One of the African peoples known for their bead making skills are the West African Yoruba people from Nigeria, who were some of the earliest makers of glass beads in the region.
Their beads are made of power glass and not from the wet-core technique in moulds. Instead, the powered glass is moistened then modelled with the hand. A pointed tool is used to create holes prior to firing.
As the much sought after genuine Mediterranean coral was rare, Yoruba bead makers made their own imitations (Ateyun beads) at more affordable prices. Although made in different shapes, they were always red in colour. Blue beads were much sought after and the Yorbura Keta awuazi beads, cylindrical in shape, were also produced prior to 1940.
Not all beadwork only has jewellery ,for instance, Yoruba beadwork pieces include, Beaded Crowns, Beaded Belts, Beaded Sheaths, Beaded sashes, Ifa Diviner’s bags, beaded bottles, gourds and figures. Naturally, today’s Yoruba beadwork which is made for the broader market is not meant to hold the same spiritual and political power as that made for kings, babalawos or priestesses, but still handcrafted by Yoruba artists to includes traditional imagery and patterns.
Despite the struggles faced this culture, thankfully, traditions have survived, and continue to evolve — including fabulous beadwork!