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An interesting history of African jewellery

Some of the world’s oldest African jewellery discovered

To date, some of the oldest African jewellery to date was discovered in South Africa’s Blombos Cave. Blombos Cave housed jewellery beads which were made from sea snail shells which was punctured with tiny holes so as to allow the shells to be strung on a necklace. The age of these shell beads have been dated to be around 75 000 years old. Tribal jewellery such as African bangles and other pieces has played a crucial role in African culture ever since.

Materials used in tribal jewellery

Traditionally, tribal jewellery like African bangles and such have always been constructed from natural materials such as hom, bone,, ivory, seeds, resin, shells and animal teeth. From these materials jewellery pieces such as rings, earrings, chokers and necklaces were created for a variety of uses.

Early uses of African tribal jewellery

In ancient times tribal jewellery such as African bangles and the like were used not only for personal adornment but as a medium of exchange too. It is one of the earliest ways of trading that occurred between Asia and Africa. Belts and necklaces made from cowrie shells were considered very valuable. Women’s spirituality and fertility was equated with cowrie shells due to its shape and form. These necklaces and belts were also used in religious ceremonies.

African bangles and other tribal jewellery

There are many uses that can be ascribed to Tribal African jewellery in the African culture. Popular uses for these jewellery pieces include being used in religious ceremonies, dancing, for personal enjoyment, as indications of wealth and as a form of money. Jewellery in West Africa such as African bangles used for ornamentation was customarily used for storytelling. Sacred tradition dictated how these jewellery pieces were created. All pieces, from African bangles to each pendant and bracelet had a spiritual significance.

Aside from these aesthetic and spiritual uses of the jewellery, it was also used to assure strength and protection and to signify tribal identity. It also represented the wearer’s history and status. Examples of historical uses in ancient times are ostrich shell necklaces worn by Ancient Egypt royalty. On the other hand, a Ghana groom would give his bride a beaded belt to be worn on their wedding day and afterwards to exemplify her married status in society.

Tribal jewellery also played a role with traditional superstitions among tribe members. Certain tribes even believed that some African bangles, beads and other types of jewellery even had magical powers. When a mother in West Africa would bear twins, she would wear an amulet to celebrate her twins’ magic and power. Tribes in the Ivory Coast and Mali believed that copper always held protective and strong powers.

African bangles and jewellery in modern times

The rich tradition of African tribal jewellery continues even to this day. African bangles, anklets, bracelets and belts are all worn by dancers in order to emphasise and accentuate each of their body movements. In Africa today, the manila bracelet made from hammered copper and used in the 11th Century is still used today. Across the world today African trial jewellery is used to accentuate personal beauty while at the same time expressing a beautiful and wide cultural diversity while at the same also displaying African craftsmen’s artistry.