand years.
A number of bead varieties are produced in Ghana. These include recycled glass beads that are made from empty glass bottles.. The manufacturing of recycled beads is one way that Africans use traditional inspiration to bring new uses to old materials. The process of fabricating beads involves crushing used bottles and then melting and shaping using clay molds designed with the desired shape in mind. Beads are then washed in sand and painted with designs.
In recent years, there has been a revival in the use of trade beads. So much so that young people are wearing them as an expression of pride in African tradition. Interestingly, the different colors that are used in the design of beads have different symbolism such as blue that represents purity, white fertility, and gold wealth.
If you have an interest in Ghanaian beads, feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a supply.