Beads from Africa

African Beads

Beads have played an especially important role in African culture throughout history. To this day the bead-making industry flourishes in Ghana and Nigeria.

The African peoples have used beads as currency, adornment and an artistic medium. African beads are typically made of shells, glass, clay, stone and metal. They are usually strung on a fiber or metal wire or stitched into the back of a fabric.

The oldest known African beads were found near Libya and Sudan and are made of ostrich egg shells dated to about 10,000 B.C. Stone beads from early in the first millennium B.C. were found near Mali and Nok. White cowrie shell beads have also been found to be popular in African jewelry.


European trade has had a large influence on African bead-making and bead use. The Portuguese brought large quantities of coral to the kingdom of Benin in the fifteenth century and the Nigerian people made beads for their kings.

Medieval Europeans and the people of the Near East provided the glass for the bead-makers at Ife, Nigeria. Carnelian, Agate and Red Jasper stones were introduced through the Trans-Saharan trade.

Throughout history Africans have also imported glass beads from Europe, particularly from Italy, Bohemia and the Netherlands. Eventually, the Africans created their own glass bead-making industry. In Nigeria, the glass was made and worked locally, while in other regions, such as South Africa, the glass may have been imported to make the beads.

Source: Beaded Splendor