By: Natasha Archary
If the beauty of Africa could be held in the palm of your hands then you would be holding a traditional African piece of jewellery. An art in itself, there is such symbolic meaning behind the different colours in the intricate beadwork, the patterns and the type of material used in each stunning piece.
While the origins of African jewellery remains sketchy, we do know that pieces were once traded as currency and jewellery was significant of status. The first pieces of African jewellery were made from bone, shells, glass, animal fur and stone. Today, contemporary African jewellery has raised the bar on not only the jewellery industry but also the art world. With modern pieces fetching a hefty price on the market and the use of precious metals influencing popularity.
Pre-colonialism, gold was a precious African metal, seen predominantly in the Fulani, Ashanti of Ghana and Egyptian cultures. A symbol of wealth and status, gold was also used in trade as a means of exchange. Think, seriously large, gold twisted ear-rings. So heavy, they needed to be made durable by including sturdy red rope to support the pure gold.
For the Ashanti of Ghana, gold was a status symbol, worn mostly by Kings and the elite in society. Egyptians, believed that precious metals and stones held the power to bring good fortune and ward off evil. Which explains why, on discovering gold, Egyptians then used the metal to adorn tombs, erect elaborate Sphinxes and even buried their rulers with gold jewellery and artifacts.
African jewellery is interpreted in many ways in the contemporary fashion industry, with designers and labels aiming for a very vogue and tribal look in many lines. Today, the jewellery has become a form of expression, of one’s personality and individuality. This should not take away from the symbolism of African jewellery.
Beadwork is the most common form of African jewellery . Popular in most parts of the continent as well as South Africa, we share with you the meaning behind each colour, so you can wear your traditional African jewellery with more pride this Africa month.
COLOURS AND SYMBOLISM
Red: To East Africans, red represents bravery, strength, unity and the incredible challenges Maasai people face each day
Blue: Symbolises energy and sustenance and the color of the sky which provides water for the people and their cattle
Green: Symbolises nourishment and production, representing the land that provides food for the people and their livestock while also symbolising the putting down of roots and the protection of one’s territory
Orange: Symbolises warmth, friendship, generosity and hospitality, representative of the colour of a gourd which is used to share milk with guests and welcome visitors into one’s home
Yellow: Symbolises fertility and growth, representing the colour of the sun, which helps grow the grass to feed the livestock and sustain life
White: Represents purity and health symbolising the colour of cow’s milk that provides sustained nourishment
Black: Symbolises unity, harmony and solidarity, representing the colour of the people and the daily struggles they endure each day