Bead Making and its Impact on Africa

Bead Making and its Impact on Africa

In recent times, an abundance of glass and plastic beads have entered Africa from overseas, and many important bead making skills have been lost. Those that remain still present the natural charm and beauty of the originals and, hopefully, these skills will not be lost to the rest of the world.

Many African countries make glass today for practical purposes. However, traditional glassmaking for beads is known only from Egypt and Nigeria. The first reference to the Nigerian industry of which I am aware was published in 1857 by Bowen (1968: 199). It is not very detailed.

The following from the The African Collection range comprise beads made by the local people.


The AMASO Project combines unique bead making and jewellery design skills with African Community Upliftment. A process was developed by Mintek in South Africa whereby recycled glass bottles are utilised to manufacture beads in the indigenous style. The project is called “Amaso”, which is the Xhosa word for jewellery. The process involves using recycled bottles that are crushed and ground to a powder, then mixed with a binder and a colourant. Once the beads are formed by hand, they are placed on stainless steel wires and sintered in a kiln around 800 degrees C., which produces both clear and opaque looking beads. The projects (totally owned by the rural women) have been set up in various areas throughout South Africa to manufacture unique hand-made beads and jewellery; combining style with excellent design and giving the members of these communities the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their children.


Kazuri’s handmade, hand-painted ceramic jewellery is made in Nairobi, Kenya. Every bead which goes to make up a necklace or bracelet is shaped by hand by one of the 200 local women at Kazuri. The beads are then kiln fired once, glazed and fired again before being strung.

In an age of mass-produced goods, Kazuri jewellery from Kenya stands out as a little bit different. As every piece of jewellery is handmade, every one is unique. Indeed, many pieces take on the quirks and trademarks of the individual people who shape the beads, paint them or string them. For this reason, some of our designs have been named after ladies who have inspired or influenced them, like Angela. Others are named after objects they resemble, literally or figuratively, like Bird Eggs, Pita Pat and Shale. There are some that naturally take on a name that suits them, like Crackerjack, Tango and Warrior. Some are Swahili names – Sahani means plate. And finally, many Kazuri styles are named after areas, tribes and other features of the Kenyan landscape. Evocative names that resonate with the organic, natural clay medium that makes our jewellery – Mara, Samburu and Turkana. So a Kazuri piece is more than just a piece of jewellery, it’s a piece of Kenya.

Today Kazuri has grown considerably whilst retaining its philanthropic roots. The workshop is still located on part of the farm once owned by Karen Blixen, of ‘Out of Africa’ fame, at the base of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi. Kazuri, which means small and beautiful in Swahili, is handmade, hand-painted ceramic jewellery made in Nairobi, Kenya. Beautiful work from another an empowerment project.

Other  beadmers include:

Yoruba Glass

BeadsYoruba glass bead industries suggest three distinctive techniques: lapidary, powder glass, and drawn. Most students of beads do not dispute either the lapidary or powder glass forms, although detailed knowledge of and exposure to these beads are lacking.

Ghana Powder

Glass BeadsBeads from imported glass scrap continue to be made using two basic techniques: traditional winding and drawing, and using ground powder glass. Powder-glass bead making is almost unique to Africa, where it has become a sophisticated art form.

Kori Bead

Kori has been identified as the “blue money bead of the trans-Saharan trade” and the bead traded for its weight in gold in West Africa at the dawn of the Age of Exploration. It is a bead that inspired numerous imitations and a bead that has continued to be important culturally up to the present day.