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African Jewelry - IntroductionAfrica is the birth place of mankind and human civilization. It is also where people first made and wore jewelry. Perforated pea-sized snail shells used as beads dating back 75,000 years have been unearthed in a cave, named Blombos, on the coast of South Africa. In Kenya beads over 40,000 years old made from perforated ostrich egg shells have been discovered. As time moved on the African craftsmen improved their jewelry making techniques resulting today in some of the most beautiful jewelry in the world.
Materials Used in African JewelryThrough out history Africans have tended to use organic materials and materials that were readily available in their region to create their jewelry. This was especially true in their early history. Later on trade with other people increased the types of materials available for jewelry making. Below is a list of some of the more common materials used by African craftsmen.
- Carved stone
- Sea Shells
- Animal teeth
- Animal hair
- Egg shells
African Bead JewelryWhen it comes to jewelry perhaps Africa is best know for its handmade beautiful beadwork. The beads produced in Africa are often called trade beads due to the fact that for many centuries they were used in exchange for goods (used as currency). The earliest known beaded jewelry ever discovered is from approximately 10,000 B.C. and comes from Libya. Ancient Egypt also produced beautiful bead work dating back to 2,200 B.C.
Many tribes in Africa create stunning beadwork. Zulu bead jewelry is created based on long standing traditions, and their designs convey important information about the wearer. For example a particular necklace may indicate where the wearer is from or what family they belong to. Maasai beaded jewelry is created based on strict tribal rules pertaining to the colors and design. Maasai women wear very beautiful beaded jewelry on special occasions such as weddings. Women of the Pokot tribe who live in Kenya and Uganda are known for wearing beautiful broad beaded collars and necklaces. The women of the Turkana tribe, who live in the Turkana district in Kenya's Rift Valley Province, wear beadwork that indicates their social status. Yoruba kings of Nigeria were known for their incredible beaded crowns.