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The Traditional Significance Of Waist Beads

By Oreoritse Tariemi
02 February 2022   |   11:42 am
Ileke, jigida, giri-giri, whatever you know them as waist beads, have held a significant place in African tradition since time immemorial. These beads strung on fine fishing lines or carefully threaded ropes have adorned the waists of numerous African women. Whether hidden under clothes, peaking out at intervals or carefully arranged to show over clothes,…

Ileke, jigida, giri-giri, whatever you know them as waist beads, have held a significant place in African tradition since time immemorial.

These beads strung on fine fishing lines or carefully threaded ropes have adorned the waists of numerous African women. Whether hidden under clothes, peaking out at intervals or carefully arranged to show over clothes, the mesmerising sounds these beads make as the wearer moves and their vibrant colours keep our eyes glued.

Adorned with these beads, the allure of the beaded woman is hard to miss.

What Are Waist Beads?

Made from beads, small pieces of glass, metal and sometimes cowries, pierced and strung together, these beads come in different sizes, colours and lengths.

Waist beads hold deep cultural significance peculiar to the different African societies. Worn by women or sometimes men, these beads are viewed as a symbol of femininity, fertility, sensuality, and spiritual well-being.

Each bead with its different colours and shapes possess different meanings in different societies and send across messages depending on who wears and who sees it.

The Traditional Significance of Waist Beads

Waist Beads Phto Healthline

In some African societies, female children are adorned with waist beads by their moms once they get their period to mark their rite of passage into womanhood. These beads symbolise the female child’s transition from childhood to adulthood, proof of her fertility and sexuality.

In some cultures, these waist beads signify purity and are only to be taken off by her husband on their wedding night. Traditionally, waist beads are considered private, not to be seen by anyone except the wearer’s partner. 

They possess an intimate appeal that provokes one’s desire for another. In some cultures, these beads are laced with charms and fragrances, which are irresistible to the open sex. Also viewed as traditional lingerie, wearing waist beads during intimacy is believed to enhance the sexual experiences of the wearer and her partners. 

Adding precious stones to these waist beads adds healing qualities, treating ailments or other issues like love and balancing that need enhancement. 

A more physical significance of the waist bead is that it serves as an instrument for body shaping. They keep wearers informed of even the slightest change in their weight, weight gain, or loss. While they don’t stretch, they either roll up or break as the wearer gains weight. It is also believed that wearing these beads from a younger age improves the fine curves African women are known for.

Traditionally, most waist beads are worn under clothing and are considered a private affair. More recently, they have been used as fashion accessories, worn over clothes and under crop tops, showcasing each strand’s beauty. 

However many you choose to wear, one thing’s for sure, regardless of newer alternatives like chains, waist beads have and would always remain highly significant in African tradition.