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Africa and her love for jewelry
 
 
continent of expressions - AFRICA
afrostylemagazine cover december 2008

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afro style mag | Africa and Her Love for Jewelry

i

wning a piece of African jewelry is like owning a world of culture and history in its own beautiful form. Even though there is history and meaning behind each piece, it’s the art in the jewelry that grabs the attention of most collectors. To speak of African jewelry as though there were a single unifying theme would be misleading. Africa is a vast continent, and African peoples have a long history. Their jewelry, in different regions, depends on jewelry-making from source materials available to them in their own locations, and their styles are influenced by their cultural and religious underpinnings. There could be overt influences just as much as underlying themes,  shaped by all kinds of historical influences and ideas that unconsciously shape the designs of the jewelry. Over time, there are cross-influences within the continent, and of course, the impact of Western invaders and colonizers cannot be ignored.

There are several artistic, religious, spiritual and cultural elements of African heritage visible in each uniquely crafted piece of jewelry.

Around the turn of the 10th century, when bronze work was common, crafting these pieces became more complex. Bronze pieces were normally decorated with ivory or precious stones and several of these pieces were identified with royalty. Beads have also played a very important role in African culture and can be seen today in many of the beautiful pieces of jewelry created by the skilled craftsmen who make them.

The making of beads was probably the earliest form of jewelry making in Africa, and there is evidence to suggest the origins of African bead jewelry - such as rudimentary beads made from eggs and other simple materials - go back over 75,000 years. That's according to recent archeological finds. It is not surprising that African artisans resorted to materials that they could find. Stones such as turquoise, lapis lazuli, emeralds, rubies and sapphires were fashioned into their jewelry. Metals such as copper, bronze and gold are also used.

Traditional West African ornaments formed a visual language that spoke to the observer about status, beliefs, family, accomplishments and life experiences of the wearer. Each bead, knot, pendant or bracelet was formed with spiritual care, and the materials themselves each had special powers and their own stories. For example, in Ghana, a bride wore a belt of beads purchased by her husband, and would wear them each day to indicate her marital status.

Coming-of-age ceremonies were an occasion for young women to dance in many strands of beads.

Mothers of twins wore special amulets that celebrated the magical power of twins. Jewelry was a biography that could be read and a community standard that united villages and peoples.

Modern African pieces still remain true to the same historic values and meanings of the past. If you go a gallery and look at various pieces of jewelry, be it old or new, you will notice several common themes on display: a couple, a woman and child, a male with either a weapon or an animal and an outsider or stranger. These themes represent different elements of African culture and reveal the importance of each piece of jewelry, which in turn makes them so special to collectors and art lovers everywhere.

africa and her love for jewelry

Copper ornaments have been worn in West Africa since at least 1300 B.C. as jingles, beads, pendants and bracelets. According to "Ancient African Metallurgy," 16th century, European-manufactured manillas (copper bracelets used in trade) were copies of local originals. Manilla bracelets, hammered from copper bars, were common by the 11th century and used as currency well into the 20th century, according to "Red Gold of Africa: Copper in Precolonial History and Culture." Copper was believed to have strong positive powers. Among the Senufo people of Mali and Ivory Coast, women wore copper chameleon-figured rings as protective pendants on necklaces, but when worn by a man on his finger, the same ring symbolized knowledge and sorcery. Each decorative design on the chameleon had an assigned spirit power. AFRICA JEWELRY

In 1506, Portuguese navigator and explorer Duarte Pacheco wrote that Portuguese traders bartered European brass and copper items in exchange for palm oil, leopard skins and blue beads with red lines at a trading post at Rio Dos Forcados in Benin territory (present-day Nigeria). These beads, oil and skins were taken to Elmina, about 400 miles west, along the "gold coast" of Ghana, where they were traded for gold from local placer deposits. Duarte Pacheco said the locals, the Ashanti people, at Elmina were also eager to trade gold for pipes of coral to string as beads and for glass beads. According to "Africa and the Discovery of America," coral ornament was a treasure reserved for the wealthy to show rank, and that when a holder of non-hereditary office died, his coral ornaments were returned to the chief who had granted them. Ashanti gold from Ghana became a European commodity, but by the time the British sacked their capital at Kumasi in the 19th century, the Ashanti were master goldsmiths whose culture was founded on gold jewelry and golden art objects.


Taureg Jewelry Going Global:african jewelry
The Taureg people of Saharan West Africa design silver jewelry strongly influenced by their Islamic beliefs and nomadic past. A typical piece of ancient Taureg jewelry might be an intricately incised silver pendant identifying the group of the wearer. On her wedding day, a Taureg woman received ornaments made of geometric beads to identify her marital status. A typical modern piece produced in the same tradition might be a structurally bold geometric bracelet reminiscent of Moorish architecture. For the Taureg, silver jewelry pieces were cherished heirlooms and an everyday accessory to the flowing clothing of both men and women. Today, the Taureg jewelry of the past is featured in the collections of many museums and the Taureg jewelry of the present is featured in the collections of fashion designers.
The history and meaning of each piece of African jewelry is unique. It is said that owning one of these pieces provides hope, wisdom and well-being to its owner. So the next time you are out and about and come across an African art gallery or jewelry store, check it out because you never know what you might find to start your own personal collection.

 

 

Anonymous


    www.all-about-african-art.com/african-jewelry.html
http://hubpages.com/hub/africanjewelry
http://www.ehow.com/about_5085129_history-west-african-jewelry.html
the beaded lily (www.flickr.com)