Notes From Ghana

Beads, Beads, Beads Part 1

West African women, men, locals and obroni alike adorn themselves with necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry made of beautifully coloured glass beads.
Bracelets made in Ghana of recycled glassBracelets made in Ghana of recycled glass

This jewelry is typically inexpensive and one can own quite a few pieces and match your clothing with something different each day. Many people purchase loose beads and make their own jewelry for their personal use.

It took me a while to understand the importance of beads and beading. At first it looked just like any other fashion jewelry, but I became fascinated with them once I learned the history and the process. Bead making has been a flourishing industry in West Africa since the sixteenth century. The beads are made today in much the same way as they were then, and a lot of the work is still done by hand as shown in the photos at the end of this post.
Necklace of Ghanaian glass beadsGhanaian glass beads

Today, bead making and beading (stringing the beads into beautiful Jewelery) is a potential source of income for enterprising women who can make or purchase beads and, with an eye for colours and artistry, create beautiful necklaces for sale. For some it is an escape from poverty or at least a way to step across the bread line.

Glass Beads for sale at a bead marketGlass Beads for sale at a bead market. These will be used to make beautiful jewelry.

Today I met one such enterprising woman, Florence Asare, Director of TK Beads Industry. Blushing a bit, she tells us that when she left elementary school in 1986 she decided to go into bead selling. She had access to some old (and therefore valuable) beads which she piled in a basket on her head each day and took to the market. As her supply of old beads waned she realised that she had to make some plans for her future.

She speaks with obvious gratitude for the support and encouragement she received from one man who supplied her with discarded broken glass even before she knew what she was going to do with them. She also speaks proudly of the assistance she got from the owner of a very well established bead making company, Cedi Beads, who encouraged her to aim high in her plans for her business.

Florence’s story is an example of how far one can go if one is focused on the goal. She told us that before she married, she let her husband know that she would not marry him unless he was willing to come into her business and share in her dream. They started about 1990 with just a few employees and have grown to 25. The business has become a beacon for other Ghanaian bead makers and they have achieved international acclaim, traveling overseas for Trade-fairs, exhibition as well as giving lectures and training on how Traditional Ghanaian Beads are made.

Read tomorrow’s post for a detailed look into the creation of Ghanaian glass beads!

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