Heed the African Trade Bead Voice

“This one speaks to me,” Sharon proclaimed. “It’s mine.”

African trade beads, like the one forming the center of Sharon’s necklace offer untold memories of tribeswomen bargaining for food, water, and provisions of many kinds.

Imagine using beads as currency! The word “Miliflori,” given to these vintage beads, means many flowers, and refers to types of beads manufactured in Italy during the 1850s to early 1900s. They were then traded on the African coast.

(Note to self: with my stash I’d do well in such a culture.)

These beads energize me! Each bead feels different, almost as if it carries trace memories of previous owners.

When I find such wonderful, colorful and special beads, I like to honor them as I do here. Copper beads on either side of the focal bead set it apart. Bronze spacers call more attention to the rich red browns that make up the earthy appearance of the center.

In a different presentation, blue faceted glass beads combine with red glass spacers to set off a trade bead so gorgeous that it nearly sings. The happy bead, nearly four inches long, boasts swaths of red, yellow and green, with a gorgeous stripe of blue on either side. Lucky for me those stripes matched the blue glass.

According to research, the light blue bead with multiple facets is thought to be a “Russian” trade bead. Articles from the early 1970’s suggest this type of bead, frequently found in the Southwest, was one of the most widely distributed glass beads in the U.S.

My trade bead theme continues in a different form as I add chevrons to copper chain. First, I used one simple strand.

The red and blue striped chevrons are referred to as “American striped.”

Then, I experimented with other beads – long, cylindrical and short, flat, angular. I added turquoise spacers with red Tibetan prayer beads inbetween. What an awesome effect.

The chunky pieces pair nicely with pewter for an updated, ethnic look.

The modernization of African trade beads lets you wear history in a unique, one-of-a kind way. How cool is that?

Do you love history? How will you heed the African trade bead voice?