What are African Waist Beads? Brief History & Culture

What are African Waist Beads? Brief History & Culture

Feb 09, 2022

Termaine Davis

African waist beads became popular from the Yoruban tribe of Nigeria centuries ago, but originated from Egypt. In Egypt, waist beads were referred to as “girdles”. Now they are are common throughout many West African countries.

Traditionally, African waist beads are typically stranded on a cotton cord and are adorned with glass or clay beads. The beads can be of different sizes, shapes, and colors. In addition, crystals and gems such as rose quartz, amethyst, and tigereye. Diifferent types of charms, such as the traditional shells, bone, horn, and metal are attached to them as well, all of which also have different meanings to them. 

Women of all races and ethnicities rock waist beads. However, they have not always been just for show. The origins trace back to Africa and are part of old African tradition. During naming ceremonies in Ghana, baby girls are dressed with waist beads by their mothers around their waists or their hips and are also worn by adolescents to represent their growth into maturity and womanhood. As the child continues to grow and get older, she will outgrow her waist beads which will have to get replaced, highlighting the transition into a new stage in their life. 

The popularity of African waist beads has become popular in the West over the years. Waist beads, which may also be known as “belly beads” are a representation of fertility, healing,  femininity, spiritual well-being, sensuality, affluence, and an overall symbol of womanhood. Additionally, waist beads are often used to help maintain a woman’s figure and worn for style and self-expression. Traditionally, African waist beads are worn under clothing while in todays modern culture, waist beads are worn as chosen. It’s all a matter of preference. Due to their history, Black women choose to wear African waist beads as a way to pay homage to their ancestors and celebrate their culture.