Hand-crafted jewelry has been an essential part of African cultures. Ordinarily, African jewelry is divided into a wide range of classifications which include necklaces, bracelets, pendants and earrings. According to several historians, the origins of jewelry date back 75,000 years ago when ancient Africans made use of pea-sized snail shells as beads.
In most cases, the materials that were used to carve ancient African jewelry were organic materials which are readily available in the different regions of the continent. Later on, Ancient Africans were able to add more materials for making jewelry after engaging in trades with different empires around the globe.
Beads, however, are perhaps the most popular material that is being used to craft pieces of jewelry. The beads which are generated from Africa are sometimes known as trade beads since they were used as a currency in exchange for goods for many centuries.
Many tribes in Africa have been creating exquisite beadwork. As a matter of fact, the earliest known beaded jewelry was created at around 10,000 B.C. in Libya. Other than that, Ancient Egypt has also developed stunning beadwork which dates back to 2,000 B.C.
It is, however, essential to take note of that African jewelry comes in many forms and has a number of functions besides being a bodily adornment. In fact, it can be a decorative item used to keep the hair in place or better else a symbol of power and prestige of an individual in the society.
Interestingly enough, ancient Africans seldom used jewelry for ornamental purposes as most of them utilize it on religious rituals and ceremonies. It is also used in many marriage arrangements as an indication of the calculated value of the partnership. In Saharan communities, people also use jewelry as a currency to buy crops such as rice, vegetables, wheat and salt.
Zulu bead jewelry, on the other hand, is built based on the long-standing traditions of their tribes. More often than not, their designs transmit essential information about the wearer.
Maasai beaded jewelry is built based on the rigid tribal regulations pertaining to design and colors.
The Yoruba Kings are known for its beaded crowns.