Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Good is... tribal jewellery

I am continuing my research from the 'What is good brief'. I am going to expand on my knowledge of the jewellery worn in tribes, the materials used and the history and meaning behind them. Hopefully I will come across something interesting and will be able to narrow down my search and pin point a particular topic to work towards.


Various types of materials were used by different tribes in different regions of Africa.

In West Africabrass was widely used. Among the Akan people, gold was their metal of choice. Copper was also widely used in other regions.

The Senufo tribe of the Ivory Coast made ankle bracelets shaped like boats. These were worn by men, women and even infants.

The Dan and We people of West Africa wore bracelets with little bellsattached to them. These bells were usually decorated and were used for dancing.

Other forms of African tribal jewelry are the gold earrings worn by married Fulani women from Mali. These earrings were and still are considered works of art in their own right. The goldsmiths who made them would beat a single stick of gold into the shape of large curved, crescent-shaped wings.

The king of the Ashanti people and rulers of other kingdoms wear extravagantly designed jewelry all the time. Various feasts, especially the feast of the yam in particular, become showcases of wealth by the amount of jewelry that is worn. When a king dies, young women perform ritual dances at the funeral wearing lots and lots of gold tribal jewellery.

Among the Nuer and Shilluk tribes of Sudan, Ivory was used to make remarkable pieces of jewellery. However no one appreciated Ivory more than the Dinka tribe of Kenya. The larger the size of the bracelets worn by a man, the wealthier he was and also more feared in battle. Even when an Ivory bracelet breaks, the pieces were re-carved into other forms of jewellery like rings or earrings.

All throughout the continent of Africa, tribal jewelry was not only used as a social indicator for the powerful and wealthy, it also showcased the diversity of the people and the skills of the various craftsmen, goldsmiths, carvers and jewelry makers of Africa.

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