African Jewellery from the cradle of civilisation

January 5, 2016 lalibella lalibella

Due to a combination of natural resources and superb craftsmanship, African jewellery has a lofty reputation the world over. Not only is the quality second to none, the beauty and variety of piecesdoes not fail to dazzle.

Bright African Jewellery So where did it all begin? The answer is a very long time ago indeed. Africa is known by many historians to be the cradle of civilisation, and jewellery on the continent is thought to date back over 70,000 years. Beads made from shells were found on the South African coast dating back to that era, while in Kenya, pieces made from ostrich eggs go back nearly as far. Though this was long before the craftsmanship that characterises African jewellery today began to take shape.

Jewellery Diversity

Now jewellery in Africa is far more exuberant, and also possesses huge value relating to status, wealth and, of course, beauty.

Being a continent not lacking in natural resources, African craftsmen have historically made good use of the materials available to them. It is not uncommon to find pieces made from stone, wood, amber, animal bone, ivory and sea shells.

The real heritage in African jewellery-making is found in beads, which were once used as a currency when Western trade routes opened up in the 1500s and 1600s. North Africa accounts for the oldest known production of bead jewellery; in the culturally rich nations of Libya and Egypt, bead jewellery dating back to 10,000 BC was discovered.

Reflecting Personalities

You can read a lot into a person by their jewellery, nowhere more so than in Africa. To the educated eye, it is possible to see the region a person has come from by studying their bead jewellery.

The Maasai tribe takes jewellery even more seriously, and members of this Kenyan clan are subject to strict rules when choosing the colour and design of their beaded necklaces. The Pokot and Zulu tribes are also noted manufacturers and wearers of beaded pieces, as are the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria.

Then there is the great African Fulani Tribe from Central Africa and Nigeria. You may have looked with wonder at photographs of women with their earlobes stretched to accommodate magnificent gold earrings. They more than likely belong to the Fulani tribe, where jewellery is an integral part of everyday fashion. As well as a flamboyant statement of wealth and prosperity, it is also an important part of tradition to those people.

And don’t forget about the jewellery worn by the Tuareg people of the North African Sahara, where beautiful etchings on silver objects has made Tuareg craftsmen some of the most revered in the world. Geometric patterns, rather than symbols or drawings, are the hallmark of this jewellery, in keeping with Islamic law. Copper is commonly mixed in with the silver, to give the pieces a unique sheen.

From the desert-strewn north to the jungles of the centre and the mountains of the south, Africa is a continent which, similar to its culture, is unbelievably rich and diverse in jewellery.

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