Friday, June 21, 2013

Types of Traditional African Jewelry

Precious stones, such as diamonds and jade, as well as precious metals, such as gold and silver, are common in jewelry around the world. What about in Africa? How many types of African jewelry - jewelry originating in Africa, or made in Africa, or worn in Africa - do you know?

1. Beads

Beadwork is common across Africa. Famous for their beadwork, made into necklaces and bangles or arm bands, are the Maasai and the Samburu of Kenya, as well as South Africans.

2. Bone

Bone is an excellent material for carving earrings, necklaces and even bangles. Bone is usually animal bone, readily available from slaughter houses. Bone is an excellent replacement for ivory, the use of which endangers the existence of elephants.

3. Clay

Red or white clay can be formed into beads, to make earrings, necklaces and arm bands. Clay jewelry can also be painted into any colours of choice.

4. Animal Teeth

Like bone, animal teeth are an excellent replacement for ivory, and are readily available at slaughter houses.

5. Metals

Many African cultures do have a tradition of metal work. The Hima women of southern Africa, for example, wear heavy metal bands around the feet and the arms. Metals used for jewelry in Africa include copper, iron, bronze, gold or silver. In west Africa, gold smithing is a well-developed art, with elaborate pieces of jewelry being fashioned out of gold.
Bronze was also used for forms of art such as statues.

6. Plant Material

Plant material is a favourite source of jewelry, because the materials are cheap and readily available. Earrings and arm bands can be plaited or woven out of straw, rushes or banana leaves.
My favourite earrings ever (and they have lasted over 25 years!) are made of neatly plaited banana leaf.

7. Stone

Sandstone is a type of stone found mainly in eastern Kenya. It is soft and easy to carve, into figures and statures, but also into earrings and arm bands. Sandstone can be painted into colours of choice after carving.

8. Horn

Animal horn is a favourite material for making jewelry in Africa, because the colour of earrings or necklaces carved from horn is distinctive, and varies in an unpredictable - and therefore interesting - way. Additionally, animal horn is readily available at a low cost.

9. Wood

Wooden jewelry is common and beloved in Africa. Wood can be painted or varnished at will, after carving. Wood makes beautiful wide arm bands or bangles, large but light earrings and elegant necklaces.

10. Leather

Leather work is well-developed in Africa, especially for making furnishings and bags. But leather is also used to fashion arm bands, woven necklaces and even earrings. The leather comes from domestic animals, and occasionally, wild life.

12. Feathers

Birds such as peacocks, cranes, flamingoes and ostriches have beautiful feathers in uniques colours and quality, which are occasionally fashioned into earrings. Caution is in order, however, so as not to endanger the various bird species.

13. Animal Hair

Earrings and arm bands made of plaited wild life hair, such as elephant or giraffe hair are rare, and valued accordingly.

14. Ivory

Despite all international effort to deter it, ivory does find its way into the hands of artisans, who fashion figures and jewelry out of it, sometimes illegally. When one considers the cost in elephant lives and suffering, it is clear that horn, animal teeth and bone are better alternatives.

15. Precious stone

Of course there is precious stone in Africa too. Diamonds, tanzanite, jasper, opals, topaz and quarz, out of which beautiful jewelry are made.

Most African jewelry tend to be flamboyant and inexpensive...


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