Beads are small, round and perforated objects which are usually strung to form necklaces or bracelets or attached to garments or articles of clothing for decorative effect. Beads are made of a great variety of materials namely: glass, copper, wood, silver, brass aluminum, bone, horn, shell, coral, pearl, jet, amber, mineral, including precious stones, ceramics and plastics.
They are at times curved, painted or enameled. And they are usually made in many different shapes, sizes and colours. There are different types of beads. There is a translucent blue tubular bead which is called “Segi” or “Popo”. Besides this, we have the opaque and red bead called “Iyun”. The Segi bead is one of the oldest local beads in Nigeria.
ORIGIN OF BEADS IN NIGERIA.
It was among the oldest local beads excavated in vast quantities from the tomb of an Oba at a site near Ife. It is said that the oldest red stone beads early used in ancient Benin Kingdom were brought from Ife by Prince Oranmiyan, the son of Oduduwa.
There is also locally made bead called Akori or Aggrey mostly used by Benin people, which is made from blue coral by Benin craftsmen. Coral bead has remained popular among the people of Niger Delta areas of Nigeria as part of the regalia worn by the rulers and kings.
There are beads called “Akka” and “Erinala” which are local ornaments worn in Bida, a city noted for its flourishing beadwork industry. The Akka bead is of different colours: light green; darkbrown, dark-red; blue and white. The “Erinla” has striped colours.
Bead-making is an ancient craft universally practised among the various ethnic groups of Nigeria dating to antiquity. Nok culture provides evidence of the earliest civilization in Nigeria with some of its terra-cotta figures depicting human beings, wearing what are presumably strings of stone beads around the necks, wrists and ankles.
It is also said that a large quantity of beads was recovered from the tomb of a priest-king dated 9th century from the Igbo-Ukwu excavation. At Ilesha in the present Osun State, a necklace of red stone beads was among the treasures excavated at the tomb of an Oba.
At Ile-Ife too, some archaeological finds have been uncovered. It is the red beads that the British archaeologist, Leo Frobenius saw in 1909 at the archaeological site at Wagadougon which he called “The beads of Illifians”. Ile-Ife has been known as a famous city for bead making.
It is said that the wife of Oduduwa, Olokun Senaide established the art of glass bead-making in the ancient city of the Ile-Ife, and Igbo-Olokun (Olokun Grave) is known to be her work-shop which covers some acres of land as long as 12 acres. Bida is noted for its flourishing bead-making industries for years. In Bida, craftsmen are famous for glass beads. They make the glass beads from discarded coloured glass which they melt down and form into beads.
They also make their glass beads from a mixture of quartz, sand, chalk and natron. Besides Bida, cities like Ilorin, Kano and Vere in Adamawa are famous for local bead-making in Nigeria.
The method of boring the beads is said to have originated from old Oyo, and it requires a special skill. It involves a grinding stone. Thus, the hard red stone is bored into holes necessary for stringing up the beads. Once the beads are bored, they are polished. Polishing the beads demands some skill and patience. The red stone beads have different names such as Agate, Akun and Jasper.
Today, bead workers use old jars, plates and bottles of medicines, pomade and drinks to make beads. They may be more than one or two or three bead workers in a small round house with triangular windows as their workshop. They prepare the fire and make it hot enough to melt the glass.
The glass is first of all heated in a clay bowl until it becomes sticky and then a blob of half-melted glass is put on to an iron rod which is rotated with the left hand and the glass is shaped with iron tongs held in the right hand. Sometimes, the bead worker adds glass of a contrasting colour to make the outside of the beads to form strips.
Beads function as an important part of personal ornamentation. They are used for decorative as well as protective purposes like amulets or charms and as a sign of social status among the chiefs and kings.
For many decades, beads have been used in Nigeria by people of various ethnic groups. They are used as necklaces and bracelets. In the past if not to the present, waist-beads are used as an important form of adornment for women and girls.
Little girls may wear nothing else but waist-beads till they reach the age of puberty. Women too, married or single wear waist-beads under their wrappers or gowns to emphasize their hips as generously proportioned hip is assumed to enhance feminine beauty. Female artists, performing certain cultural dances also wear costumes that have waist-beads as a prominent feature.