One-of-a-Kind Batik Bone Beads Connect Worlds

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Batik Bone Bead

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Batik Bone Beads

Batik bone beads, popular among tribes in Ghana and Kenya, can date back hundreds of years. They fascinate me.

Some people might be repelled by the idea of bones, but in a country where all materials are precious, bone is highly prized for its durability. Cow bones in particular, can last for centuries.

In Africa, when an animal dies, every part of its carcass is used because all materials are precious. Bones can be carved and then polished. Lighter in weight than glass or metal materials, bones take on an aura of precious.

The batik process involves beeswax, which naturally resists dye. Hot beeswax is applied to the bone, and left to dry briefly. The beeswax soaks in, causing the bones to resist the color from natural sources such as indigo plants as those dyes are applied.

The indigo plant, for example, creates the rich black color such as that shown here.

Natives use batik bone beads for artistic as well as religious expression.

In times past, these beads conveyed status and served as a means of exchange. Hence, the term “trade” beads.

Each batik bone bead is handmade, one at a time.

When Ann Edenfield Sweet, Founder and Executive Director of Wings Ministry, asked me to re-string beads she’d collected during a trip to Meru (pronounced May Roo), Kenya in January 2013, I jumped at the chance.

    • I imagined I could sense the history of these beads.
    • I appreciated the tremendous work of polishing and shaping each piece and studied the differences in the beads with delight.
    • I envisioned the peoples who might have owned them, and the places in which they might have been worn.

Then I made this simple necklace and earrings from those beads.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Batik Bone Bead necklace and earrings

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Batik Bone Bead necklace and earrings

The trip served to train Kenyan leaders, pastors and prison officials in the Wings Ministry methods.

In just a few short days, Ann and her group visited more than 14 prisons and 20 orphanages. They met a number of women living with aids who make their living making beads and making jewelry.

“It’s exciting. This necklace reminds me of our work across the world.” –Ann Edenfield Sweet

While in Kenya, Wings purchased a number of items such as handmade paper beads and beaded bowls. Proceeds from these sales go to help women living with aids in Meru.

This handmade bowl now lives on my workbench.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, handmade bowl from Meru, Kenya

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, handmade bowl from Meru, Kenya

The paper beads pictured below are incorporated in my summer collection of anklets.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, handmade paper beads from Meru, Kenya

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, handmade paper beads from Meru, Kenya

Congratulations to Ann and Wings Ministry for their work to make the world a better place.

How will you do your part for the cause you care about?