Waist beads also called Ileke by the Yorubas are a traditional African accessory that are made from small pieces of glass, plastic, wood, or metal which are pierced and strung together. They are worn around the waist/hips mostly by females.
These waist beads can be made from many different materials. The earliest beads were made of a variety of natural materials – e.g Cowries – which, after they were gathered, could be easily drilled and shaped.
In modern manufacturing, the most common bead materials are wood, plastic, glass, crystal, metal, and decorative stones.
Waist beads have been worn for centuries by women in many West African cultures. In more recent years they’ve gained popularity among women in western Africa including but not limited to Ghana and Nigeria.
In these region, waist beads are seen as a symbol of femininity, fertility, sensuality, and spiritual well-being.
With this said, below are 7 significance and uses of the african waist beads.
1. As a Symbol of Feminity and Sensuality
In some African Society, Waist beads is also seen as a sign that a woman have reached marriageable age and can now have suitors. In our current society, some women wear them for sensuality. With some claiming that the noise it makes during the act makes their men perform better in bed.
Among the Ashante and Krobo cultures in Ghana, larger beads are added to a woman’s waist beads once she comes of age so she makes noise when she walks to alert potential suitors nearby.
In other cultures, waist beads are worn under clothing for only the wearer and her chosen partners to see, similarly to a special set of lingerie.
2. Cultural Heritage
There are certain communities where women have been raised to wear them and so it represents their culture. Such communities include Nigerian, Sudanese and Ghanaian women.
3. As a Weight Measure
Waist-beads are also used to find out whether or not a woman has gained weight. Since waist beads don’t stretch, like clothes do, they simply roll up the waist until they find a place to sit comfortably. When gaining weight, the waist beads climb up and when you loose weight, it falls on the hips. So, the tighter they get, the more weight one has gained.
Some Waist beads are used for healing or rejuvenation purposes; depending on the ailment or what needs to be enhanced, various semi-precious stones and concoctions are also included in the design of the waist beads.
Some of the women who adorn waist beads in this day and age, use it more for ornamental and beautification reasons. It’s not just African women thiugh. With the current fashion sense being so revolutionary, fashion houses all over the world have also started incorporating waistbeads into their statements. These days you even get to see models rock them during major runways during fashion events.
6. Hip Accentuation/Waist Training
To accentuate the hips and waist line of a baby as she grows old, Beads are Worn on them during naming ceremonies and they continue to wear the beads as they grow older.
Women also wear them to tone their bodies in such a way that their waists are synched. This hence gives their physique an admirable definition.
7. Fetish Purposes
In this scenario, various concoctions would be included in the design of the waist beads so when someone have intercourse with the wearer of the bead, they will keep coming back for more. It’s used mostly by prostitutes.
It is also used by some ladies to chase away bad spirits.