Ghanaian Krobo Beads

Ghanian Krobo Beads: The history, cultural significance and manufacturing process.Krobo glass beads

History. 

There seems to be  a wide variety of opinion around the origin of Krobo Beads.  I’ll attempt to put it all together and you can then make your own judgement.

We know from oral records that the Krobos used some form of beads  from 9th century AD. These were stone, bone or wood, as opposed to the recycled glass of today. Some sources say that they were mainly stone up until the 16th century, when Europeans introduced glass beads as part of trade. They made those beads in Italy, what was then Bohemia. Very sadly, these beads were used in the slave trade.

Cultural Meaning.

Krobo Beads are symbols of status, wealth and success. They are worn by royalty.

Dancers at traditional festivals use the beads as accessories. Flag bearers of the Asafo Militia of the Fante people wore them across their chests. They made their beads from Cowrie shells.

In Ewe culture, people wear green beads when recovering from serious illness. They  symbolise  new life.

People wear red bauxite beads to signify mourning. They put the beads onto the deceased’s body. This  can signify the payment of debt of sin of the deceased.

Women wear waist beads underneath their clothing. Traditionally, only the husband has the right to see their wife’s waist beads. However, they have become very popular across the African Diaspora and are now widely seen. My own daughter wears them. Typical traditional waist beads are secured by a cotton cord.

Many new mums wear white waist beads to signify the victory of coming through child birth. Brilliant tradition, and celebration of the strength of women, but probably a kick back of the  previous high infant mortality rate in Ghana. 

Babies wear beads around their tummy and wrists. Some believe they ward off evil spirits. More practically, they helped to keep an eye on babies’ growth and development. If the beads started to fall off- this was an alarming sign. Very interesting to me as an ex Health Visitor.

A Ghanaian woman traditional dancer dressed in Krobo beads accessories  

All Krobo Beads are handmade. The artisans are extremely skilled and it is very detailed work.

Types of the beads.

One source describes 4 different sorts of Ghanaian Krobo Beads-

  • Recycled antique beads
  • Recycled transparent beads made from glass bottles
  • Painted beads
  • Beads made from recycled glass, made into a powder. 

Here is a very good video which explains the process really well. He explains it much better than I can. A video of Ghana Recycled Glass beads.

We hope you enjoyed this, and please do have a browse of the Krobo bead jewellery on our website.

This is a brief look at Krobo Beads. I will be following this up with a more detailed blog in a few weeks time. This will look at the cultural significance in more depth.

Alison Butt, May 2022.

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