These are words that were spoken to me at Kotoka International Airport by a complete stranger. It was December 1997, my first time back home since I left for the United States. I had bent down to close my suitcase and unbeknownst to me, my beads were slightly showing out of my jeans. Another woman, a complete stranger, had noticed this and as tradition would have it, brought it to my attention. I immediately stood up, thanked her, and fixed my pants to cover up my beads.
My dear sister, your beads are yours to treasure! They are intimate or as we say in Akan “ɛyɛ w’agyapade.” Therefore, showing your beads in public is equivalent to showing your under garments to the world.
One of the biggest motivations behind the start of Ayebea’s Charming Beads is to teach women how to properly use and wear their beads. The lines have been blurred between tradition and modernity. This has led to waist beads being much more sexualized in mainstream society than they are actually meant to be. Beads are not to be worn above the waistline or for the whole world to see! Beads are an intimate and beautiful part of the Ghanaian culture, and I hope that you will take this journey with me as we explore all things traditional about Ghanaian waist beads.
Traditionally, babies in Ghana are adorned in beads around the waist, ankle, and wrist prior to and during their naming ceremonies. After that, only girls continue to wear beads over the years.
Although beads are usually chosen for babies, adolescents are sometimes given the opportunity to select their own bead colors and styles with a mother or grandmother serving as a guide in directing and educating them about the meaning of the beads, the colors, and the etiquettes of bead wearing. Outgrowing their beads can sometimes serve as a transition into a new stage in life. As young girls transition into puberty, mothers would tie a pair of waist beads onto their daughters to signify their passage into womanhood.
Waist beads are worn by women of all shapes and sizes to adorn and accentuate their bodies, enhance their God-given feminine beauty, sensuality, and spiritual well-being. In Ghanaian culture, it is believed that when a woman wears multiple beads around her waist over a period of time, it has the potential to shape and accentuate her hips. Beads can also serve as a way to watch your weight as they roll up and down your waist with weight gain or weight loss.
It is important to know that waist beads are traditionally worn under clothing for only the wearer and her chosen partners to see, as you would with a special set of lingerie. Therefore, wearing your waist beads outward was and is still considered inappropriate and frowned upon in most Ghanaian societies. So my dear sister, “kata w’agyapa de so” (cover your treasure)!
Who can wear beads?
Women of all ages, shapes, sizes, religions, and creeds can graciously adorn themselves in waist beads. So please don’t be intimidated by the internet’s portrayal of thin and slender women wearing waist beads. Remember, beads are traditionally worn along the panty or bikini line and not above your belly button. Adorn yourself in my beautifully handcrafted beads from Ghana and appreciate your God-given beauty!